One of the hottest topics of 2019 so far is the unveiling of the official blueprint for the Greater Bay Area. Formerly known as the Pearl River Delta, the Greater Bay Area is a megalopolis consisting of Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Zhuhai, Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Jiangmen, Huizhou and Zhaoqing. Indeed, while these cities are physically close to Hong Kong, the distance of understanding between them can be far. And the difference in behaviour and culture between cities can also be quite significant, even though we share Lingnan culture.
Yet despite no concrete policies or taxation incentives having been announced for businesses in or entering the region, communications professionals in Hong Kong shouldn’t be taking a passive approach to see how it all unfolds. For Hong Kong PR professionals, it’s important to understand the parameters of this new area and how the market is continuously changing. Under the Greater Bay Area initiative, the landscape and population of the region is many times bigger than it has ever been before, while infrastructure like Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and Hong Kong West Kowloon Station brings huge numbers of visitors to Hong Kong for day trips. Crucially, this means that the Hong Kong market is no longer solely about Hong Kong consumers anymore, but about its regular visitors.
While the Greater Bay Area is being positioned as a new gateway to China, each city-level government is actively ensuring that their cities remain distinct from their neighbours. Hong Kong PRs need to be willing to leverage the unique advantages of our neighbouring cities. Shenzhen, for example, has transformed into a major global tech hub – what sorts of opportunities, for example, present themselves to local brands looking to partner with a major global IT company? Guangzhou is home to some amazing art and design universities – what design talent can agencies identify there to help take brands forward with an injection of visual creativity?
Looking beyond our borders is particularly crucial in today’s context, as Hong Kong alone is no longer the gateway to China it once was. It seems to be more the case now that Chinese brands are seeing Hong Kong as a gateway to the rest of the world. Indeed, several Mainland China-born PR agencies have already opened offices in Hong Kong, with quite a few more in the planning stages. It’s how brands like bubble tea brand HEYTEA have grown from humble beginnings in Jiangmen, to conquering China, and now making waves in Hong Kong.
As PR professionals in Hong Kong, now is the time to leverage our deeper knowledge of, and more extensive experience with, the international media and markets, helping brands in the Greater Bay Area to reach wider audiences. But in the meantime, we should also be seeking to strengthen our understanding of and connection with the region, especially in terms of communication and media trends, consumer behaviour and cultural practices. So many brands of late have fallen into PR crises of their own making on account of cultural misunderstandings – Hong Kong PRs could be the bridge to better communications between both sides.
The new Greater Bay Area initiative holds unbounded potential for the PR game in Hong Kong, but agencies here mustn’t assume a boom. Before Hong Kong agencies are able to capitalise on this new phase of South China relations, we need to consider how we structure internally and take the time to understand how best to negotiate this area of 11 cities and nearly 70 million people. At the peak of Hong Kong’s industrial might in the 1980s, the city’s manufacturers were pioneers in the Pearl River Delta region. But many factories have now left the area – the key reason being that they did not evolve their service or product as quickly as these cities advanced. PR agencies in Hong Kong need to consider the bigger picture to ensure they too don’t get left behind.