Future gazing to 2035?
The start of the new year, calendar or lunar, is always time to look ahead to the future. Traditionally, trend forecasting is limited to the next 12 months. So, you might think that looking ahead sixteen years to 2035 may be a bit of stretch. But last week the PRC government in Beijing supported by the SAR government in Hong Kong gave us a blueprint of what life might look like in the 2030s in its “Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.”
The Plan is a coordinated urban and economic planning blueprint covering Hong Kong, Macao, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and seven other municipalities around the Pearl River Delta region aka the Greater Bay Area. The area in question covers 56,000 square kilometres and 70 million residents. Modelled on the likes of San Francisco Bay and Tokyo Bay, the goal is to create a globally competitive business, innovation and technology hub centred on a world-class city cluster. It includes building a new system of open economy that will open the region up to greater international cooperation, improve the livelihood of its residents, and provide a blueprint for the opening up of the rest of China.
2035 was defined as the milestone date when the Plan reaches its maturity. The Public Relations and communications sector is not mentioned per se in the Plan (and neither is marketing and advertising). However, what is clear is that the ideas contained in the Plan have some significant implications for how the roles of everyone involved in the sector are set to change.
Here are my takeaways:
Territorial boundaries will be redrawn
The Greater Bay Area will break down traditional boundaries around which communications in the Greater China region are planned and administered. The Plan envisions an integrated region with a population the size of Thailand living and working across the territorial boundaries in place today. For many organizations, it will make sense to treat the Greater Bay Area as a distinct entity separate from the rest of mainland China, to treat Hong Kong/Macao as part of the same region and to manage it from within rather than from Beijing or Shanghai.
Helping more Chinese companies go global
Some of China’s biggest global companies like Huawei, Tencent, DJI and BYD, already call Shenzhen and the Greater Bay Area home. The Plan has been created to help others emulate that achievement. Communicators of tomorrow will need to be as adroit in local, regional and global strategy as they are today. But the likelihood is that the Greater Bay Area will be the central hub of much more global strategy than it is in 2019.
Hong Kong: The Gateway to China. Again.
Under this new model, Hong Kong need not necessarily be the de facto communications management hub. But, there is good reason to assume that it won’t automatically lose its position to say, Shenzhen or Guangzhou.
First, there are already organizations in Shenzhen that preferentially make use of the experience that communications teams in Hong Kong have in managing international relations.
Second, the Plan outlines that each city hub should maintain its distinctiveness and build on its existing strengths rather than duplicating the skills found in another. For Hong Kong, its value-added service industry sector – including communications – is one of those strengths. Hong Kong has all of the chops to own the hub role. But teams will need to work hard in the future to maintain that position.
It’s not all about tech
The Outline Development Plan envisions a tech and innovation hub to rival Silicon Valley. But it’s not all about tech. The Plan references 16 other industries besides tech that will be critical to fulfilling the vision and the needs of the people living within it. Among these are tourism, education, healthcare, engineering, sport and agriculture. All of these will require communications support. The region may be tech focused, but it will need communications specialists with expertise across a similar spectrum of industries we see today.
Under the banner of technology and innovation, the communications sector is set to thrive in the Greater Bay Area. Hong Kong cannot be complacent in defining its role in this newly emerging ecosystem. It would be too easy to be overcome with paranoia that Hong Kong will lose its edge and relevance. If the doubters take over, that will certainly happen.
The reality is that the Outline Development Plan is a clarion call for Hong Kong to recapture its position as an epicenter in the global economy; providing simultaneously unique access to one of the world’s most important economic regions as well as a conduit for outflowing trade. To respond, there will be greater demand for global communication skills and experience alongside the ability to craft regional scopes across the Asia Pacific. It is the local footprint that will change the most dramatically as populations and the media they rely on adapt to the new Bay Area dynamic and organizations flex in how to best manage it.
Simeon Mellalieu is partner client development, Asia Pacific at Ketchum, and on the Board of the Council of Public Relations Firms of Hong Kong.