Chris Kyme’s Postcard from Hong Kong: What lies ahead? Some independent views

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Chris Kyme’s Postcard from Hong Kong: What lies ahead? Some independent views

Chris Kyme (pictured above) continues his ‘Postcard from Hong Kong’ series. Campaign magazine Asia recently ran a story whereby they interviewed owners and managers of independent agencies in Asia about how they see business moving forward. Except…DOH! They forgot that Hong Kong is also still in Asia (was last time I looked) so I’m correcting that oversight with a little local exploration of my own along the same lines.


Of course, if you believe what you read in populist media you’d be forgiven for believing that Hong Kong as a city has already sunk to the same depths as Atlantis and is probably not even on the map anymore due to the recent admittedly absurd and misguided Covid handling shenanigans, and the public non-relations that came with it, and by all accounts there’s been some sort of mass exodus of people who got fed up with it all and decided to uproot their lives, careers and families and skoodaddle for good.

Now I’m personally a bit baffled by all of this. Hear me out.

I’ve moved country a few times in my career, and in every case it has been because opportunities came knocking. A career move. My ever-changing ambitions. A calling.

I’ve never ever made the decision because I was fed up or had had enough of anything. Especially some bureaucratic incompetence or temporary inconvenience. I mean, if you bugger off every time you’re a bit miffed about local rules, regulations or kneejerk policies you’d never settle anywhere.

Whenever I’ve moved on it’s been for reasons of opportunity, like a job offer, or solid personal reasons. Anyway, that’s just me. I’m sure people felt strongly enough about it to do it. If I thought the severe Covid quarantine rules were going to be in place for the next 25 years I’d be the first on a plane. But they weren’t. And they won’t be.

So Covid frustrations aside, how does the immediate future look for the metropolis formerly known as Asia’s World City, from the perspective of some of the independent agencies?

Speaking personally, despite the current restrictions and the rapid rocketing and then fast demise of Omnicron cases (we were up to around 50,000 daily cases a few weeks ago and now down to around 600 as I write), a self imposed lockdown and Zooming every meeting like the rest of the world, we’re busy enough.

Projects just seem to be happening. We’ve got three shoots coming up as I write, including overseas. So I can’t complain (well I can because I was half expecting to enjoy some lazy days at home chilling out at home drinking beer and listening to Gregory Isaacs but instead it’s been 2-3 meetings a day). We made a decision – all work from home. For now. Until it improves. Which it is. We’ll be back in the office soon.

I asked a few other agency owning folks how it’s been for them.

One person I spoke to was Tan ‘TK’ Khiang (pictured below middle) founder, owners and creative and directorial guru of Wowwowtank. A lot of their business is with property developer clients and that doesn’t seem have been slowed down. “As we are pretty focused on only one industry, we have been very busy preparing for when the Covid restrictions are down. And as land is continuously being sold, we are constantly busy. We have completed 10 new pitches in Q1 alone. Won some, lost some.”

Desmond So (pictured below left), CEO of Uth Creative group though, has been feeling the effect. “ Yes a lot of projects have been scaled down. I think most blue chip clients will take Covid as the norm now. However, for smaller clients it may not be so easy to recover.”

Rudi Leung (pictured below right), Director & Founder of Hungry Digital is someone who’s always had a sensible head on his shoulders when it comes to agency management, and especially when considering the welfare of his people. He said “It depends on the industry. But cost-saving has inevitably become part of the brief for most clients at the beginning of 2022. The main challenge is how to keep our business maintain a reasonable margin while the operation cost (rent, staff, 3rd party production houses) continues rising. However, I am optimistic that clients will come back to spend more especially on digital later on. The media landscape is shifting rapidly and there are so many new things for marketers to play with.”

Chris Kyme’s Postcard from Hong Kong: What lies ahead? Some independent views

So naturally we’re all wondering where we go from here, given that we’re seeing a bit of light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel (in more ways than one). According to Rudi..he’s not going anywhere. “I believe those who consider Hong Kong their permanent home like me, will just find ways to at least keep our minds normal while coping with the challenges. I will just follow the current and make things work as much as I can.

