Growing Pains in the Digital Era

As Seen In… Marketing

In Hong Kong we’re used to asking each other, “How’s business?” and typically responding, “Busy.” Whether the economy is in an upswing or a downswing the response is always the same. So it’s useful every now and then to look under the hood to see what’s really going on in the PR industry.

As a bannerman for the PR agency sector, the annual bench-marking survey of the Council of Public Relations Firms of Hong Kong (CPRFHK) is one of its most valuable assets. Polling both member and non-member firms, agencies large and small, local and multinational, the survey examines all aspects of agency management from staff to clients.

For the first time in the survey’s eight-year history, social media equaled media publicity as the most used communications channel employed by agencies (click to tweet). Social media and digital services are expanding agencies’ portfolio of services and are having a significant impact on top line revenue. But it’s not all clear sailing. Unlocking the business potential digital offers can be difficult to realize.

Gaining access to digital briefs is a challenge. Client-side, ownership of digital communications is often siloed beyond the responsibility of corporate communications teams, the PR agencies’ natural go-to client contacts. Agency competition in the space is increasingly fierce with PR agencies sparring with digital boutiques and advertising agencies, themselves offering an expanded range of services.

PR agencies are investing to expand in digital, but turning a profit is not automatic. There appears to be an expectations gap agency side to client side on the value of services on the digital rate card. In an increasingly competitive environment, price cutting continues with a third of firms admitting to the practice to win business. This is something the CPRFHK would like to see the back of. As an industry we should be standing firm on fair pay for fair work.

The knock-on effect of all of this is on talent, which is always a pain point for agencies. Over 40% of survey respondents reported a staff turnover rate of more than 20%. The agency brain drain to the client side continues, and recruitment remains a challenge, particularly as agency services diversify in the digital era.

Charged with juggling this bundle of challenges, it’s no wonder Hong Kong’s PR agency leaders always say that they are busy. The good news is that even in an increasingly competitive environment firms are adapting to new challenges and are growing with a positive outlook for the year ahead. That’s great news for those looking to build their career and for clients who’ve never had so many options for agency support. It’s very much a buyer’s market.

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.