Representing Chinatown is good business

In this regular feature, we talk to small-business marketing experts about particularly challenging campaigns they have been involved with, and the strategies they employed to make those campaigns ultimately successful. In this issue, we find out how Cassandra Hili, of Millennium Communications, helped a restaurateur overcome the lack of foot traffic in Sydney’s CBD caused by COVID-19 restrictions.

Cassandra was approached by Howin Chui, a Sydney restaurateur and entrepreneur, to help restore the brand traction and presence for his three restaurants: Kowloon Stir Fry King, Ni Hao Bar and Kowloon Cafe. As a prominent member of the Chinatown community, Howin was keen to get more people into the area, and its other businesses, not just into his own restaurants. So, he was looking to Cassandra and her team at Millennium Communications to bring some attention to the lack of foot traffic in Chinatown.

“The ever-changing restrictions we had during those final weeks of lockdowns were a real problem,” Cassandra explains. “Because of the restrictions, people weren’t going into the city, and that was made worse by the lack of international travellers and the non-existence of tourism.”

“Cassandra’s strategy involved positioning Howin as a spokesperson for the wider Chinatown community.”

Cassandra’s strategy involved positioning Howin as a spokesperson for the wider Chinatown community. “Our campaign didn’t just become about the restaurants, it was also about bringing attention to how the CBD is suffering due to the COVID impacts and how more support was required to businesses in those local areas,” she explains.

“One of the most prominent prongs of the campaign was doing an activation,” Cassandra adds. “As Howin has a great relationship with Ettason [one of the largest distributors of Asian foods in Australia], we aligned with them for two events in two of the restaurants: Ni Hao Bar and Kowloon Stir Fry King.” Cassandra dubbed the activation ‘One Night in Hong Kong’, with both events involving media, influencers and celebrities. “The aim of the events was to highlight the COVID impacts that Chinatown is currently facing,” Cassandra explains. “We spoke about how Chinatown is a cultural destination that is now suffering, and how this once-iconic destination is currently undergoing loss.”

One Night in Hong Kong included a sit-down dinner where influencers, media members and celebrities ate dishes built around the Hong Kong food culture. “These events, especially the one we threw at Ni Hao Bar, took over social media and started to get the restaurants buzzing,” Cassandra says. She followed up with a media campaign to get the three restaurants into columns in appropriate publications.

To maintain the campaign’s impetus and give it validation, Cassandra leveraged Howin’s position as an advocate in the media for the struggles Chinatown was facing, a big part of which was caused by the lack of international students, who are usually such regular patrons of the precinct. “This really showcased Howin as someone who wanted to have a voice in the hospitality industry in Sydney, and as someone who wanted to create an impact for other businesses in the area that were also suffering,” Cassandra explains.

The strategies Cassandra employed have worked very well. “Whilst the CBD is still quiet and staff shortages are still causing an impact – things that are out of our control – Howin’s profile and his restaurants have definitely [received] a positive impact from the PR campaign,” she avers, adding that the initial campaign has led to many organic media opportunities for Howin and his restaurants.

One of the key lessons Cassandra has taken from her experience with this campaign, she says, is that it is important not to get overwhelmed by what may not be working, and to think creatively about what opportunities are there that you could be a part of. “Think of what conversations are currently happening that you can participate in, or, if a conversation needs to be had, think of different strategies for how you can bring some attention to that conversation,” she says. “And don’t be afraid to collaborate with other brands and other people if there is an alignment with your respective goals.”

This article first appeared in issue 36 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine