Peter Piper: PR visionary Peter Cheung is entrusted by the brands to lead them out of the box
It is nearing 1 pm at the Mandarin Oriental Tamar Suite. Peter Cheung has long since arisen and absorbed himself in the morning rituals of the modern CEO: email, energised with his go-to coffee, and in this instance, employing a full glam team to ready him for our cover shoot. He is a person who uses your first name in conversation. When he walks into a public space and sits down, no one scatters. He is very approachable, and one can easily sense the warmth and vibrancy of his personality, and his fondness for all things luxurious and glamorous.
“Hi! Nice to meet you all!” he cries, without glancing up, as he greets us midway through typing an email on his phone. Once done, he looks at us immediately, winning us over with a sincere smile of apology, and continues his breezy welcome: “Nice to meet you all. Do you like what I’m wearing? I’ve purposely chosen these looks for you guys. Where do we start?”
The man who is Peter Cheung Asia, the strategic marketing and communications consultancy, had a very colourful childhood, as he would describe it. The youngest of six children and the only boy in the Cheung legacy – he was born and raised in Hong Kong until his mother relocated to Victoria, British Columbia, where he became a competitive junior tennis player; at 16 he was ranked in the top 10 of under 18-year-olds in the province.
“It was my childhood dream to be a professional tennis player,” says Cheung. “Whenever we were back in Hong Kong, our parents would send us to the Hong Kong Country Club daily from 9 am to 9 pm. I fantasised I was an international tennis player, training at the Club by day and back to a five- star hotel at night. I really enjoyed my suite life.”
Safe to say, Peter is literally in the wealth of biographies and hagiography.
His early teenage years, including being picked up nightly by his posse in a motorcade of chauffeur-driven cars to visit multiple hotspots, afforded him a glimpse of the luxury lifestyle. “Being here every summer in the most decadent times of the late ’80s and early ’90s, it became my mission to return permanently to the only place that I could only live that dream life – Hong Kong,” he says.
Once back, early stints in fashion merchandising and media led to senior PR roles at Sotheby’s, Dior, Versace and Van Cleef & Arpels. His father, a successful entrepreneur in the insurance field, was his most trusted adviser, even though the paths they trod in life couldn’t have been more different.
“I sought his advice always and I never made a professional move without discussing it with him,” says Cheung. “And he always said to me, you know what? You help the brands, you help your bosses, why don’t you help yourself and be your own boss? He was definitely my biggest inspiration to start my own business.”
On the other hand, his mother was his inspiration for fashion and style. His appreciation of clothes, jewellery and aesthetics from a very young age stemmed from her. “She had this amazing personality, character, beauty and style in that Shanghainese chic of a bygone era,” he shares.
“My parents, together with my five sisters and my friends have shaped me into what I am today. Shoutout to you all!” he cheers from the suite’s velvet couch.
Outside the Box
Peter still sometimes channels the kid from Canada that he once was: slightly wide-eyed and a little surprised to find himself as a marketing trailblazer in the region, more influential than most nine-to-five bankers. He defends his record as a creative leader in his own right and he elaborates on how he deals with his rivals and competitors.
“If my father did not put it on the table, I don’t know what I would be doing today. He made me realise I was in a unique position with my background, experience and expertise in that I worked in multiple product segments,” he explains. “This position is what I think sets Peter Cheung Asia apart from traditional agencies.
Black sequined jacket by Barney Cheng Couture
“We are a strategic consultancy offering unparalleled experience and strategies in marketing and communications services on a variety of luxury levels for developing strategies that are unique, creative, out of the box, surprising, in an ever-changing and competitive industry, but stemming from the unique and invaluable experiences through my now nearly 30 years of expertise, network and know-how.”
A natural affinity for beautiful things and love of the natural world makes him a credible messenger for a values-led company. Even as Cheung has reshaped the marketing business, he is reluctant to supply a list of his own creative achievements with the company he launched in 2015. These include steering clients in the fields of fashion, jewellery and watches, expanding into the hospitality industry (maybe inspired by the prodigal son of hotels), media, art and culture and education, and offering skills and time to several nonprofit organisations and charities.
His wavy silver hair is neatly maintained – oftentimes blown by the wind as he poses for the camera. He is wearing an all-black ensemble, with glittering studs and sequins from top to toe. His perception of himself, with the position he has achieved in life, remains anything but simple.
“I’ve been described as a lot of things, but probably normal is not among those. I love having ‘crazy’ ideas. What is most exciting is having an original idea, something very abstract in the beginning, and to be able to hone it, work with it, shape it, edit, add or subtract elements, evolve it, looking at it comprehensively from every angle, and then to be able to launch this idea, by now a solid strategic plan, put it in motion with maximum impact and energy, with hopefully successful results and impeccable timing, and to see something concrete come into fruition,” he says, all in one breath with a deep sigh at the end.
“Was that too much? In life, there’s nothing too much. As they say, there’s always more to life.”
And the future is complicated. Today, Peter Cheung Asia is a dominant marketing company in Hong Kong, having emerged from the pandemic relatively unscathed and prosperous, and also at a crossroads: perpetually on the brink of the discovery that will change the PR dynamic again, while at the same time fending off constant challenges to its existing business.
“We don’t really look back very much at all in history,” he says. “We’re always focused on the future and trying to feel like that, we’re very much at that starting line where you can really dream and have big ideas that are not constrained by the past.”
Clearly, as the visionary that he is, Cheung has the knack of turning doubters into followers and further emboldening his daring creativity through an innate curiosity about, and connection with, people and society. As we near the conclusion of our time together, an oscillating net of polite communications folks leading the way, he exchanges hellos, sorrys and thank yous with whomever we pass and are temporarily blocked because of our photoshoot. He makes this a habit, always acknowledging the goodness in people.
We pop the cork on a bottle of Champagne and raise a glass to a smooth afternoon’s work. His next move? Anywhere the wind blows.
Interview, Text & Art Direction: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Venue: Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong Brands: Barney Cheng Couture and Dries Van Noten Cover: Black silk organza multilayer cheongsam with gold thread Chinese pine tree motif hand embroidered embellishment by Barney Cheng Couture