Gliding down the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning, who should I bump into but Grant, the bearded Australian corporate communication guru? “You must have come up in the world,” I gently tease him, “to be commuting in the company of such a distinguished neighbourhood. I always thought you sailed to work with the ragged-trousers brigade on the Lamma ferry.”
He proudly announces that, after years of scrabbling around for freelance work, he now has a real job with a real public relations agency. Not just any PR firm, either, but Ogilvy. “The best in the business,” he assures me. He is master of his own flashy cubicle on the 23rd floor of The Center and living in a walk-up apartment in the salubrious surroundings of Mosque Street.
I ask him what account he is working on, and a slightly evil grin spreads across his hairy face. “A special project,” he tells me. “A thoroughly unpopular group of people in Hong Kong have finally worked out that everyone hates their guts, and we’re going to tell them why and see if we can help them out.”
I am intrigued as to who these ostracized folk might be. “Not the Jehovah’s Witnesses?” I ask him as we pass the famous tree to which Mid-Levels residents nail the cult’s irritating missionaries by the ears.
“Nope,” he replies.
“Hmm… It wouldn’t be Civil Servants? No, no – they’re too insensible to public opinion, and too busy filling in their Air-Conditioning Allowance claim forms. So it must be… Not the Lan Kwai Fong bar owners whining away about 7-Eleven taking all their business by not ripping off consumers?”
“Nope,” comes the grinning response.
“How about Park N Shop? The supermarket everyone loves to loath?”
“Ah! Well, you’re getting a little bit close there,” declares the antipodean reputation management consultant.
As we approach the bottom of the hill, I look up at his office building. Built by Cheung Kong, part of tycoon Li Ka-shing’s empire. “Oh good grief,” I blurt out, “not the property cartel?”
“Bingo!” He slaps my shoulder. “Yeah, the Real Estate Developers Association has hired us to do what we call a ‘perception audit’.” He notices my slight bemusement. “Hey, the first step is recognizing that you have a problem! You know REDA doesn’t even have a website?”
It would be an understatement to say that the property cartel has an image problem. Just yesterday, the Consumer Council proposed ways to counteract the “asymmetry of information” homebuyers face. More and more lateral thinkers are raising their befuddled heads to ask why a minimum wage is such a big deal when it’s the high rents and short leases that cripple many businesses.
“Why are they bothering to pay Ogilvy?” I ask. “Apart from bankers who sell mortgages to finance the pyramid scheme, and bureaucrats who put convenient loopholes in the regulations, everyone in town detests the developers. Everybody thinks they’re total slime. Parasites on the economy. I could tell them that for nothing.”
“Sure!” Grant laughs as heads off down the steps to Queens Road. “But you wouldn’t would you? You’d charge them through the fuckin’ teeth, mate! They can afford it!”