This week, Ketchum China is marking its 30th anniversary in the Chinese public relations market. With more than 150 employees in five major cities across the country, Ketchum Greater China is one of the keystones of the Ketchum’s global network in one of the world’s most rapidly growing markets. Among the special events that have been taking place this week, a 30th anniversary celebration was held in Beijing that included more than 50 Ketchum colleagues and over 40 special guests including clients, members of Ketchum Greater China’s Asia Pacific affiliates, and members of Ketchum’s parent corporation, Omnicom Group. This has been followed by three days of a series of special media and educational events and seminars focusing on such topics as corporate social responsibility and social media.

The other night, I had the great honor to join our colleagues in Greater China to celebrate the occasion of their 30th anniversary in the PR business. It was a great moment in time to join with clients and friends of the agency to look back at the tremendous impact our colleagues there have had on the growth of PR in China and to look forward at the opportunities that lie ahead for us there. During the festivities, I had the chance to share some thoughts about the great work being done by our colleagues in the region as well as to toast Ketchum Greater China’s founders, Kenneth Chu, Partner and CEO, Greater China, and Betty Lo, President, Greater China, and reflect on their contributions to the industry. Below is my speech. 

Each of you represents — be it through your personal commitment, or through the loyalty of your business — the ongoing support and encouragement that is the all-important, vital link in the partnership chain of the past 30 years for Kenneth, Betty and our colleagues at Ketchum Greater China. Knowing Kenneth and Betty as I do, it’s clear they are genuinely touched by your presence here this evening. Thank you.

One of the very special links from the past to this historic moment is Ketchum’s former chairman, David Drobis. It was David’s first meeting with Kenneth and Betty in the late 1980s that eventually led to our partnership. David has been retired for several years now, and is, at this very moment, happily chasing after his four grandchildren with his wife at a beachside cottage in Southern California. It’s a wonderful life he leads now — and he deserves it.

In preparation for this evening, I called Dave last week. I interrupted a cookie-baking session with his grandkids, but he graciously took off his apron and happily recalled his first meeting with Kenneth.

It was here in Beijing in 1988. The scene was a client’s grand opening celebration — a retail store for Testoni, one of the top Italian shoe brands. Gathered were literally hundreds of journalists — David called it “mindboggling.” A shoe store opening! Once the ribbon was cut, the journalists all stormed the store, and the three massive tables that were laden with food were swarmed over. In 10 minutes, everything was eaten. David said that was when he knew the appetite for public relations in China was big, and that Kenneth, Betty and team were capable of really big, exciting achievements in a future partnership with Ketchum.

On the same visit, he also described a much smaller gathering, a kind of get-to-know-you meeting with Kenneth and Betty’s colleagues. Dave distinctly remembers that the team in Beijing was asking the same kind of intelligent, thoughtful questions that he was hearing from Ketchum staff in New York and San Francisco, Paris and London. It felt like the same agency.

And it was in that quiet moment it can be said that the Ketchum network became both smaller and tighter — and larger and expanded — all at the same time.

Allow me to take a moment to touch on some of Ketchum Greater China’s milestone moments:

  • In 1980, a company called Newscan opened its doors in Hong Kong offering media monitoring services to a small number of clients and quickly diversified into PR counseling the same year. Today, that company is known as Ketchum Greater China, and, this evening, as you know, we are celebrating our 30th anniversary.
  • A lot has changed over the past three decades. The agency quickly diversified its services into PR to include corporate communications and brand marketing. In the last 10 years, Ketchum Greater China has introduced a financial communications practice, and over the past two years a specialist group in digital media. Nevertheless, true to our origins, media monitoring still forms an important part of our business as provided by the DBMS team.
  • We have also grown into one of the largest wholly owned networks of any multinational PR agency in Greater China. Taipei was our first office outside Hong Kong, opening in 1991, followed by Guangzhou in 1993, and Beijing and Shanghai in 1994. Today, we have 155 staff across all of our five Greater China offices.
  • In 1995, we changed our name to Ketchum Newscan to recognize our joint venture partnership with Ketchum, which began as an affiliate relationship. In 2006, we rebranded ourselves simply as Ketchum in recognition of our full integration in the global Ketchum network. We now lead the Ketchum Asia Pacific network of 24 offices across every major market in the region. On the other side of the world — in Europe — last year, Ketchum merged with Pleon, a large award-winning German consultancy, making us number one in Europe and among the top four agencies in the world.

Now, if you’ll permit a brief commercial message — this partnership brings something unique. A homegrown Chinese agency network matched with one of the most successful and respected international agencies in the PR industry. Few agencies can match the established Greater China market experience, international standards in working practice, specialist knowledge and local-global network accessibility that we offer.

  • Developing talent has always been among our highest priorities. One example: for the past four years, Ketchum Hong Kong has run a competition for undergraduate students from the Hong Kong Baptist University School of Communications to give them experience in real client work for their professional careers ahead. Each summer, we take on the winning students as interns in our office to give them practical hands-on experience.
  • We also have another university gathering here tonight in the form of the staff and students of Ketchum University. This two-and-a-half day training program is designed to provide our talented people in the senior client servicing team from across the Greater China network with opportunities to learn and develop advanced professional skills. I am very happy for the support in this endeavor from some of Ketchum’s senior leadership, who also join us here for tonight’s celebration.
  • On behalf of Kenneth and Betty, I’m proud to say that we still have clients on our roster who have been with us virtually since the day we opened our doors in Hong Kong: De Beers, the diamond company, and aircraft manufacturer Boeing, both have been with us virtually since day one. But they are not alone. FedEx has been a client of ours in the region since 1994 and Kodak since 1999. The quality of our staff and the
    quality of our work are two of the reasons why we have such good relationships with our clients. At Ketchum — and I trust you all know this from personal experience — we nurture trusting relationships to ensure better results and enduring client relationships.

Back in London, I have in my office a black-and-white photograph. You have to imagine this now — it’s an aerial image of a single skyscraper, under construction. There is nothing — absolutely nothing in the foreground, or the background. Just dirt. Except for the one skyscraper — not even completed — the scene is a blank canvas.

The significance of the picture is this: Twenty years ago, Kenneth took Dave Drobis to that spot and Kenneth said to him, “In three years, every square inch of this area will be filled with skyscrapers like this one.” David nodded his head, and, of course, wanted to believe what his friend was telling him, but found it impossible to comprehend. (Kenneth tells me the location is Pudong, the area is Lu Jia Zui, the financial hub of Shanghai.)

I happened to mention this to Dave the other day, and at the very recollection of it, he chuckled and said, “Yes, there was nothing there. It was like being on the moon. And three years later, we came back to the very same and it was like standing in the middle of New York City.”

Kenneth, obviously, is a man of great vision. So he says that these past 30 years have been truly remarkable, but it’s the next 30 years that gets him and Betty really excited, and I think that is something we should all toast.

Let’s raise a glass . . . to Kenneth, Betty and all our colleagues at Ketchum Greater China, congratulations.