A question often asked at PR industry meetings is: “How is business holding up in the face of the protests?”
The usual reply is that business is down, but we have to plough on and deal with it, hoping for the best. However, while pockets of the market seem to be holding up well, others have been more drastically affected.
For instance, the finance sector is doing pretty well, particularly following the mid-Autumn Festival, with a steady pipeline of IPOs moving ahead.
Notable is the IPO for brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev which listed its Asian assets in September, raising US$5.8 billion. This was the world’s second-largest IPO of the year and the largest in Asia. In October, Chinese sportswear Topsports International Holdings raised US$1 billion and baby milk formula maker China Feihe attracted US$860 million when it listed on 12 November. On top of that, Hong Kong has a strong chance to become the world’s foremost IPO location for the full year, displacing New York, with the Alibaba listing moving ahead.
So, the finance sector seems to be in fairly good shape.
On the flip side, events-related businesses are struggling, along with anything to do with hospitality, travel, and tourism. Ongoing protests have led to a downturn in visitor arrivals – largely from the mainland – affecting the retail and restaurant sectors, with loss of incomes for those involved. This has led to a cut back in restaurant launches and hotel-related activities, as well as a scaling back for events generally, trade show or otherwise.
For PR firms in this sector, times are quite lean.
In between these two extremes, it’s business as usual for most, but at more subdued levels. New products still get launched, interviews still take place, campaigns get implemented, and opinions put across. New business enquiries are certainly down, but how much is that to do with the protests and how much to do with the Sino-U.S. trade war? Personally, I think that’s hard to say.
So, where do we go from here?
After five months of social unrest, PR firms have generally adapted to the protest environment. Business is continuing with work from home, flexible office options, and increased reliance on technology.
The steadily climbing numbers for IPOs on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, an up-trending stock market (up 6%year to date), and increased activity in the property market point to some regained business confidence since September.
Finally, one thing to note.
Hong Kong often strongly rebounds quickly once a turn is made after a major event. SARS, the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, and the 2009 Global Financial Crisis are good examples. I would expect no different this time.
David Croasdale is the managing director of Newell PR and the treasurer at PRHK, Hong Kong’s association for PR and communications professionals.