Surviving under the microscope


As businesses come under intense stakeholder scrutiny, communication with stakeholders has become a top priority.

Pressure on business performance as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and Sino-US trade tensions has, along with intense interest in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns among regulators and stakeholders, have placed companies, both public and private, under the microscope. Business leaders are under heavy pressure to communicate clearly with stakeholders and the wider public.

John Dawson, Founder and CEO, Acara Strategy

Whether explaining a certain position, building a brand, or managing a crisis, the front men and women of an organization need to be able to field any level of inquiry clearly, confidently, and concisely. This can be daunting for the unprepared, as John Dawson, founder of communications consultancy Acara Strategy, knows only too well.

As a young intern at Bloomberg News in London, the then newly graduated budding journalist was soon “spotted” for an on-camera role. Thrown into his first live interview without any prior training, Mr. Dawson recalls being terrified he would err.

John Dawson, Founder, and CEO, Acara Strategy, interviewing United Kingdom footballer David Beckham in Hong Kong in 2014

Of course, confidence comes with experience, and he went on to have an illustrious, 20-year career with Bloomberg, reporting from The World Economic Forum in Davos and progressing to the role of prime-time news anchor, a role which he continued after moving to Hong Kong in 2010. Knowing that the skills he had honed over years of interviewing prime ministers, presidents, Fortune 500 CEOs, Nobel laureates, Olympians, and celebrities could benefit the C-suite in the business world, Mr. Dawson moved into consultancy.

Acara Strategy, established in Hong Kong in October 2019, has worked with clients in centers ranging from Hong Kong and London to New York and Tel Aviv, operating across a range of sectors including property, cryptocurrencies, healthcare, and private equity.

“Acara Strategy’s mission is to advise global clients on media strategy, issues, and crisis management and offer discreet and informed counsel to the C-suite,” Mr. Dawson explained. “The media umbrella is at the heart and includes executive media training with me, developing effective messaging so the client is fully prepared for interviews, building relations with senior editorial and navigating an issue before it morphs into a crisis.”

He said the firm’s strategic services can apply to every company or individual focused on raising visibility and safeguarding their reputation.

“Given the current climate, and the how the world is gripped by the threat of a double-dip recession, navigating the storm of the next 12 to 18 months is imperative,” he said. “Acara’s promise is to be your gateway and gatekeeper, driving visibility while also protecting you from unwanted noise.”

Unique value proposition

He spent many months working out how Acara’s service offering needed to differentiate its market proposition. “You need to be the ‘must-have’, not the ‘nice-to-have’, particularly in this challenging environment,” he said. “Being a former journalist, and in broadcast, is the starting point because my Bloomberg years were largely spent interviewing world leaders and C-Suite from the unique vantage point of the anchor seat and the unforgiving intensity of live television.

“That experience counts for a lot when you’re speaking with leaders. Any former journalist switching to communications has a distinct advantage: we know what makes a strong news hook, exactly how to pitch the story, and are mindful of deadline pressures.”

Acara Strategy’s services can be tailored to any individual or business, large and small. “There just needs to be a laser-like focus from the client to be willing and engaged to raise their profile and visibility,” Mr. Dawson said. “A reputation can be honed through a combination of platforms, including digital and traditional media or keynote speaking opportunities. The foundation to it all is working with the client on their messaging and narrative. From there, you ensure they are fully confident and ready for action.”

For larger, more established brands, it may be a case of protecting reputation, combating an issue and-or streamlining the messaging on a new launch or transformation program, he said. For smaller businesses, the priority is often more focused on developing a strategy to raise their profiles, particularly with the media.

“A good example of that open-minded approach is Sigal Atzmon, the CEO, and founder of The Medix Group, a privately held healthcare services provider, who I am proud to represent. We have been working together since April and, in that time, landed 10 high-level media articles,” Mr. Dawson said.

Perfect location

The newly minted entrepreneur “cannot think of a better place in the world to start a business than Hong Kong”.

“Hong Kong is built on a spirit of entrepreneurship that has developed over generations, from the fishing villages right up to today’s conglomerates, and that spirit is going nowhere,” he said. “An innate passion like that simply does not disappear and Hong Kong has seen more than its fair share of change over the years.

“Building a business is core to the Hong Kong mentality and the support systems in place demonstrate that commitment, whether they are the pro-business banking and tax systems, the network and counsel provided by InvestHK, or the numerous entrepreneur clubs. Hong Kong has spent years developing an ecosystem geared to nurturing a vibrant business culture, and entrepreneurs have gone on to build successful empires because of it.

“Everything is in place for you to succeed, as long as you have the work ethic, a strong business model and you believe in yourself. On top of that, Hong Kong sits on the doorstep of Mainland China, one of the few economies demonstrating growth right now, and is ripe to tap the added potential of the Greater Bay Area.”

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