Future gazing to 2035: How the Greater Bay Area will change the PR/communications sector in Hong Kong

The start of the new year, calendar or lunar, is always time to look ahead to the future. Traditionally, trend forecasting is limited to the next 12 months. So, you might think that looking ahead sixteen years to 2035 may be a bit of stretch. But recently the PRC government in Beijing supported by the SAR government in Hong Kong gave us a blueprint of what life might look like in the 2030’s in its “Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.”

hong kong 2035

The Plan is a coordinated urban and economic planning blueprint covering Hong Kong, Macao, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and seven other municipalities around the Pearl River Delta region aka the Greater Bay Area. The area in question covers 56,000 square kilometers and 70 million residents. Modelled on the likes of San Francisco Bay and Tokyo Bay, the goal is to create a globally competitive business, innovation and technology hub centered on a world-class city cluster. It is hoped that building a new system of open economy that will open the area up to greater international cooperation, improve the livelihood of its residents and provide a blueprint for the opening up of the rest of China.

2035 was defined as the milestone date when the Plan reaches its maturity. The Public Relations and communications sector is not mentioned per se in the Plan (and neither is marketing and advertising). However, what is clear is that the ideas contained in the Plan have some significant implications for how the roles of everyone involved in the sector are set to change. Here are my takeaways:

Territorial boundaries will lose their relevance:
The Greater Bay Area will enforce the need to break down traditional boundaries around which communications in the Greater China region are planned and administered. Over ten years ago I was hearing clients responsible for managing the China market bemoaning the practical and financial inefficiencies of running campaigns targeting consumers in Southern China from Beijing or Shanghai when Hong Kong was so much closer. There has always been the need for a southern China service offer and the Greater Bay Area plan provides the impetus to make the shift.

The Plan envisions an integrated region with a population the size of Thailand living and working across the territorial boundaries in place today. Collectively, they have different tastes and priorities from people in other parts of China; they share the Lignan culture, have been exposed to international influences for longer and are typically more affluent. For many organizations, it will make sense to treat the Greater Bay Area as a distinct entity separate from the rest of mainland China, to treat Hong Kong/Macao as part of the same region and to manage it from within rather than from Beijing or Shanghai.

Hong Kong: The Gateway to China. Again.:
Under this new regional model, Hong Kong need not necessarily be the de facto management hub. However, there is good reason to assume that it won’t automatically lose its position to, say, Shenzhen or Guangzhou. First, there are already organizations in Shenzhen that preferentially make use of communications teams in Hong Kong to help manage their international relations recognizing they have the global mindedness, international best practices and networks that cannot be found inside China. Second, the Plan outlines that each hub should maintain its distinctiveness and build on its existing strengths rather than duplicating the skills found in another. For Hong Kong, its value-added service industry sector – including communications – is one of those strengths. Hong Kong has all of the chops to own the role of communications hub. But teams will need to work hard in the future to maintain that position.

Helping more Chinese companies go global:
Some of China’s biggest global companies like Huawei, Tencent, DJI and BYD, already call Shenzhen and the Greater Bay Area home. The Plan has been created to help other companies, some not yet founded, emulate that achievement. Communicators of tomorrow will need to be as adroit in local, regional and global strategy as they are today. But the likelihood is that with more global headquarters located in the Greater Bay Area in the future, it will be the central hub of global strategy to a much higher degree than it is in 2019.

It’s not all about tech, despite what you might have heard:
The Outline Development Plan envisions a tech and innovation hub to rival Silicon Valley building on the foundations already created by Huawei and its peers in Shenzhen. But it’s not all about tech. The Plan references 16 other industries besides tech that will be critical to fulfilling the vision as well as the needs of the people living within it. Among these are tourism, education, healthcare, engineering, sport, and agriculture. All of these, and more, will require communications support. Technology may be central to the region’s economy, but there will be a broader need for communications specialists with expertise across a similar spectrum of industries we see today.

Under the banner of technology and innovation the communications sector is set to thrive in the Greater Bay Area. Hong Kong cannot be complacent in defining its role in this newly emerging ecosystem. It would be too easy to be overcome with paranoia that Hong Kong will lose its edge and relevance. If the doubters take over, that will certainly happen.

The reality is that the Outline Development Plan is a clarion call for Hong Kong to recapture its position as an epicenter in the global economy; simultaneously providing unique access to one of the world’s most important economic regions as well as a conduit for outflowing trade. To respond, there will be greater demand for global communication skills and experience alongside the ability to craft regional scopes across the Asia Pacific. It is the local footprint that will change the most dramatically as populations, and the media they rely on, adapt to the new Bay Area dynamic and organizations flex in how to best manage it.

A version of this article can me found on Marketing Interactive’s website.

Dr. Simeon Mellalieu (麥善銘), Partner, Client Development APAC, is a communications specialist with almost 20 years of experience in PR consultancy in Europe and Asia. His expertise lies in corporate positioning and reputation management, brand building, consumer marketing and engagement and issues and crisis management.
Listed in the PRWeek Global Power Book 2016 and 2017, Simeon is Honorary Secretary of PR Hong Kong and served as Chairman from 2010-2013. He also sat on the Advisory Committee for the School of Communications at Hong Kong Baptist University from 2014-2016.
His business-to-business, business-to-consumer and crisis communications experience spans industry sectors as diverse as aerospace, automotive, food and beverage, finance and investment, gaming, healthcare, payment, petrochemical, retail, travel and technology. He has consulted for such clients as Bacardi, Boeing, Disney Channel, FedEx, Ford, Levi Strauss & Co., Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Malaysia Airlines, Motorola, Nissan, Philips Semiconductors, Rolls-Royce, Shell and Visa.

Simeon is a steward of client relationships across all of Ketchum’s offices in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, rallying and coordinating specialist support across the region, upholding client care, best practices, and the introduction of new services. He provides senior counsel for local, regional and global clients at the highest boardroom level.
His work has gained recognition through multiple industry awards. In 2007, he received the David Drobis Award, Ketchum’s highest accolade rewarding excellence in client service.

Simeon is also a regular speaker, panelist and chair at industry events in the Asia Pacific region covering subject matter as diverse as social/digital communications trends, data and creativity, issues and crisis management, corporate affairs and agency management. Recent appearances include PR360 Asia 2017 (panelist), the Asia Pacific Corporate Affairs Forum 2015 and 2016 (panel chair) and Crisis and Reputation Management 2016 and 2017 (conference chair).
He is also a regular judge of industry awards including Public Affairs Asia Gold Standard Awards (2011 – 2017) and PRWeek Asia (2013).
Based in Hong Kong for 15 years he started his PR career in the UK before transferring to Asia. He joined Ketchum in 2004.
Simeon is British and was educated at University College London.