Wednesday, 16 October 2013

A Classic Public Relations Case Study

An enormous outcry erupted almost immediately upon the Hong Kong government's announcement yesterday evening that Hong Kong Television Network Limited's application for a new free television programme service licence has been rejected. Everyone seemed shocked, surprised and refused to accept the result. Few people could resist the temptation to ask: Why?

Apparently Gregory So, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development's so-called explanation failed to convince the people, "Having carefully considered an array of relevant factors, including the free TV licence applications submitted by the three applicants, the recommendations of the [Broadcasting] Authority, statutory requirements under the Broadcasting Ordinance, the assessment criteria in the Authority's Guidance Note for Those Interested in Applying for Domestic Free Television Programme Service Licences in Hong Kong, the overall sustainability of the free TV market, the consultant's reports on the competition implications of new entrants to the local free TV market (which include an assessment of the relative competitiveness of each applicant), all relevant documents, all representations and responses submitted by the relevant parties, all the relevant latest developments, all public views received and the Government's prevailing broadcasting policy, the Chief Executive in Council has decided that it would be in the public interest to adopt a prudent approach to introduce new operators into the free TV market in a gradual and orderly manner (the "Gradual and Orderly Approach"). On this basis, the CE in Council has decided today to grant approval-in-principle to Fantastic TV's and HKTVE's free TV licence applications."

Without a trace of doubt, this long-winded statement is not meant to be conveying anything comprehensible or meaningful. The most important piece of information is put at the end of the paragraph instead of the beginning. It is yet another example of how detached, disconnected and dysfunctional government communication can possibly be.

I am not going to repeat all those criticisms, mockeries and speculations of the government decision here. Too many people out there argue much more eloquently than I do. My journalism school also issued a statement urging greater transparency in the selection process, citing uncertainties looming the television industry and potential threat to freedom of expression.

In addition to my astonishment at the incredible stupidity of the Hong Kong government decision-makers, however, I am equally amused to see how easy it is to manipulate public opinion in Hong Kong to one's benefit.

Forget the spinning. Forget the rhetoric. Forget the message house. There is just one almighty key word: Justice.

Mr Ricky Wong, chairman of Hong Kong Television Network Limited, is a seasoned businessman who seems to have a special acumen in marketing and winning hearts and minds. Over the past three years, he has been tirelessly making noises in the local news, business and entertainment pages every now and then to build awareness and harness support for his bid. Most recently, he has been actively engaging the public by providing professionally made preview trailers and organising focus groups to keep the creative teams abreast of the latest market needs, tastes and wants. The landslide public support and sympathy, if anything, only points to his remarkable success of his well-planned and seamlessly implemented engagement strategy. In any full-fledged modern society, it can qualify as a classic case study of successful marketing by public mobilisation and motivation.

Unfortunately, Mr Wong is facing an administration that has no mandate from the people and turns a deaf ear to what the people really think. In the decision-makers' eyes, Mr Wong's strategy of cultivating public support can be menacing and offensive, as if it were forcing the government to give in to public pressure at the expense of reason and professionalism. Therefore, it is hardly surprising to see speculations running that some members of the Executive Council reportedly believe Mr Wong's "aggressive" strategy contravenes with the government's "gradual and orderly approach".

Earlier today when Mr Wong held a press conference to announce his decision of shedding 320 jobs, he wasted no time to ask a question: "Is there still justice in Hong Kong?" Apparently he was exaggerating, because the government only owes him a sound and credible explanation. But he was incredibly clever in stirring up public emotions to his own benefit by asking the right question. Within seconds he managed to bundle an investment failure with the core values of the grumpy, frustrated Hong Kong people. The message is utmost clear: "My failure is yours. It means so much more than a business failure." Within hours tens of thousands are ready to march to the streets on Sunday to show him their support. The government is now pushed into the corner to come up with an open, strong and sensible explanation. But whether the people are still willing to listen is subject to question. The public verdict has been given. There is little leeway to manipulate.

Is there any better public relations campaign than this?


  1. 你歷經江湖這麼久,都不會不知道什麼是「官商勾結」吧?

    1. 知道是一件事,是否照本宣科又是另一回事。世事無奇不有,如果有人明知山有虎,偏向虎山行,也不是新聞了。

  2. Anonymous10:30 pm

    I am upset to hear that this company was not rated the priority one to run a free wireless TV service, even though the company has been granted a piece of land in Tseung Kwun O to build a TV programme production site.

    The CEO of HKSAR should disclose the basis of the decision not to award the contract to this company, especially when a piece of land in Tseung Kwun O has been granted to it.

    Grey So failed to perform his role. The CEO has put up a lot of things behind the scene and when he faces the media, he put the blames on others.

