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[ALUMNI INTERVIEW] Richard Tsang on His Public Relations Journey Fearlessly Facing Challenges

Fearlessly Facing Challenges
Richard Tsang on His Public Relations Journey

Transitioning from public relations work to starting his own business, Richard Tsang (88/NA/Journalism and Communication), the Chairman of Strategic Public Relations Group, has consistently embraced challenges. When faced with new endeavours, he readily jumped in, enduring workdays that began before 9 am and extended well past midnight over significant periods. Jokingly remarking that his work hours were twice as long as an ordinary person's, he accumulated more than twice the amount of experience in three years compared to others. This approach has laid a solid foundation for him to excel in the PR profession.

Richard mentioned that the idea of pursuing a career in public relations never crossed his mind during his university days. "I majored in broadcasting in the then Department of Journalism and Communication at CUHK, and never took any course relating to public relations or advertising. After graduation, I applied for a job at a hotel in Jordan. The newly appointed general manager was about to establish a public relations department and believed that, with my journalism background, I must understand public relations, so I was hired." There began his journey in public relations. Drawing on the extensive event-management experience he gained at church during his varsity days, he adeptly managed his new responsibilities at the hotel. However, he left just after a year. "The work was truly exceptional. Firstly, I served as a department head, and for my first job after entering the workforce, I already had my own office. Later, I even hired an assistant. For the hotel's 25th-anniversary celebration, I had the opportunity to plan various events, and was even involved in the design of facade decorations. I learned a lot. Due to the excellent hotel meals and the fact that I had to promote the group's restaurants to food journalists, I once ate five meals in a day and gained 15 kilograms in my first year of employment! Feeling that I had acquired the necessary skills and having experienced in-house public relations work, I naturally considered joining a public relations agency."

The then Department of Journalism and Communication was a regular winner of the inter-departmental mixed choir contest. Representing the department, Richard went onstage to accept the award.

Entering PR in thriving financial industry
Coincidentally, during that period, the world's largest public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller, presented him with an opportunity. "While pursuing my journalism studies, I interned at the government's Information Services Department, and one of my supervisors later joined Burson-Marsteller. He piqued my interest in a career switch. Initially, I worked in the corporate communications department. About a year and a half later, the local financial market boomed, propelled by the combined efforts of the government and the stock exchange. Recognising the potential, Burson-Marsteller anticipated a substantial market for investor relations. Subsequently, they internally sought candidates to expand the financial public relations department, specifying that they should be male, proficient in Chinese, and possess a mature appearance. I bravely volunteered."

Looking back, Richard thinks he made the right choice. "When working in financial public relations, I would start working before 9 am to read all the newspapers to anticipate potential inquiries from the stock exchange. My workdays extended until midnight, a schedule less convenient for a woman. Given the predominantly male nature of the financial industry and the prevalence of older male CEOs in listed companies at that time, my mature and composed appearance facilitated meaningful connections with them. This distinguished me from my female counterparts, enabling me to handle the responsibilities more adeptly. On the other hand, while many individuals in PR firms excelled in English, my proficiency in Chinese proved invaluable due to the bilingual nature of all investor relations documents and the strict adherence to legal protocols that left no room for deviation."

Entrepreneurial decision made in July 1995
With all these advantages, Richard rapidly rose through the corporate ladder, achieving a remarkable promotion of four levels within a few years. At 26, he attained the position of department head. Subsequently, Edelman Public Relations made the strategic decision to form its financial public relations team in the Asia-Pacific region, leading to him being approached by a headhunting company. "Edelman operated on a smaller scale compared to Burson-Marsteller back then. But I wanted to test my own capabilities without relying on Burson-Marsteller's reputation. So I joined Edelman in March 1994." This stint did not last long. A former colleague suggested that he venture out to start a company. "Initially, CK Lo and S Lam, two veteran PR professionals, formed the company and asked if I was interested. We studied the operational models of various local and overseas professional firms and realised that a partnership was the best choice. Hence, in July 1995, I decided to start my own business."

This partnership concept involves individuals establishing companies based on their respective expertise, assuming major partner roles, and subsequently integrating these companies for shared control under the same group. "For instance, CK Lo and S Lam excel in public affairs, while Andy Ho and Lee Luen-fai specialise in media relations and education, respectively. For me, my strength lies in the financial aspect. Consequently, we founded our own PR companies. The evolution of public relations professionals demands insightful counsel beyond traditional event management and promotion services. What is crucial is specialised core expertise, prompting each of us to focus on our specific strengths. The formation of a group allows for optimal synergistic effects, and this encapsulates the background for the formation of Strategic Public Relations Group."

Richard Tsang (second right) alongside Andy Ho (first left), CK Lo (second left), S Lam (centre), and Lee Luen-fai (first right), each operating their respective PR companies.

Richard's decision to venture into entrepreneurship was not solely influenced by the persuasion of friends; there was another underlying factor. "Having worked in the PR industry for a considerable period, I saw frequent job changes among my peers, with high employee turnover rates in companies. Contemplating how to retain colleagues, I carefully observed the stark contrast in operational approaches. Foreign companies prioritise operational systems, emphasising the pursuit of results and goals, while Chinese companies place greater emphasis on teamwork, fostering a family-like atmosphere across the organisation. I believe these two aspects are not mutually exclusive. Therefore, when starting out in the business, I retained the positive aspects of the operations from foreign companies. As a boss, I adhered to systems for leave and expense applications. Simultaneously, I infused the cultural atmosphere of a Chinese company, resulting in successful employee retention. Many staff members hired during the early days of the Group have remained with the company for over 20 years."

