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By Karuna Tsang
The Hoffman Agency

Here is the story of how the Hoffman Hong Kong team picked up three PR awards for Best Community Engagement (gold), Best Media Relations Campaign (silver), and Best Engagement for a Targeted Community (bronze) at the 2014 PR Awards in Hong Kong for our work with Google’s Empowering Young Entrepreneurs (EYE) Program.

With Hong Kong considered Asia’s financial hub, its economy has relied mainly on financial services, trade services, professional sectors and tourism. In recent years, however, becoming an entrepreneur has become more popular in the city as locals seek rewarding careers outside of traditional industries, and the success of local startups such as Divide, Cherrypicks and PredictionIO has gained global exposure.

While the divergent path from historically preferred banking, medicine and law careers to forming startups is a relatively new phenomenon, the startup environment is still evolving, and missing pieces have hindered the growth of aspiring entrepreneurs. Inspired by Hong Kong’s budding entrepreneurial environment and the need to fill gaps in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, Google, once a startup itself, collaborated with the Chinese University of Hong Kong Center for Entrepreneurship to launch a year-long Empowering Young Entrepreneurs (EYE) Program.

The program consisted of a series of cross-disciplinary training, workshops, a mentorship segment and networking events that were designed to boost participants’ business and presentation skills and expand their networks. They also had the opportunity to pitch for a chance to visit Silicon Valley where they would connect with like-minded, yet established entrepreneurs and professionals.

In addition to supporting the startup ambitions of the program participants, the EYE Program aimed to help unite the fragmented and disconnected community and influence the broader Hong Kong society to lend more support to hopeful entrepreneurs, such as the Hong Kong government, academics, established entrepreneurs and other key players of the local startup ecosystem. But most importantly, the EYE Program’s ultimate goal was to cultivate Hong Kong’s entrepreneurial spirit, which was perceived as near dormant since the days of Hong Kong business magnate and Asia’s richest man Li Ka-shing when, unlike today’s affluent generation, entrepreneurs were borne out of necessity. Li manages a conglomerate whose interests include ports, retail, energy, infrastructure, properties and mobile networks. In his teens, he was forced to drop out of school after his father passed away. Li started working in factories for 16 hours every day until he saved up enough to invest in a plastic manufacturing plant at the age of 22.

Impactful communications to target stakeholders were seen as central to achieving the program’s objectives. Therefore, together with Google, The Hoffman Agency Hong Kong team formed a three-pronged approach to achieve the program’s goals: EYE Insights, EYE Voices and EYE Community all of which focused on telling the multifaceted story of the EYE Program.

EYE Insights: Position Google and the EYE Program as a Thought Leader

With the objective of building Google’s and the EYE Program’s thought leadership, the team secured expert columns and interviews in top-tier media publications read broadly by entrepreneurial stakeholders. Among the highlights were Digitizing Hong Kong, Connected Hong Kong needs to do more to support its hi-tech innovators and Excelling in the new digital era, as well as profiles of Google’s spokesperson and academic partners that explored and discussed the challenges faced by Hong Kong entrepreneurs, observations of program participants, and trends of innovation and technology that give inspirational insights to the younger generation.

EYE Voices: Join Hands and Build Stronger Voices

As the leader of technological innovation, Google joined hands with aspiring entrepreneurs in Hong Kong to become compelling storytellers of startup case studies and personal stories on entrepreneurship. Other partners, including EYE Program mentors, academics and established Hong Kong entrepreneurs, shared their motivational and success stories in quality and extensive deep-dive interviews. One highlight included two episodes of a 30-minute TV program, Money Café on CableTV featuring EYE Program teams Cash You and Around with their mentors.

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EYE Community: Enrich the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem

In addition to connecting program participants with established entrepreneurs, tech leaders and fund providers, the EYE Program brought key players of the startup community together, including the Hong Kong government, academics, influencers of physical hubs, startup accelerators and incubators, fund providers, venture capitalists, etc., through speaker events and conferences to expand their reach to the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

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The PR impact of this strategy was exceptional, with the team generating 308 pieces of coverage, including 82 from dailies, 18 from broadcast, 35 from magazines, 173 from online media, and three from regional media as a result of proactive media pitches, featured interviews, op-eds, a media tour and media events. These media initiatives helped to generate top-tier publicity for the EYE Program teams and were instrumental in driving program applicants, engaging important stakeholders with EYE Program messaging, and building awareness of Google’s commitment to local entrepreneurs and startups.

The culmination of our efforts came during the 2014 PR Awards in Hong Kong, where the team proudly took home those three PR awards.

Entrepreneurial by nature, we Hoffmanites are certainly very proud to be part of the entrepreneurial movement and contributing to Hong Kong’s budding startup environment. We look forward to seeing more success stories of Hong Kong’s entrepreneurs and development of Hong Kong as the next digital entrepreneurial hub.

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