    I will not be able to join the protest this Sunday due to a prior engagement, but I will join the protest to "occupy" Central to voice out my discontent.

    1. The key word over this run-wild saga is "why". They could have prevented the public outcry by putting forward the reasons in the first instance. But they did not do. And they insist it is not necessary or not feasible. This is what I call "bottomless stupidity".

  3. Anonymous8:05 am

    Did I fail to see something in the latest episode of HK? Admittedly I did not know the ins and outs of the drama. As far as I can see these are the outlines:-
    (1) A business man, Mr. Wong, was rejected in his bid for a free TV license. Two other his competitors got the approval, but not him.
    (2) The public and the media were outraged for whatever reason that is still unclear to me.
    (3) I have not seen that Mr. Wong explains to the public why he should get the license. Is his proposal, in which way, better than his competitors’?
    (4) Mr. Wong failed to explain how HK society and public can benefit from his proposal. Is he going to provide better entertainment, better cultural or better educational TV programmes?
    (5) The decision to grant the licenses was made at the Executive Council, equivalent to the cabinet of a country. Does anyone know any country whose cabinet discussions are public information? Why now do the HK media and public demand such openness?
    (6) Until all the above questions are answered, I consider the issue is simply business dealing. That is Mr. Wong submitted his bid but did not win the contract.

    Ontario, Canada

    1. Good points Samson. But so many people out there are convinced that his company and creative teams are capable of producing high-quality programmes by watching the trailers on Youtube. Mr Wong's penetrating public relations campaign has also build up great expectations among those who are fed up with TVB and ATV. Perhaps this is why he doesn't bother to explain again. Now his creative team members also come out to convey the same message. This is why I said this is a classic PR campaign of incredible success. So many people, including my media friends who always believe they uphold justice and reason, are being brainwashed without knowing.

    2. Anonymous9:29 pm

      The reason for the public's outrages is that the Government has changed the free TV licensing policy of increasing competition in the free TV market disregarding consensus on this arrived at previous consultation without explaining why there should be such change. There is serious monopolization in the HK free TV market. The public has all along called for issuing more free TV licenses to increase competition in the market. The Government adopted such policy a few years ago after widespread consultation. Three applications for licenses were then received from interested operators including Mr Wong about 3.5 years ago. Mr Wong has made heavy investment (including establishment of his production crew and procurement of significant amount of equipment) in making preparation for the operation of the TV channel even before granting of the license while the other two applicants have not made any serious preparation (or have not been seen to make any serious preparation) for the granting of the license. Mr Wong is thus seen to be a serious player in the free TV market and the public has expected his participation will bring about real competition in the market. The public queries if the Government really wishes to increase competition in the free TV market by excluding Mr Wong from entering into the market. They question if the Government wishes to protect the existing players (include ATV which is in fact controlled by a mainland businessman) and has secretly changed the free TV licensing policy.
      From my point of view, the more the number of operators in the free TV market, the more the competition will be in the market. If the licensing policy is to increase competition, there should not be any limit on the number of licenses to be issued. The HK society and the public will be benefited from more competition in the free TV market. Mr Wong does not need to prove he has the ability to operate a new TV channel. If we still believe in the market, it is for the spectators and the market to decide whether Mr Wong can provide better entertainment, better cultural or better educational TV programmes and not the Government. I myself do not ask for the Executive Council to disclose all its discussion. However, the Government has to explain if the Government is still upholding the policy of increasing competition in the free TV market. If yes, why should there be barrier to entry to the market. How the public interest will be compromised if one more free TV license is issued.


  4. Anonymous2:07 am

    I do not believe competition should be the ultimate aim of the TV industry even though it is widely perceived it is. In my simple mind, an industry that is so much interwoven with the public daily life, production of good programmes should be high on its judging criteria.
    In an industry with creativity in its DNA, I do not believe that lack of competition of TV stations necessarily stifles the creativity for a good programme. Conversely I do not believe an enhanced competition will stimulate the creation of good programmes.
    We all seem to think that only TV companies can produce TV programmes. How can that be? If an individual has a great idea for a good programme, marketable and potentially profitable, can he/she not convince a group of investors to produce the programme and then sells it to the TV stations? Let us not forget that TV stations are here to make profits.
    The key is “Market and Profit” that is tired to the taste of the general viewing public. If the viewers are satisfied with programmes such as “May姐 雞汁 哈哈哈 , no other good programmes will entice them to switch the channel, regardless having competition or not between TV stations. If the viewing public really do not like a programme, they should complain , not to the TV station, but to the advertisers. If no serious complains are lodged, one more TV station will just generate more “May姐 雞汁 哈哈哈 .

    Ontario, Canada


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