Burson to aid Hong Kong in recovery from SARS fallout

WASHINGTON - The city of Hong Kong has handed Burson-Marsteller a contract to help it prepare a road map for regaining the world's confidence following the regional outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

"Burson is assisting the Hong Kong government in developing a comprehensive strategy and implementation plan to relaunch Hong Kong when SARS is contained," wrote Hong Kong spokesperson Yvonne Choi in an email.

The contract, valued at $170,000 for three months, was awarded to Burson this month without competition, a fact attributed to the considerable amount of work Burson already does for the Hong Kong government. The New York-based agency has been running the city's rebranding campaign for the past three years, and just last month won an account from the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office to attract American business interest.

SARS has taken a swift toll on Hong Kong's economy, devastating tourism, business, and consumer spending. Indeed, Burson's campaign to attract American business interest to the city was altered from the outset. Instead of touting Hong Kong as a place conducive to international trade, Burson has been busy working to suppress SARS-related panic in America.

The latest campaign will take that work several steps further. "The relaunch program will involve all sectors of the community, and targets at both local and overseas audiences," Choi explained. "It will divide into three phases: the [current] response phase, the reassurance phase, and the recovery phase."

The effort is being run out of Burson's Hong Kong office, led by MD Ian McCabe.

Both the World Health Organisation and the Centers for Disease Control issued warnings last month discouraging travel to Hong Kong. A number of sources involved in the initiative pointed to the repeal of those warnings as the pivotal moment when the city will shift from merely managing the crisis to actively repairing the damage.

Richard Mintz, director of global public affairs at Burson, said that his firm was making no effort to sway the WHO's or CDC's decisions. "Nobody should be influencing that outcome who is not totally steeped in the public health and medical issues," he said -- but stressed the need to capitalize on it when the time came.

"When the WHO moves, it is important that that message of containment be communicated as widely and as intensely as possible all over the world," he said.

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