Telum Talks To… Christina Lai, Managing Director and Head of Greater China, Cognito

Telum Talks To… Christina Lai, Managing Director and Head of Greater China, Cognito

With over 86 million in population, the Greater Bay Area (GBA) holds equal parts opportunities and challenges. Telum catches up with Christina Lai to hear her unique approaches to comms in this market, tips on sustainability comms and more. 

What opportunities does Cognito see in building out the Greater China market? What are the foreseeable challenges? 
The Greater Bay Area (GBA) holds a huge population and a fast-growing economy. Since establishing our presence in Hong Kong in 2018, we continue to see great opportunities in the city and region.

Many international businesses in Hong Kong already operate in the region and others plan to expand their presence over the next few years. Key global players in the financial services sector have ambitious plans for the GBA. To support these expansions, players from professional services, information and communications technology (ICT) and other industries also grow. 

At the same time, how tech and innovation will reshape the post-pandemic era is still unknown, bringing both challenges and opportunities to the financial services and FinTech sectors. Given Cognito’s expanding Asia Pacific team, we want to build up the right talent mix to help companies make the leap.

How do your strategies differ in working with companies in Mainland Chinese and Hong Kong markets?
From a comms perspective, each market is unique. The way we plan and manage comms for our clients in Hong Kong and Mainland China is closely related to how clients position themselves in these markets.

Hong Kong is the hub for regional headquarters and a two-way springboard between Mainland Chinese and foreign businesses. We profile clients’ positioning / prospects in alignment with regional business and industry trends and showcase them as examples of how businesses can expand in the GBA through Hong Kong.

In Mainland China, we apply a different approach as these same companies enter and grow in one of the world’s biggest markets. Due to different market segmentation and media consumption habits, it is important we help clients plan their comms across different channels including social media. 
 
Navigating the market landscape and environment our clients operate in can help us understand mindsets and expectations among the stakeholder groups in different markets. As the landscape evolves every day, our target stakeholders for engagement also continue to evolve. That’s what makes our job interesting. 

How does Cognito prepare its clients in terms of crisis comms?
Planning is key. All organisations should identify and anticipate potential risks that might impact their brand or reputation. We often advise clients to have scenario plans and be prepared for any risks, so they can respond swiftly and minimise the impact should an issue emerge.
 
When we talk about crisis comms, it is also important that we consider and engage all relevant stakeholder groups. The media is naturally a key group to communicate with during a crisis. At the same time, do not forget about other stakeholders such as employees, customers and clients, interest groups and the public.

The Cognito 2022 Sustainable Finance Communications Report show how media approach topics around sustainability. Any tips for communicators to cut through the noise to amplify their sustainability comms?
We are seeing media organisations in the region put more focus and resources into sustainability stories. How journalists cover the subject continues to change. They are now hoping to see tangible actions from corporates that address sustainability. While journalists still value data, they are also looking for the insights and details behind stories.

Looking beyond media, it’s important to map out audiences carefully as different groups will have different levels of understanding and agendas. From there, communicators can choose the right narrative framework and channels that speak best to the right audience.
 
You teach as a part-time Lecturer at HKU SPACE. To round off, can you share an anecdote or lesson from your interactions with your students?
To me, nothing is more rewarding than having students apply what they have learned in school to their daily work. I often invite students to discuss how they would respond to different scenarios or work requests and encourage them to apply theoretical knowledge to their jobs. 

During an in-class presentation last year, a group of students delivered a PR plan on how they would revitalise an old, local household brand through re-positioning and launching the brand's first-ever NFT. From their presentation, I learned so much about NFTs and found inspiration on how to engage with consumers through these creative ideas.

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