One of the most stunning remarks Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam made in her famous leaked comments was that the administration that follows hers would need serious PR advice. She genuinely believes that the main problem is ‘poor communication’ of the government’s policies. No possibility that the policies themselves are bad.
This goes back to the dawn of the Special Administrative Region. Tung Chee-hwa constantly fretted that the government must ‘communicate more’. (This suggests a sort of progress – at least officials today think the problem is the quality rather than the sheer quantity of the communication.)
Carrie lamented that PR companies had turned away her administration’s requests for help. An industry journal called the Holmes Report helpfully dug up some details. The Guardian then ran with it. The Hong Kong government has become the lePRous account that no agency will touch.
Bearing in mind that PR agencies will happily work for such wholesome and noble clients as the Saudi regime or opioid-peddling pharma giants, this is quite something.
It would be tempting to think that it is
purely because of the impossibility of getting Hong Kong’s deluded bureaucrats out
of their fantasy land and admit that they, not their audience, are the problem.
The invitation to pitch for the account (on Holmes Report) suggests that
Hong Kong officials were indeed obsessed with just re-screeching the same vacuous
Asia’s World City slogans. But PR agencies like
taking money from suckers
The big problem is not simply that the Hong Kong government’s reputation is toxic. If Carrie’s people had just chopped a journalist to pieces in an embassy or hooked half of West Virginia on painkillers – fine, we can work on that.
The problem is that the Hong Kong government’s antagonists – the competition for audience sympathy – are so well-known and attractive internationally. The protesters, in all their photogenic glory, have won the soft power. There’s nothing to be gained from representing a client whose cops are laying into these smart, creative, defiant, doe-eyed kids. It would be like winning the account for the people who club baby seals to death. Don’t even bother.
Instead, the Hong Kong government must try do-it-yourself image enhancement. For example, recycling some newspaper ad material on Twitter. Where people can add whatever comments they like. This is not pretty.