HS Chung, President and CEO, Hill+Knowlton Strategies Korea

For two-and-half decades HS Chung has been in the marketing and communications industry in Korea. Before joining Hill+Knowlton Strategies in 2002, the Yonsei University graduate worked with DMB&B, McCann-Erickson and was on the in-house PR and marketing teams at The Ritz-Carlton Seoul and The Westin Chosun.

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Currently, as President and CEO of H+K in Seoul, Chung oversees a staff of 55 that services domestic and international clients in both the private and public sector.


At H+K she has additionally spearheaded a division that assists Korean companies and government organizations going global, including LG, Hyundai Motor Company, and the Incheon Asian Games Organizing Committee.

HS Chung recently spoke with Branding in Asia about public relations in Korea, government branding missteps, a humorous PR nightmare and her optimism for Korea’s 2018 Olympics.

What’s been keeping you busy lately?

A lot of pitching. Happy to say we’ve been enjoying a great run this year so I can’t complain that’s it been non-stop. I am also looking ahead to 2018 and what challenges and opportunities there may be. Especially with such an unpredictable political situation on the peninsula, I am reading the politics section of the media more than ever before!

How have Korean firms traditionally approached reputation & risk management?

Korean corporations regard reputation and risk management as very important and I believe it is well managed locally. However, when it comes to impact overseas for Korean corporations known outside of this country, there still needs to be improvement.


Many Korean firms need to understand better that there is no longer “local only” news. They also need to stop thinking news can be somewhat managed and controlled.

In our highly-connected world, there is the chance of greater blowback following a PR misstep. However, it’s also a unique era for engagement. Your thoughts?

In this highly-connected world, I think we need to be more focused on how consumers behave and engage online. Whether this means having to reach out with more media or engagement programs is secondary. These are just tools to reach the consumers.

Many Korean firms need to understand better that there is no longer “local only” news. They also need to stop thinking news can be somewhat managed and controlled.

Although online channels may seem fragmented, at the core there should be engaging and purpose-driven stories. I believe this is our most powerful tool and opportunity in this era.

One of your jobs is spearheading H+K’s service for Korean organizations going global. Tell us about that.

We have been supporting Korean companies and government to go global over many years. In the beginning, it was difficult as most of them wanted to control how they work and would expect things to happen as it would in Korea.

Without first understanding the nuances of each country, it is difficult to think how corporations will be successful, regardless of the superiority of their product or amount of money they are willing to spend in these countries. To successfully go global, all corporations must think local and accept that they cannot control everything from Korean headquarters.

International and domestic ticket sales are lagging for the 2018 Olympics in Korea. Theories abound from the neighbor to the north to what the USA Today called a lack of a “public craving for global attention” in an already well-established nation. What’s your take and what’s being done?

Everyone is aware that we are facing a difficult political situation at the moment. However, sports and politics are separate and I believe the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games will run smoothly in the end.

My worst [PR] nightmare was when my name was accidentally announced instead of the Governor at an important government event.

In fact, I have high hopes for the Games as it is an opportunity to show the world the importance of peace and unity which is at the core of the Olympic spirit. As we near the Games period, I believe this spirit will come alive further, which will enable us to host a memorable Games.

Korea has had its fair share of harshly-panned destination brand slogans, with the most recent being the perplexing “I.Seoul.U”. What’s wrong with the process and how can Korea avoid this in the future?

I feel there is a lack of long-term branding strategy. Often these government-driven brand slogans are developed for “now” rather than the “future”. Although the government involves the public with participation contests for many branding projects, how it is judged when selecting the final choice is something that still needs improvement.

You’ve been working in PR for more than two decades. What is some work you are most proud?

Although I value all clients and projects regardless of their scale or longevity, I am particularly proud of the fact that we’ve been involved with just about all Olympic projects – 2014 Winter Olympic bid, 2011 Daegu IAAF, 2014 Incheon Asian Games, and PyeongChang2018. There are very special memories and learnings over the years working for such prestigious events.

What are some of the worst PR nightmares you’ve had to deal with?

I still have nightmares before important media events that no one will show up! This shows how PR professionals, regardless of their title or experience, are stressed about filling up the room no matter what!

In real life, my worst nightmare was when my name was accidentally announced instead of the Governor at an important government event and everyone was looking at me in shock.

It was the longest 5 seconds of my life!


Bobby McGill

Bobby McGill

Bobby is the founder and publisher of Branding in Asia.

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