Brexit: Europe’s loss is Hong Kong’s gain

In recent months it has been suggested that Hong Kong is losing its competitive edge as a result of Beijing’s increasing influence over the city, along with the rampant growth of competitor markets like Singapore. In the face of this criticism, the recent Brexit decision could provide the platform the SAR needs to regain its mojo.

First, it should be said that there are currently far more unknowns than knowns, and the process is fluid enough to be mired in almost complete uncertainty. The situation is evolving by the day, as evidenced by the upheaval around the globe across financial markets, political parties, and social strata.

But one of the few areas of consensus seems to be that the UK creative industries are set to suffer their worst set back in generations. In the short-to- medium-term, this presents a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Hong Kong to cement its role as a key regional player again.

The city’s burgeoning start-up scene will see a host of new entrants enticed by favourable breaks, a wealth of local talent, and access to opportunities across SE Asia. That trend has been promised for some time, but the uncertainties in London could trigger a deluge of innovations – and capital – into Hong Kong.

Finance hubs, already a deep part of the business fabric of Hong Kong, are likely to rally around the city’s stability, potentially providing a much-needed boost to the lauded (but so far underwhelming) stock connections between the city and the mainland. As Mainland growth continues to look shaky, expect to see other financial brands investing and building in Hong Kong.

Multinational brands are already eyeing up new markets, with everyone from Vodafone to Siemens warning of inevitable change. The unofficial word is that brands from every industry are considering the relocation of HQs and creative hubs.

What does this mean for marketers in Hong Kong? As Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, recently said, “This is going to be very painful, but the turmoil does bring opportunities.”

My peers across advertising, marketing, design, and digital are all reporting that client planning around FY17 is focusing on diverting budgets (and, in some cases, talent) away from Europe to Asia, where the market is perceived to be both stable and growing.

Campaigns will continue in Europe, of course, but there has rarely been a better time to pivot elements of your strategy and use resources to focus on your audiences across SE Asia. The creative industries are thriving across the SAR, Singapore and beyond, and the palpable optimism in the marketing air should make any team salivate at the opportunities.

In-house marketers in Hong Kong should use this opportunity to be both brave and innovative. Resurrect that idea that was shouted down by London. Initiate that online campaign that never quite made the budget. Explore new channels, target new audiences. For agency teams, this is the time to show your creativity and dynamism. Counsel your clients on the opportunity, and build campaigns that push the envelope further than before.

Recruiters are already reporting an uptick in enquiries from British marketers looking to relocate. While there’s no shortage of home-grown talent in Hong Kong and throughout Asia, as in any market, gaps do exist. Marketers now have the rare chance to cherry pick from new candidates to strengthen their teams and or even add new skillsets.

With planning well underway for 2017 campaigns, the time to act is now. Europe’s instability could be a boon for Hong Kong, but only if agencies, brands and organisations across the city rally themselves to take advantage of this unique opportunity.

By Nick Thorpe, content director of Text100 Hong Kong.