HONG KONG — Consulum has made three senior hires in Hong Kong after landing the controversial assignment to support the government's $6m global PR campaign, bringing considerable experience in government and police communications. 

Eamonn Fitzpatrick, Rob Shorthouse and Agnes Tsang join an office that is entrusted with overseeing the Relaunch Hong Kong assignment, which aims to restore the city's prized reputation as a global business hub, following sustained unrest over the past year, which culminated in the implementation of the National Security Law (NSL) at the start of July. 

Since then Hong Kong's global reputation has suffered further setbacks, thanks to the arrests of pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, his two sons and four senior staff of Next Digital, the parent company of local newspaper Apple Daily. Former student activist Agnes Chow Ting and two others were also arrested under the new NSL, while several other exiled activists are wanted by police. 

Best known for its Saudi Arabian work, Consulum's selection for the assignment came after numerous major PR firms declined the opportunity to take part, as revealed by PRovoke.

Shorthouse, who has been named partner, spent the past two years as director of strategy and communications at Hong Kong's English Schools Foundation, the city's biggest international schools group. He previously held several high-profile roles in Scotland, including director of communications for the successful No campaign in the Scottish Independence Referendum, and communications head for Strathclyde Police.

Ex-SCMP journalist Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, also joins Consulum as a partner, after five years with Hawker Britton, a government relations consultancy in Brisbane. A veteran of Australian politics, Fitzpatrick previously held senior communications roles with the New South Wales government and also served as media advisor to the Australian state's police force.

Tsang, who brings considerable nonprofit experience, has been appointed as director at Consulum Hong Kong. Most recently director of communications and government relations at the American Chamber of Commerce, Tsang also spent five years at WWF Hong Kong, and served as a senior researcher in the Hong Kong government's Central Policy Unit.

Tsang described the new hires to PRovoke as "a high calibre team of high professional standard."

Both Shorthouse and Tsang will be no strangers to crisis situations from their previous postings. The ESF is investigating claims of racism following an online petition, while three former AmCham directors have criticised their recent dismissal after raising concerns about the president's pay package.

The Relaunch Hong Kong assignment, led by Hong Kong's Information Services Department (ISD), calls for Consulum to provide issues and crisis management research, along with a PR campaign that addresses international critics and includes marketing and advertising of the city across North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific. Target audiences include key influencers, investors, industry leaders, media and think tanks. 

Consulum established its Hong Kong office on 15 May. According to Companies Registry filings, the office director is Matthew Gunther Bushell, the ex-Bell Pottinger veteran who co-founded Consulum with Tim Ryan in 2012.

While the low-profile firm has faced considerable scrutiny for its work in Saudi Arabia and its selection in Hong Kong, Consulum has defended its reputation, earlier telling PRovoke: "We operate at the pinnacle of our industry and with the highest standards and integrity, which is the very basis upon which Consulum was founded."

The firm is thought to employ more than 85 staffers across London, Dubai and Bahrain, generating billings in excess of £25m. It is further understood that senior Consulum executive Ryan Coetzee has played a leading role on the Hong Kong assignment.  

Consulum's hire came after the government significantly increased global PR spend in its 2020 budget, earmarking HK$226.6m (US$29m) for the ISD — an increase of 53.5% over its 2019 budget for international PR campaigns. However, the city's PR leaders previously questioned the budget hike, wondering whether more global campaigns would only serve to paper over the cracks caused the government’s inability to tackle Hong Kong's deep-rooted problems.

Earlier in the year, at the World Economic Forum, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam blamed the city's "obsolete PR machinery" for the massive unrest that gripped the territory since she attempted to pass a controversial extradition treaty. Lam also claimed that "world-class propaganda" is responsible for her inability to win over Hong Kong residents and improve her approval rating.

You can find our full coverage of Hong Kong's public relations and reputation issues here.