Though he is now the chairman of one of the largest PR networks in Asia and the largest PR consultancy in Hong Kong, Richard Tsang started his career like most people – a wide-eyed graduate eager to put the principles he learned at school into practice. Graduating from the School of Journalism and Communication, The Chinese University of Hong Kong back in 1988, Richard cut his professional teeth by helping a medium-size hotel establish and run their PR department. Following a one-year stint, he was off to Burson Marsteller Hong Kong where he initially entered its corporate team, but was subsequently switched to its financial arm. Clearly with a good head for financial PR, Richard then accepted the challenge of building a financial department in Asia for Edelman Public Relations Worldwide Hong Kong. Having now racked up a considerable amount of experience, including an appreciation for the needs of local clients, Richard took the big leap of establishing Strategic Financial Relations in 1995.
With just a handful of staff, but immense motivation, Richard and his team began building the company, initially as a corporate and financial communications provider. Consequently, in the first two years of operation, many of the clients of Strategic Financial Relations were those Richard had won in his earlier career (the majority continues to be its clients to this day). By 2003, the company became known as Strategic Public Relations Group (SPRG) to more accurately reflect its gradual transformation, both in terms of service range and greater geographical presence. As of 2016, SPRG operates a total of 10 offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia, employing over 300 professionals. Among its plethora of services include IPO and investor relations; event consultancy and management; product promotion; CSR communications; new digital media marketing; B2B communications; public affairs, lobbying and government relations; conference organisation; issues and crisis management; and marketing and communications. Correspondingly, SPRG’s clients include prominent members of the automobile, banking and finance, IT, travel and hospitality, healthcare and pharmaceutical, lifestyle, entertainment and sports industries, as well as government bodies and associations.
While such a diverse range of services and enlarged footprint can result in a decline in professional integrity, Richard believed in two key business principles that have helped underpin the Group’s development and success: mentorship and autonomy. In respect of the former, all of the current Hong Kong directors and seniors have been mentored by Richard, hence they are able to independently lead a large-scale unit of the Group. Besides raising the professionalism of each staff member, mentorship has the added benefit of encouraging loyalty, which is why at the Hong Kong office, 15 colleagues have been with the Group for 15 years or above and 44 exceed 10 years. Also, 11 regional office colleagues have been with their respective offices since inception and one-third of the workforce have been with SPRG for five years or more – which is exceptional for an industry that is synonymous with high turnover.
With respect to autonomy, all of the Group’s offices operate with a high degree of freedom yet directly leverage SPRG’s resources and regional network. This aligns with Richard’s belief in trust and delegation, preferring to hire local professionals as general managers owing to their invaluable local knowledge, including a clear understanding of cultural sensitivities, and allowing them to get on with conducting business as they know best.
Now with over twenty years of industry experience, SPRG has completed its fair share of IPO communications campaigns since that very first project back in 1995, racking up over 330 at last count, and SPRG has captured approximately 25% of the IPO communications market since 2000. What is more, it has over 300 retainer clients, with 160 being Hong Kong listed enterprises. Among the many awards and accolades bestowed on SPRG include Public Relations Agency of the Year in Asia Pacific and Public Relations Agency of the Year in Asia for the past three and four consecutive years respectively from a respected international business competition. It has also been named Local Hero – Public Relations Agency of the Year by a leading Asian marketing publication on five occasions, and Best Financial PR Firm in Asia by an authoritative journal on corporate governance for six years in a roll. Furthermore, it holds the titles Asia Pacific Network of the Year and Greater China Independent Agency of the Year from a prestigious regional awards programme, and Asia Pacific Financial Consultancy of the Year and Hong Kong Consultancy of the Year from a renowned PR-related news and information provider.
While SPRG has clearly made its presence felt in the public relations and corporate and financial communications arenas over the past 20 odd years, Richard is far from content with maintaining the status quo. He continues to maintain close contact with junior staff and new recruits, ensuring that they are up to speed with the corporate culture of SPRG, as well as current industry practices and developments. For top level staff, Richard organises an annual gathering where regional developments and market intelligence are shared. He also makes regular trips to all of the offices to better appreciate the efforts made by staff outside of Hong Kong. Far from being dry affairs, these bond-building occasions allow Richard to indulge in his passion for food, with treks to the latest and greatest eateries as part of such “meetings”.
Moving forward, Richard will be steering SPRG to new opportunities both on the business and philanthropic fronts, all the while abiding by his personal motto “Work hard and contribute as best you can”. Being the architect of the recent acquisition of AsiaNet Communications, will enable SPRG to enter the public affairs and government relations field. In terms of contributing to society, Richard established Strategic CSR Network (SCSR) in 2015, a registered non-governmental organisation (NGO), coinciding with the 20th anniversary of SPRG. SCSR serves as a platform for connecting and bringing corporations, NGOs and volunteers together to help people in need. Such efforts dovetail with Richard’s vision to utilise SPRG as a training ground for the next generation of PR practitioners, as well as the catalyst for bringing positive change to the community. This vision also closely aligns with his personal conviction of making contributions to business, society and the greater good, as he has derived the greatest satisfaction from such endeavours. It is no wonder than that Richard’s advice to others is to find an area of focus and contribute as best as one can.