As the CEO and Founder of NumberOne PR Communications Ltd, Francis Cheng is easily one of Hong Kong’s most recognisable faces in public relations. We chat with him at Marco Polo Hongkong Hotel to find out more about his inspiring journey.
What do you recall from your childhood in Hong Kong?
I recall just how fortunate I felt. At the time, my family ran the Kai Tak amusement park in Kowloon City and, every Sunday, we would visit my grandparents for lunch, then head to the amusement park. It was an unforgettable time. Later, I went to Vancouver and that proved to be an equally great place to be a child. I was quite short we when first moved to Canada and, at the time, the TV was full of commercials pushing the benefits of drinking more milk. I took them at their word and, 12 months later, I was 1.86 metres tall.
You also studied in Canada. How did that affect you?
When we first moved to Canada, there wasn’t a lot of Chinese about, particularly in Coquitlam, the fairly remote suburban city where we lived. As a result, my English really improved and I also began to learn about different cultures and different ways of thinking for the first time. Canada is something of a melting pot and, looking back, while I was there I really began to appreciate different cultures, religions, ethnicities and genders. That was and still is something very precious to me.
Did a career in public relations always beckon?
Yes and no. Like any child, I had a headful of dreams, but I am a Taurus and we like to play it safe, which led me to take a degree in journalism. Looking back, that sort of helped balance out my options and ultimately set me up for a career in PR.
Is there a particular philosophy that you apply to PR?
As I tell all my staff, learning to be a good PR involves learning how to become a good human being. It’s something that may take you your whole life to achieve. And even then, you can never be the perfect PR. You will always have flaws and there will always be areas where you can improve.
What was it like when you first set out on your own in 2013 and launched NumberOne PR?
I’m a firm believer that you have to take on various challenges throughout your life. By 2013, I figured that I was up for such a challenge. When you have been an employee for a while, it’s time to consider whether you should do something in your own right. Being an employer, though, is very different from being a member of the staff. It’s a lot more pressure and you need to ensure that you have enough business coming through to support your staff and enough challenges to make sure you continue to develop.
What quality do you think makes you best suited to your current role?
My mentor, Pansy Ho [the eldest daughter of Stanley Ho, the Macau casino magnate], taught me the importance of understanding human nature. In the case of babies, for instance, if they see something shiny, they have to go and touch it. With adults, they are endlessly fascinated by diamonds and pearls. So – and this what I learnt from Pansy – it’s very much part of human nature to love beautiful things. When it comes to PR, then, I believe you must also always seek out the shiniest and best options on offer.
What advice would you give to anyone now looking to launch into PR on their own for the first time?
The world has changed – and continues to change – quite dramatically, so my personal route may no longer have any relevance. So, while my own experience may not count for too much in today’s world, I do still recommend learning from the past, especially from others’ mistakes. Once you’ve learnt how to make accurate decisions on the work front, you also need to recognise that it’s a discipline you should apply more widely. It’s part of what life is all about. On top of all that, you also seem to have an active social life.
How do you strike a balance and stay both energised and healthy?
Honestly? Sometimes I just fall asleep. I do, however, try my best to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I box and do cardio exercises at least three times a week and I also get facials and do my best to eat well. Right now, I am also trying to watch my diet as sometimes I tend to eat a little too well. Most importantly, though, I try and make sure I get enough sleep. I may check my mailbox before I sleep, but I always turn off my phone before I doze off.
You have quite an impressive Instagram following [34,400 and counting]. Would you say you have an unusual affinity for this particular social media platform?
It’s something I am very proud of. While I have little time for fake followers and pretend likes – things that always ultimately come to light – I think Instagram remains an important channel. There’s something innately positive about sharing, even within a commercial environment.
Interview by: Bailey Atkinson
Photos: Jack Law
Video: Kingsley Lau
Art Direction: San Wong
Make-up: Janae Chan
Hair: Vic Kwan
Venue: Deluxe Suite, Marco Polo Hongkong Hotel