Celebrating the company's 10th anniversary with a dinner gathering with colleagues.

Insights into “PR disasters”
After three decades in the PR profession, Richard has developed a profound understanding about public relations. "In recent years, the term 'PR disasters' has been frequently thrown around, and the public often assumes that a company with effective public relations is automatically thriving. However, this is not necessarily true. Public relations serves a consultative role, but it begins with a thorough understanding of the company's business operations and development. It involves assessing how all stakeholders perceive the company and collaborating with the management team to anticipate calculated risks that may arise in the future. By comprehending the risks a company may face, suggestions can be offered. The situation is akin to playing a chess game – the more accurately you predict the opponent's impending moves, the greater the likelihood of success."

Richard Tsang (second right) has received countless awards, acknowledging his achievements and status in the field of public relations.

On Richard's own business card are a diverse array of over 40 organisations, where he holds roles as a director, committee member, or advisor. His engagements range from serving as Vice Chairman of the Hong Kong Dance Company to a member of the Hong Kong AIDS Foundation Advisory Board, a Council Member of the UNICEF Hong Kong, a Trustee Member of the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Deputy Chairman of the Hong Kong Institute of Directors, a member of Chung Chi College's Board of Trustees at CUHK, and, from November this year, a new member of the Hong Kong Tourism Board. The sheer quantity and broad spectrum of these responsibilities are impressive. Richard disclosed that his interests extend well beyond the realm of PR.

"Over a decade ago, I had already entrusted the company's business operations to my colleagues, allowing me to dedicate myself to public services. Driven by my faith, some of the public offices I hold pertain to religion and education, while the rest focus on the two major issues of society and livelihood as well as the promotion of local community developments. Serving in these public roles allows me to gain exposure to different industries. For instance, in the Steering Committee on Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases, I am one of the few members who do not come from a healthcare background. I get to know fellow members within the sector and, at the same time, to listen to relevant knowledge. That's wonderful! Furthermore, given the increasing focus on ESG by publicly listed companies, I can leverage my newly established network of contacts to connect clients and promote diverse environmental and community projects."

Spirit of service inspired by faith
To encourage Journalism and Communication students to pursue a career in public relations, he has established several scholarships over the years, including the RTCL Scholarship under the School of Journalism and Communication, which was named with the initials of his and his wife's English names, as well as the SPRG Scholarship that offers recipients internship opportunities. "Confining students to a fixed location for PR work is far from ideal. Therefore, we select two to four students to undergo overseas internship annually. The Group has branch offices or associate companies worldwide, providing an excellent opportunity for them to broaden their horizons." Whenever his alma mater requires financial support, Richard would generously make donations, and he readily accepts invitations to public service roles, a commitment rooted in his personal faith. "Having been a Christian since childhood and attending church from a young age, I've served in various capacities. This experience has instilled in me a spirit of service. I believe that God has endowed me with gifts to contribute to society, and strategically allocating financial resources to the right areas leads to optimal outcomes."

When Prof. Lawrence Lau assumed the position of CUHK's Vice-Chancellor, he invited several alumni to a dinner banquet, among which was Richard Tsang (back row, first right).

Due to this, he tells his younger alumni that intellectual cultivation and character are the keys to success. "Irrespective of the industry, employers highly value character. Although I've been detached from my company's operations for many years and haven't participated in recruitment for a while, the impression I have of CUHK students is that they are generally modest, down-to-earth, and hardworking. Fewer of them tend to be smart-alecky or arrogant, traits that can blind individuals to their own shortcomings. I believe such qualities are not appreciated by employers."

Richard Tsang humorously said his greatest accomplishment at CUHK was getting to know his wife, pictured next to him.

Richard Tsang's Profile

  • 1988‧Graduated with Bachelor of Social Science in CUHK
  • 1988‧Public Relations Specialist, Hotel Fortuna
  • 1989‧Group Manager, Burson Marsteller Hong Kong
  • 1994‧Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, CUHK
  • 1994‧Deputy General Manager and Director, Edelman Public Relations Hong Kong
  • 1995‧Established Strategic Public Relations Group
  • 2011‧Board Member, Ocean Park Corporation
  • 2017‧Member, Office of the Communications Authority - Telecommunications Users and Consumers Advisory Committee
  • 2019‧Deputy Chairman, The Hong Kong Institute of Directors
  • 2020‧Member, Global Alumni Advisory Board, CUHK
  • 2021‧Vice Chairman, Hong Kong Dance Company
  • 2021‧Council Member, UNICEF Hong Kong
  • 2022‧Member, Board of Trustee, Chung Chi College, CUHK
  • 2023‧Board Member, Hong Kong Tourism Board

"CU Alumni Magazine" Video Interview: (Chinese only)

Published on "CU Alumni Magazine" Issue 116 by Alumni Affairs Office 2023

Read online: CU Alumni Magazine Issue No. 116 (Chinese Version Only)
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