Advertising & Publicity Bureau (湯臣廣告公司)

York Lo: Advertising & Publicity Bureau (湯臣廣告公司)

A & PB Image 1 York Lo

APB’s booth at the British Industries Fair in 1939 in Birmingham, UK. APB was the first overseas ad agency to have exhibited at the show, which was the most popular attraction in the UK from the 1920s to the 1950s (Malaya Tribune, 1939-3-28) 

As mentioned earlier in the article about the HK neon light industry, industry pioneer Claude Neon was represented in HK and Singapore in the 1920s by Advertising & Publicity Bureau (hereafter referred to as “APB”). Founded in 1922, APB was one of the oldest and largest advertising agencies in Hong Kong and Singapore, run in its first five decades by its colorful founder Mrs. Betty Church (崔治夫人) and in the 1970s by Mary Wang before it was absorbed by the American advertising giant D’Arcy MacManus & Masius in 1980.  The Chinese name of APB was 湯臣 (Thompson) as Betty Church was known as Mrs. Beatrice Thompson when she started the firm.  

Betty Church (1906-1979) – APB Founder and Advertising Pioneer 

Betty Church was born Beatrice Mary Mills and according to an interview she gave to Radio Hong Kong in 1968, she was born on board a ship between HK and Singapore in 1906 during the infamous typhoon which took the lives of 5% of HK’s population at the time although other sources cited 1902 as her birth year which makes more sense based on the milestones of her life. She lost her mother at an early age (2 days after her birth according to the radio interview) and was brought up in Tientsin and Shanghai by her father, a British engineer working on building railroads in China. She went to boarding school in the UK and after her father was killed in 1918 serving in the British Army during World War I, she moved to Amoy where her guardian was the British consul before arriving in HK in 1918 to work as a teacher for Diocesan Boys School which was located at Breezy Point in HK island at the time and lived at the Helena May. 

To supplement her income, she secured a part time job reading proofs for the HK Daily Press (孖剌西報), one of the oldest newspapers in HK that ran from 1857 to 1941. During this time, she married Mr. Thompson, a lawyer at the law firm Deacons, gave birth to a child who died within one year and then returned to the UK where she gave birth to twin daughters – Jacqueline and Jeanette in July 1922. Tragedy struck again as her husband died the next month, so she returned to Hongkong where she rejoined the Daily Press as a reporter and advertising manager, earning monthly salary of HK$175 and working 18 hours days. According to her, businesses in HK at the time especially the old trading houses were reluctant to spend any money on advertising so it was a tough sale for her in the beginning. Fortunately, many of her old students at DBS rallied behind her and she ended up selling many ads to DBS parents who owned trading firms. Many clients were also asking her for marketing advice and ad designs so encouraged by Daily Press editor Oliver T. Breakspear, Betty started APB in a rented room (No. 13) in Alexandra Building (predecessor of Alexandra House which stood from 1904 to 1952) with 3 staff. In the early years, she continued to work closely with the Daily Press in addition to running APB, writing every Wednesday for its women’s page and sold ads for the Directory and Chronicles which was published by the Daily Press. (Straits Times, 1936-1-16)

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Betty Church (right) and her twin daughters (left) in 1939 (HK Sunday Herald, 1939-12-24) 

Convinced there was a huge market potential for British manufacturers to market their goods more effectively to a rising generation of consumers in southern China through advertising, Betty spent 9 months in the UK in 1924 speaking with prospects and was able to secure 10000 British pounds in sponsorships, an amount which the former Hutchison taipan Tam Pearce allegedly joke was enough to buy up the entire Hong Kong. (WKYP and KSDN, 1957-12-13). During her time in the UK, she also worked as an advertising agent for Ladies Home Journal under the famous publicist Sir Charles Higham. 

In 1927, APB was incorporated, moved into 3 rooms at George’s Building and its staff had grown to 16. By 1930, APB moved to bigger space at the Queen’s Building in Central (6 rooms) and had staff of 50.  

In 1931, APB opened its Singapore branch at Meyer Chambers at Raffles Place and the culturally savvy Betty picked the auspicious phone number of 6668 (SFP, 1931-1-15) Later in the year, APB hired Elsa Schaerer, a Kansas City native who had worked as art director of Consolidated Stores in the US, as director of art and productions. (SFP, 1931-10-9) 

In 1934, Betty married Charles Jocelyn Church (1881-1950, “C.J.”) in New Zealand. C.J. was educated at the King’s School in Canterbury which was headed by his uncle Dr Thomas Field. He had worked as a cadet on HMS Worcester and served with the New Zealand Shipping Co until 1911 when he moved to Malaya as a planter. During WWI, he served in minesweepers in the Dardanelles as part of the RNVR and entered the newspaper and publishing business in 1925. After their marriage, C.J. joined APB and became Betty’s business partner in addition to life partner. 

