Hong Kong’s PR crises: how brands can save themselves from destruction

Recent high-profile incidents involving Lancôme, Leon Lai, City University and even the Ngau Tau Kok fire show what approaches work and don’t

While the adage may be that there is no such thing as bad publicity, recent events in Hong Kong have shown that the way companies, institutions and individuals respond to public relations crises can lead to very different results.

Whilst some have adopted a proactive approach to potentially brand-damaging events by keeping their audience informed with timely updates on social media, others have sought to contain an embarrassing blunder by making limited comment.

City University found itself in the centre of a storm in May when the roof of its Tai Ho Multi-Purpose Hall collapsed. The incident proved a major test for Joseph Kun Ching-chung, the university’s associate director of communications and public relations.

As soon as Kun heard about the collapse, he spoke with the university’s senior management who agreed that a press conference should be held within a few hours to head off speculation and rumours.

“If you don’t give [the public] accurate information, the media may interpret things by themselves,” he said. “So I think timing was very important for us at that time.”

Kun said facilitating requests from authorities and media and having open communication were paramount to those who were inspecting the site.

“The first few hours were the most important [after the roof collapse],” he recalled. “We had to protect our brand and our image. We had to maintain trust.”

He recognised that online outlets – highly influential in the digital age, especially in social media – should be allowed into press conferences. They should also be provided print information to cut down on misunderstandings.

City University’s handling of the roof collapse incident was well-received, preventing a freak occurrence from becoming a major public relations disaster.

Canto-pop singer Leon Lai Ming similarly demonstrated how a strong PR strategy could help salvage one’s image following an unexpected event. The 49-year-old singer was forced to call off his concert at Central Harbourfront in April over a fire safety issue just two hours before it was meant to start.

His fans were distraught and frustrated, but they appeared to respond well to his multiple apologies on social media.

His first video apology went viral, with fans praising him for his sincerity. One fan even wrote on Facebook: “Mr Lai is more transparent, responsible and efficient than the SAR government! [He] has successfully resolved a potential public relations disaster! Amazing.”

Sara Jones, a PR and communications specialist based in London, said a timely response could contain a potentially disastrous situation, even if it did not always entirely solve it.

She advised clients to keep others regularly informed about how they were working to resolve an issue.

“Keeping people up to date with developments and telling them what you’re doing to improve things is crucial and that’s where Leon Lai did so well,” she said.

“Social media brings an added layer of difficulty to handling a crisis because information travels so far and so quickly,” she added. “But it can also help because those at the centre of the crisis can communicate with their audience really quickly and directly.”

However, social media can also intensify negative publicity, as seen during the recent Ngau Tau Kok fire. In that tragedy, Fire Services Department director David Lai Man-hin received a critical rather than sympathetic response from netizens over his leadership when he broke down at a press conference at the height of the crisis.

Separately, French cosmetics company Lancôme faced a backlash from Hongkongers over its decision to cancel a concert it had planned to host with Canto-pop singer Denise Ho Wan-sze.

The public perception was that the gig was cancelled due to Ho’s political affiliations with the Occupy movement, sparking protests in Hong Kong.

Lancôme declined to comment further on the fiasco when approached by the Post. A spokeswoman said its earlier statements posted on Facebook still applied: the company had stated the event had been cancelled due to “possible safety reasons”, adding it was “deeply sorry for the disappointment”.

An earlier statement read: “Denise Ho is not a spokesperson of Lancôme. We are sorry for the confusion caused.”

Jones said Lancôme’s approach was “not to engage with the story”, which, in this instance, seemed to have backfired to a certain degree.

By Harminder Singh
Rachel Blundy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 July, 2016, 1:47pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 July, 2016, 9:28pm

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Robert Chaen

Global CEO-Founder of ChangeU and Movsha Movers & Shakers, Hero-CEO Whisperer, Writer, The #1 Alpha Change Expert, Father of Asian FireWalking Robert Chaen is an International Keynote Speaker, writer, researcher, and corp games designer. He is famously known to be the “Hero-CEO Whisperer”, 1-on1 coaching with many CEOs and Celebrities for corporate strategies, staff & office political issues, personal branding, and even public figure OSHA safety drilling called Drager Defense. He has transformed CEOs and managers in Coca-Cola China, TVB Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airport Services, VADS, TM, Public Bank, Auditor General's Office Maldives, etc. He is the prolific creator and online Author of innovative management tools such as DragonCEO, Diamond Leader, Papillon Personal Effectiveness, OSHA Drager Defense, KPI Bank, etc. He is also the Founder of Movsha, an international networking with monthly mingles with MOVers & SHAkers, Angels, Entrepreneurs, CEOs, Celebrities, HR-PR-CSR, HODs, and the Most Influential IDEA people. ​Chaen is widely considered as one of the top International Platform Keynote Speakers for Resorts World Genting Senior Management Conference (Manila), 7-Eleven HK, Samsung, Coca-Cola China Mini-MBA @Tsing Hua University, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Jockey Club, The Story Conference where he interviewed Datuk Kamarudin (Chairman of AirAsia) and Siti Nurhaliza. He has been widely featured in TVB, AWSJ, CNBC, SCMP, The Star, and Sin Chew. As “The Father of Asian FireWalking”, he coached TVB celebrities (Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin) to walk on 650°C fire; and raised HK$68M in the world’s 1st and only live TV Charity FireWalk (TVB Tung Wah Charity Show), before Tony Robbins even came to Asia. If Robert can get you to walk on 650⁰C fire, he can inspire you to be THE BEST. He champions CN-HK-EU-US Tycoons to be philanthropic, and to be angel investors to support the next generation of Jack Mas, Steve Jobs, Richard Bransons, Steven Spielbergs, or Barrack Obamas. With some slick motivational speakers with fake doctorates out there, graduates often describe Robert to be "the most credible, empowering, truthful Coach" who believe in his graduates to believe in themselves. ​However, clients have described Robert as "The #1 Cool Badass Alpha Change Expert". He has the coolest first class stature, rapport and trust from clients. He will not hesitate to tell the badass truth ever so gently because clients are paying him big bucks to reveal the truth, find solutions, persuade the hostile HODs, and align cross-teams within the organization. Originally based in Hong Kong for 20+ years, he had worked with top Branding/Ad agencies at J Walter Thompson and Leo Burnett, and was a certified FranklinCovey (7 Habits) in USA, and NLP MasterCoach (USA). His warmth is known to soften the most hardened, resistant sceptics. He will inspire your team to Go for Top 1, or to be a Dragon CEO. With boundless energies, Robert owns 15+ successful business Joint-Ventures, and created unique products under his global VC network called Chaen's Angels VC. He is deeply passionate about ChangeUTH Youth CSR, Science-Based Medicine (vs. quackery), short films and Reality TV. Touched by a personal tragedy through the loss of his HK-born Portuguese wife, co-coach and business partner, Brenda José of 18 years, Robert explores the many ways in which the spirit world is communicating with the living with real scientific studies and evidence. He gives inspiring conferences on The Secret Afterlife.

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