HKG rollercoaster


It has been an interesting few days so far in Hong Kong. I have been drenched in tropical storms, spent the afternoon with what seemed like half of China at the Ocean Park water centre and enjoyed the future retro coolness of the Toyota Crown taxis.

Shopping – Hong Kong is famous for its tailors like Raja Fashions, but with their tailors coming to the UK to take measurements and supplying garments by express mail from Hong Kong you don’t need to come here to take advantage of their service. Looking at the shops here Hong Kong-ese are very brand obsessed. In terms of streetwear: Bathing Ape seems to be the dominant brand on the people here.

BAPE wear costs the same as the BAPE shop in London. A surpising amount of the Chinese wear premiership tops. I have seen Chelsea, Liverpool, Blackburn Rovers and Norwich City over the past few days; but thankfully no Manchester United. Electronics is about the same price as home, maybe a bit more expensive than discounters like Morgans, eXpansys or EmpireDirect. Louis Vuitton accessories take on an almost religious experience for the Hong Kong native with the shops looking more like places of worship.

Taxis – London has its black cabs and Hong Kong has its red (or blue cabs for Lantau) with silver roof sections that remind me of the two-tone Ford Capris, Escorts and Granadas of the 1970s. These Toyota Crown Comfort models are descendants of the classic Toyota saloon cars that used to appear in the Yakusa films of the 1960s and 70s with big chrome grills and boxy styling. Inside the cab, the black vinyl interior would be right at home in the 1970s with the exception of the digital meter. However this retro styling is deceptive. The cabs have automatically opening doors to let out the passengers and mostly run on LPG (liquid petroleum gas – which is supposed to be more environmentally friendly than petrol).

Getting a licenced taxi here is cheaper than getting an unlicenced gypsy cab in London. With most of my journeys costing just a few pounds. The only cheaper transport is the famous Star Ferries that cost 2.20 HKD (about 15 pence) to cross from Hong Kong island to Kowloon.

Culture – Hong Kong doesn’t have the diversity of cultural outlets that London has, however it does have a lot to offer: the Hong Kong Art Gallery has a small but quality collection of Chinese art that is as good as the British Museum Chinese collection. Clubbing seems to be on a much smaller scale and way behind the UK. I saw one event advertised in July where they brought over drum and bass DJ Fabio to do an event.

Street life – Personal space is something that takes a bit of getting used to. I went to a water park yesterday and found children and adults zooming in and out of my personal space with the speed and dexterity of London bike couriers weaving through logjammed traffic. Children are generally better behaved than their counterparts in the UK. There is a park and childrens playground close to the apartment I am staying in that is free of both vandalism and graffiti. There is a homeless problem here, but it isn’t as visible as in central London, I only really noticed it when I went to Kowloon.

Weather – Although Hong Kong usually is 35 celsius plus during this time of year there is rarely a blue sky. Clouds boil up and there is often a deluge during the evening, so getting anywhere requires the cheap taxi service unless you want to get soaked to the bone. I found that five hours in the heat is enough to knock me for six.

Oprah Time: Bill and Dave by Michael Malone

Hewlett-Packard is most familiar to consumers as a brand of ink jet printer and digital camera sold in supermarkets up and down the country. Some may remember that they had a Watergate-type moment recently and a woman CEO who made a dogs dinner of things.

I visited Boeblingen (near Stuttgart) – the European headquarters of Hewlett-Packard in the late 90s and left deeply unimpressed by a large but seemingly directionless technology behemoth. It wasn’t the kind of place where I wanted to develop my career in marketing communications.

Malone in his book Bill and Dave brings into perspective how important Bill Hewlett and David Packard were to the technology sector and modern business practices.

From a PR perspective, I found facinating the way Bill and David self-consciously built their own personal legends which helped support and extend the HP Way. The company’s culture was built, extended and modified in a deliberate, planned manner unparalleled in any other company.

Packard and Hewlett wrote the book on corporate reputation without the help of big name agencies and invented the elements as they went along, combined with a wisdom worthy of Solomon.