Desmond for one is cautiously upbeat. “It will take time for recovery but my gut feel is positive. I think somehow people decided to stay and will try their utmost to bounce back.”

According to TK “I don’t think the industry I am focused on will spend less. It is rather competitive, it may go down a tad, someone may do it cheaper, but if you pay peanuts you get monkeys. So cutting corners may mean having to redo it. So it really depends on the policies. The new Chief Executive may bring different policies that help to lift up the lower strata of society, that will make more Hong Kongers embrace the Lion Rock spirit.”

So if the rumours of our demise are not quite so believable, at least for right now, what about the more long term future, can we believe every article we read in the New York Times, especially regarding the exodus. “I do know expat friends leaving HK one after one too. However, I believe once the HK government can become more relaxed on its quarantine policy, I believe more expats will be coming, including those who left and the new ones. HK is still an excellent place for them to make a good living while having an easy-going city life” said Rudi Leung.

TK is a Singaporean, so maybe a bit of an eternal optimist. “The future is bright. Shoots are happening, we are already functioning as normal and all staff are in the office. “Nobody is working from home. Rapid tests are conducted twice a week. We have so far only 2 cases of people leaving because, for once they can emigrate easily. We are still keeping them on-board, as distance is no barrier in our work, they know us and we them. All headed to the UK.”

Paul Chan, Co-Founder and Creative Director of CTWTM and himself a bit of Hong Kong creative legend, is also a bit glass half full (preferably half full with a decent Burgundy knowing him). “Yeah we did suffer a bit in 2020-21..but we seem to be getting back to normal now. I reckon next year will be busy again for the industry. I guess the local industry will recover, but it might not get back to where it was due to the potential and likely downturn of the global economy spiking inflation and interest rates.”

Chris Kyme’s Postcard from Hong Kong: What lies ahead? Some independent views

So, optimism with a sprinkling of caution. Same for Desmond So. “It will take time for recovery but my gut feel is positive. I think somehow people decided to stay and will try their utmost to bounce back. For us as an independent agency, no doubt we need to be more conservative about our growth, and mindful of our staffing ratio to budget forecasts.”

A lot of what I read in social media (usually from departing expats or, especially, from people who have never actually lived here) is that the old Hong Kong has retired. Been put out to pasture. That might be so, but isn’t that par for the course? Shouldn’t Hong Kong be evolving from what it was, to what it can become in the future? To me it’s still a brilliant city populated by people with an incredible energy and will to, not just survive, but to get on.

My interviewees were not in disagreement with me. Desmond “Hong Kong will always be a place that will encourage new ideas and offer opportunities. So I am positive about our industry moving forward. Although for sure it will be more online driven”

And naturally it can be easier to see out a rough period if your running a smaller ship, as most independent agencies usually are.” It’s always been much harsher on the big international agencies with higher overheads, so hopefully, the likes of us will reap the rewards from that” said Paul Chan.

Rudi also believes that any belt-tightening would likely be to the benefit of the smaller shops. “Between 2020-2021, I had first-hand experience that there were more international clients shifting their businesses to independent agencies like ours, and digital content production continues in high demand. I believe the trend will continue.

I let TK have the last word. “Hong Kong will always survive. It is a city where capital flows in and out easily, no Chinese city can replace that. So will Shanghai replace HK financially? Shanghai is just too vulnerable in geopolitics. A lot of companies that leave NYSE, ends up either here. So when there are 100 IPOs happening or are queuing up, it is hard for the city to go down. It will not be back to Colonial HK, the World of Susie Wong and the romance of it is gone. It will remain a mix of past memories, history and future possibilities. We cannot move forward by constantly looking back, we can only learn from it, innovate and be better.”

Well said that man. This place needs to reinvent itself. I leave you with a link to an excellent piece by Anant Deboor, seasoned Strategic Marketer and Brand Consultant, who gives a few clues as to what Hong Kong needs to be thinking about in order to move forward.