“Post-80s” public relations pro turns superconnector, connecting international business to Asia
The courage to innovate and pursue one’s dreams is one of our youth’s greatest assets. Emerging economies such as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) a decade ago caught the attention of a millennial in Hong Kong. After graduating from university more than ten years ago, Brian Yeung set foot in Russia for work. It was a journey that began with no knowledge of the Russian language, followed by extensive travel across the country. He expanded his social network, grew his interest in Russian culture, and eventually started a consultancy serving overseas clients. The experiences he has gained over the years gradually placed him in the position of a linkman across borders, bridging communications between Asian firms and the world. On one hand, he brings foreign companies into mainland China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries; on the other, he helps Asian firms tap into business opportunities in the new blue oceans through the Belt and Road Initiative.
Brian graduated from the Chinese University of Hong Kong with a bachelor’s degree (first-class honors) in sociology. He also spent time at the Netherlands’ Utrecht University for a diploma course in English language and culture. “I didn’t want just an ordinary job after studying in Holland and Singapore, so I decided to try my luck and apply for jobs overseas. One day I got an email inviting me to work for a media company in Sochi, and that marked the beginning of my journey in Russia.”
In 2010, Brian arrived in Sochi, a city in Southwest Russia for work, and later he spent 3 years studying Russian. In 2014, Brian left his corporate job in Hong Kong as he considered his future career path. That was when a Russian correspondent in Hong Kong referred him to work as an editor for “Russia Beyond the Headlines”, a monthly supplement of Rossiyskaya Gazeta published in South China Morning Post. In this role, Brian was responsible for writing and editing stories about Hong Kong and Russia.
Brian once again obtained the chance to work in Russia, allowing him to broaden his horizons and expand his social network. From 2014 to 2016, he had traveled to and from Russia at least 15 times and had unexpectedly become Russia’s pass to learning about Asia as he provided advisory services for Russian companies.
“The 2014 Crimean crisis led Russia’s foreign policy pivoted to the east. I would have never thought of myself suddenly becoming an ‘Asian affairs specialist’ — in 2017 and 2018, I took the stage at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum and the Eastern Economic Forum, in which Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin also attended. I was a moderator, and the event was broadcast live on TV. It was a surreal experience,” Brian said.
Adapting to the market's new normal
In October 2019, Brian decided that the time was ripe for him to relaunch a consultancy and co-founded Brandstorm Communications with Marina Watt. In just one year’s time, his company started gaining a reputation and got a project from a major client in relation to the Dubai Expo 2020. But the Covid-19 pandemic hit the following year, causing disruptions and uncertainties to his business operation, which was met with great composure. During this time, as many international events and business conferences were halted, Brian published a book, documenting a decade of his experience related to Russia.
In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity, as the saying goes. The pandemic and the Russo-Ukrainian War hit boutique consulting firms even those with overseas clients like Brandstorm Communications hard. But Brian saw a growing interest from overseas companies, including Russian and Middle Eastern firms, in building a closer link to Asia amidst the fast-changing geopolitical reality. His company took the chance to beacon their way to the East.
Brian believes that the network he has accumulated from his international experience is an edge of Brandstorm Communications over other market players. As the global economy looks uncertain, blue chip companies and private foundations increasingly turn to boutique consulting firms, creating a new market segment. Compared to larger firms, boutique agencies such as Brandstorm Communications are more cost-effective and flexible, allowing them to tailor their service across clients. Given its value for money, Brandstorm Communications has seen business growth despite unfavorable economic conditions.
When asked about the changes in the PR industry post-Covid, Brian said that the pandemic has fundamentally changed the market reality. For example, events have gone hybrid to bridge the gaps of social distancing measures and travel restrictions. Since the pandemic, he has curated business programs for over a dozen of virtual events, showing new potential in the event industry. In addition to marketing communications, companies have more philanthropic initiatives as part of their CSR and ESG portfolio.
Amidst the fast-changing geopolitical reality, there is a growing interest from overseas companies, including Russian and Middle Eastern firms, in building a closer link to China and ASEAN countries.
Brian (on the right) believes that new opportunities have emerged in the PR industry in the post-pandemic world.
Brian attended the company launch in 2019.
This article was translated from the original interview that appeared in Capital on September 20. URL: https://bit.ly/3BU8Us5