Hong Kong govt announces PR agency after lengthened tender process

After a long and difficult search, a one-year contract worth US$6.3 million has been awarded to one agency.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam

Hong Kong's Information Services Department (ISD) announced today that Consulum has won the 'Relaunch Hong Kong' tender, with a one-year contract worth US$6,289,215, according to a report by Hong Kong Free Press.

Seven bids were submitted including those from Redhill, Edelman and Qorvis/MSL, but the latter two pulled out.

According to the ISD, the global strategy and communications firm specialises in "supporting countries and governments". Consulum is known for working with Saudi Arabia for several years, and has 85 staff globally.

A press statement from ISD stated that Consulum will start to develop a communications strategy as well as a marketing and advertising plan to "highlight Hong Kong's recovery and help rebuild confidence in Hong Kong as a place to invest, do business, work and live".

The firm will carry out local and international baseline research to shape an issues and crisis management programme that will address the information needs and current perceptions of Hong Kong's key global stakeholders.

"We believe this initiative can help Hong Kong reconnect with global audiences as we gradually reopen for business and visitors after the worldwide fight against COVID-19 subsides," said deputy director of information services Brett Free.

"This programme will help us to inform global audiences about Hong Kong's economic recovery and responses to issues of international interest, including the facts surrounding Hong Kong's efforts to address the COVID-19 crisis, and that Hong Kong remains always welcoming and open for business."

In March, it was announced that the government would spend HK$226.6 million (US$29 million) for managing its foreign PR. The increased spend will be used to promote a "favourable image" of the city internationally and on the mainland.

Chris Whitehouse, chairman of London-based agency The Whitehouse Consultancy, which advises the grassroots organisation Fight for Freedom: Stand with Hong Kong, said in a statement to PRWeek: "No amount of PR fluff can hide the fact that the administration in Hong Kong are nothing more than puppets for the brutal tyrants of the Chinese Communist Party who are stamping down their iron heel hard on human rights in the city. US$6 million is a huge budget, but ultimately, it's grubby money, for a grubby cause, from a grubby client."

According to a tender released by the administration, requirements for an agency partner include "one physical office in Hong Kong", with a minimum of "two full-time PR professionals" who have at least one year's experience in the communications field, and also an office in North America or Europe. SCMP reported this as a "relatively low threshold".

The search for a PR agency has been a long and tumultuous one for the Hong Kong administration, partly because of its battered image following months of pro-democracy protests on the streets. Last year, Hong Kong's chief executive Carrie Lam said her administration had approached eight agencies, of which four immediately declined because it would have been a "detriment to the agencies' reputation".

Major firms including Ogilvy, BCW, and Ruder Finn passed on the chance to participate in the pitch.

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