Well that’s blown it

Notice on the door

I read Tom Coates post on flickr and made me think that I had seen a seminal moment in the world of PR and social media.

In fact, the last time I felt like this, was in April 2000 when I had just done a meeting with an incubator fund and had been confronted with the realisation my pension had gone up in smoke as the inmates were running the tech sector asylum.

Basically it boils down to this: PRs have fcuked up: as an industry we’ve managed to alienate one of the UK’s most prominent bloggers.

Tom is a super-smart and occasionally grumpy web technologist / user experience maven. He was one of the UK’s first bloggers and runs a thriving online community. He is very well-connected and it is likely that we’ll see a backlash from his peers.
We as an industry forgot some basic things:

  • Bloggers aren’t journalists. There isn’t the same contract of supplying content and receiving copy. Reading Tom’s blog it is blatantly obvious that there are limited opportunties for PR, at the very best you could hoped for was to be a fellow traveller in an area that Tom has an interest in
  • We’ve only thought about our own (or our client’s) agenda
  • We broadcast content out there, like pellets from a sawn-off during a payroll job. It’s not big and it’s not clever
  • A company doesn’t own the platforms of employees that happen to be bloggers. I will write about my employer only when I want to, when I’m proud of something they or I have done, not when I’m asked.

Advertising Does Work

ICA ticket - Paris is Burning ticket

I went to see Paris Is Burning at the ICA with my friend Taey. Paris is Burning is a documentary about the ballroom culture of the New York gay and transgender community. The documentary covered the history of balls, a gathering poor, usually black working-class gays, from a procession of drag queens aping showgirls and stars from the golden age of cinema. It then evolved with the mass media to copy popular soaps and the super model phenomena.

You could watch it four times and still see new material that you could be written about. The three things that stuck out at me from this showing:

Advertising does work

Anybody who doubts the power of traditional advertising cannot help but be swayed by the way that fashion magazine print advertisements were fetishcised and copied by ball attendees.

Television: the drug of the nation

I was amazed by how powerful soap operas were in creating an image of what these poor people thought was an ordinary life. I am not talking about EastEnders, but Dallas and Dynasty. They got their rules from watching Dynasty, they knew that a woman always take bags out with them when they are gong to dinner.

Cargo cults come West

The 1980s were all about materialism and money, but I was really struck by the ritualisation of consumer patterns with a gay man acting out a print Ralph Lauren ad, complete with riding hat, jodphurs and a tweed jacket reminded me of the Cargo Cults, just substitute Prince Phillip for Ralph Lauren or Christian Dior and the jungles of Papua New Guinea for tenements and project high-rise blocks in Harlem.

It wasn’t just adverts that were replicated at the ball, but high profile jobs like a suitcase-totting executives or a soldier.

The ritualism combined with the aspirations of the balls participants to get out of their current situation and become wealthy and famous sealed my image of the balls as a cargo cult.

Their aspirations also mirrored the aspirations of Big Brother and Pop Idol participants, making me reexamine the current cult of celebrity in the same way.

Oprah Time: The Dream Machine by M Mitchel Waldrop

History is important. It inspires us and it informs us about the present and we can learn about it to shape the future. I was inspired to work in PR for the technology sector by Robert X Cringely’s book Accidential Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can’t Get a Date.

Cringely inspired me with a tale of extraordinary people, strong personalities and a bit of youth rebellion. Cringely touched on the contribution of early pioneers like Doug Engelbert and Bob Metcalfe, but placed most of his emphasis on Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

John Markoff’s What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry covered the earlier generation of innovators in more depth, particularly Engelbart.

The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal tells the story from the point-of-view of J C R Linklder, a polymath who was instrumental in putting in place a lot of the projects and infrastructure that was needed to make the necessary developments. Linklider was a psychologist by training who realised the power and potential of technology way before it was possible.

Waldrop tells the story well, painting Licklider as a human being: a wonderful polymath, parent, researcher and a useless manager. He also paints the broader historical picture taking in ARPA, DEC, Xerox PARC, Al Gore and the Information Superhighway.