1 Sept 2002
Popular Product Guides Born In A Flurry Of Creative Activity(HKTDC Optical,2002)
WHEN mail clerks in buying offices deliver copies of Hong Kong Enterprise, Hong Kong Optical or other sourcing magazines, how many readers stop to consider how the publications arrived at their desks?
"Many among our hundreds of thousands of readers around the world rely on product magazines published by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council as vital sourcing guides," says TDC senior publications manager Henry Ng.
"They regard these thick magazines, packed with information about new Hong Kong products and the companies making them, as basic tools for use in doing their jobs as buyers, importers and traders."
Among TDC's 14 product magazines, most covering specific industry sectors, the flagship title is Hong Kong Enterprise. This all-product, hefty tome, religiously read by trade buyers in all corners of the globe, results from hard work by the TDC's Publications Department and several outside entities to ensure the magazine reaches its 150,000 readers each month.
The TDC began publishing magazines in 1967, with Hong Kong Enterprise being the first to roll off the presses. It was the first product publication to be produced on behalf of all Hong Kong manufacturers.
"The aim back in the 1960s - as it remains now - was to help Hong Kong companies to promote their products overseas when they lacked sufficient resources to reach out to buyers," explains Ng.
"The magazines are a means for companies to have their products seen in all overseas markets."
In the beginning, the Publications Department was small and the magazines were slim, mostly featuring black-and-white, quarter-page advertisements.
In the 34 years since Hong Kong Enterprise first appeared, TDC's annual magazine output has expanded to 49 volumes (divided among the 14 titles), produced by a department of about 50 staff members. The magazines are considered sourcing Bibles for buyers seeking high quality, Hong Kong-produced goods. One magazine, the biannual Hong Kong Toys, set a standard in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's thickest magazine, a recognition awarded to the January 1992 issue.
"We are the market leader for trade publications in Hong Kong, with more than 80% of the market share," says Ng. TDC has also kept pace with the online revolution, launching Hong Kong Enterprise Internet in the mid-1990s when many companies remained unfamiliar with e-commerce.
For one Hong Kong company, soap manufacturer Lutex Co Ltd, advertising in TDC publications is a must. "Most Asian countries lack a good resource like these magazines," says managing director Benny Fung. "Every day new buyers need to source goods. For new customers, Hong Kong Enterprise is the channel to find me."
The process of creating each issue extends over several months. It all begins at offices in the bustling district of Wanchai, where a small editorial team plans upcoming magazines. Once story lists are settled, a logistics section contacts manufacturers seeking the latest product samples to feature.
Writers are commissioned, product photos are taken at professional studios and potential advertisers are approached. The magazine begins taking shape.
After editing, a design team blends words and pictures to create layouts for each story. Unlike in the old days, all stages involve computers. The final layouts are checked and double-checked by editors, prior to the creation of a set of four-colour films sent for printing.
Toppan Printing Co (HK) Ltd, one of Hong Kong's largest printing firms, has handled Hong Kong Enterprise for more than 30 years. "In terms of a single customer, TDC represents a big proportion of our turnover. TDC is definitely one of our 10 biggest customers," says the senior manager of Toppan's sales department Wong Tak Shing.
Toppan's Hong Kong operation occupies a 30,000-square-metre facility at a large industrial estate in Yuen Long, New Territories, near the brewery San Miguel and cardboard manufacturer South China Paper.
When the magazine films reach Toppan, pages are placed in correct running order, and a blueprint is made for final checking. Next the film is transferred to an aluminium PS plate with a pre-sensitized layer.
The plate goes into huge Web printing presses capable of handling 30,000 sheets per hour. Web presses print onto a roll of paper, allowing continuous printing, speeding the process considerably. A machine cuts the paper into pages and folds them into 16-page segments which are then put in order. The magazine spine is cut, glued together, and the cover is added. The final touch is trimming the edges.
Meanwhile, TDC's distribution team prints hundreds of thousands of address labels for worldwide mailing. Labeled envelopes are sent to the printer, each to be filled with a magazine and then packed in a HongKong Post mail-bag. In the case of Hong Kong Enterprise, 15 people need 10-15 days to stuff the envelopes.
The bags are sorted by country and sent to the International Mail Centre in Hunghom, where some 500 postal staff sort and dispatch mail from Hong Kong to around the world.
"In terms of volume, we send out 700,000 copies a year to overseas destinations for TDC. That makes TDC one of HongKong Post's biggest customers," says Postal Market and Sales corporate account manager Ken Cheng.
"We accept the bags from TDC, conduct a random check on quantity to determine postal charges and then dispatch the bags by truck to the Kwai Chung container terminal to await boarding on ships."
Sea-mail takes from 1-4 weeks, depending on the destination. Once ships reach port, another 3-4 days pass before local postal services make final deliveries.
Yet this accounts for only a portion of the magazines?circulation. More urgent delivery is achieved by air-mail or courier.
"We're pleased to assist TDC in circulating its many thousands of Hong Kong product magazines to readers around the world. The volume and frequency of this business make TDC an important customer," says DHL Worldwide Express director of sales and marketing Barry Lai.
Thousands more copies are distributed each month at leading international trade fairs, both in Hong Kong and overseas.
"Overseas buyers at trade fairs always want to stop, talk to us and take away the magazines, even though some of our publications are very heavy to carry," says TDC advertising manager Raymond Yeung. He recently returned from circulation missions to the Birmingham International Spring Fair in the UK and MACEF -Primavera in Milan, Italy.
"Some fair visitors are amazed at the size of our publications. They become even more amazed when they see how each page is packed with product information," Yeung says.
"Our strength is our circulation," adds Ng. "TDC has 47 offices around the world, and we have more than 300 promotional events per year. No one competes with TDC on that score."
The circulation database is also unrivalled. "We have sophisticated distribution channels, and our network of overseas offices always adds new potential buyers to our database," says TDC Publications marketing manager Perry Fung.
All this spells opportunity for the small and medium-sized Hong Kong companies (SMEs) forming the bulk of TDC clients.
"SMEs may not have resources to attend many overseas fairs. Yet by placing ads with us, their products can be promoted in trade fairs and by direct-mail campaigns they couldn't afford by themselves," says Fung.
"Company representatives don't have to leave Hong Kong or spend a large amount on freight forwarding to promote their products overseas."
Another advantage, adds Fung, is that companies missing out on spots at any oversubscribed trade event can still be represented through the TDC publications widely distributed there. In coming months, TDC will expand its horizons with booths at trade fairs in developing markets not usually attended by Hong Kong SMEs.
Obviously, anyone examining TDC product publications reads in good company.
WRITTEN BY HELEN WONG
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