HONG KONG — The key government body charged with promoting investment into Hong Kong is reviewing its public relations support, PRovoke Media has learned, as continued unrest and the coronavirus deliver a double blow to the beleaguered city's prized reputation as a global business hub.

PRovoke Media understands that InvestHK has contacted a handful of firms in the city regarding the assignment, which focuses on the city's nascent fintech industry, and comes amid concerns over Hong Kong's positioning as Asia's premier investment destination. The organization has previously worked with FleishmanHillard. 

The brief follows nine months of anti-Government protests in Hong Kong, along with the ongoing coronavirus epidemic, both of which have severely impacted the city's economy. With the economy mired in recession, retail sales dropped by 21.4% in January, marking the 12th consecutive month of decline.

With visitor arrivals plunging by 99% to fewer than 3,000 per day, there is widespread concern over Hong Kong's status as one of the world's key business hubs, which has also been exacerbated by the ongoing US-China trade war. The city's proximity to the mainland, booming stock market and free economy have long been hallmarks of its global reputation, helping it to rank third globally for foreign direct investment in 2018.

Credit ratings agency Fitch pointed to “international perceptions of the intrinsic strengths of Hong Kong’s business environment" when it downgraded the city's status in December, while a Bank of England report claims political tensions are directly impacting Hong Kong's status as one of the world's pre-eminent financial centres. 

According to sources familiar with the process, InvestHK is seeking PR support for its 2020 fintech week event, which involves a focus on domestic activity along with key international markets. Messaging is likely to focus on Hong Kong's essential strengths as a business destination, including the territory’s rule of law and independent judiciary.

The brief follows an earlier effort by Hong Kong's Economic and Trade Office (ETO), which aimed to find US public relations support to help "inspire and enhance confidence" in Hong Kong's reputation as a global business hub. PRovoke Media understands that the US review remains ongoing. 

The economic-themed efforts, follow the Hong Kong government's fruitless search for PR support last summer, which culminated in eight global PR firms turning down the wide-ranging assignment. Carrie Lam's government has come in for sustained criticism over its hardline stance towards protestors, helping to deliver a landmark landslide for pro-democracy parties in last year's District Council elections.

Despite the business downturn, the successful $13bn secondary listing of Alibaba in Hong Kong last year has seen the city's stock exchange turn its attention towards China's booming high-tech sector, and — more broadly — towards mainland investors, whose purchases of Hong Kong stocks tripled in value on a net basis last year, helping to offset as much as $5bn in international capital flight in 2019. 

“Hong Kong has seen it’s reputation battered by months of protests followed by Covid-19," said a senior communications executive in the city. "The stop/start visibility of the Hong Kong leadership deservedly has drawn severe criticism. What’s HK’s message? Please get out of the 'government mindset' and think business, think results."