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Betty Church (second from left) with guests at the 34th anniversary celebration of APB in 1956 (KSDN, 1956-12-18) 

One of APB’s key clients was A. Wander, the maker of Ovaltine and in 1934, Betty staged a conversation in Singapore with Philip Tyau, the Chinese Consul General in Singapore where they discussed the potential efficacy of Ovaltine in cure opium smokers. (SFP, 1934-1-18) 

In 1935, APB opened its new office and studio at Queen’s Building in Central (Singapore Free Press, 1935-8-1) and it also has its own “Publicity House” at 4 Battery Road in Singapore.  

During the 1930s, Betty Church traveled back to the UK frequently speaking to the press (BBC, newspapers) and politicians (House of Commons) and she was referred to as “Ambassadress of Empire Trade” in 1936. That year, she was organizing a British Trade Fair in HK to showcase British products, a concept which she first proposed to the HK government in 1928. (Malaya Tribune, 1936-2-18) The firm also participated in the British Industries Fair in 1939, the first foreign ad agency to do so.  

In 1937, Betty Church spent many months in Malaya and APB secured the concession to compile, publish and advertise telephone directories (in English and Chinese) from the Post & Telegraph C&D and the business management of the Journal of the Malaya branch of the British Medical Association. It also had the advertising concession for the Municipal Trolley Bus and Mitchell Ferry and Pier in Penang and purchased the rights to the Willis Guide of Malaya.  (Morning Tribune, 1937-5-4) 

By 1940, APB described itself as “the largest advertising agency in the Far East” with a blue-chip list of clients ranging from leading global brands such as Ovaltine, Bovril, H.J. Heinz, Brand’s and Rothmans to local firms such as Borneo Co, Fraser & Neave, Malayan Breweries and Sime Darby. Leading up to the outbreak of the Pacific War, the Churches were active with the war preparation efforts in Singapore, with C.J. and fellow APB staff members working with the British military while Betty was involved in organizing fundraisers for the Poppy Fund and Buy a Bomber Fund. When the Japanese invaded Singapore in 1941, C.J. and Betty’s son was killed by a Japanese shell during the fighting. After the Japanese occupied Singapore, C.J. became a prisoner of war from 1942 to 1945. On February 13th 1942, Betty and his twin daughters (who had studied at the Peak School in HK and Farnborough Convent College in the UK) managed to escape from Singapore but their boat was hit and sunk. Fortunately, they rescued by submarine and reunited in Batavia. From there they went to India where they stayed in Delhi and Bombay before spending the rest of the War in South Africa.   

A & PB Image 4 York Lo Left: Betty Church as guest speaker at the North Point Kaifong Welfare Association (TKP, 1957-10-24); Right: Betty Church’s poster for her Urban Council election campaign in 1954  

After the War, Betty returned to Hong Kong where she restarted APB out of a room at the Peninsula Hotel. In April 1947, APB re-opened on the 5th floor of the Marina House in Central (building stood from 1935 to 1980, now part of Landmark) occupying 4 rooms. At the time, APB had 40 staff in HK (of which 7 were of European descent) while the Singapore branch had over 30 employees. (WKYP, 1947-12-10) In the late 1940s, APB was also involved in the distribution of British publications such as the Economist, New Statesman and Nation in Hong Kong, brought in by air freight from London on a weekly basis (Directory of HK, Macao and Canton, 1949)   

In May 1950, C.J., who never recovered from his wartime internment, died in Hong Kong and Betty became a widow for the second time. (Strait Times, 1950-5-18) Business at the time, however, was booming and APB had relocated to 7th floor of the Marina House taking up 6 rooms. That same year, APB hired one of the two British military officers who traveled across the globe in his jeep (KSDN, 1950-8-25) 

In 1952, Betty spent two weeks in Singapore to collect information for articles she was writing for the Overseas Daily Mail about the British Commonwealth in honor of the Queen’s birthday in June (Singapore Free Press, 1952-5-20) 

In 1954, Betty Church ran for Urban Council, being the only female candidate of the five but unfortunately came in third with 1205 votes and lost to two Chinese candidates. She spoke Chinese and actually wrote commercial jingles in both English and Chinese. 

A & PB Image 5 York Lo Betty Church (right) with the head of Brand’s (centre) and representative from Lane Crawford. APB helped to popularize Brand’s chicken essence in the region (KSEN, 1957-11-1)

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Betty Church (right) presenting a souvenir to APB designer Ng Man-yee (吳文伊) at her retirement from the firm in 1963 after 15 years of service (KSDN, 1963-5-1) 

In the 1950s and 1960s, APB remained one of the leading ad agencies in HK with clients such as Horlicks, Northwest Airlines, Jockey underwear and Speedo swimsuits. It continued to handle ad sales for major papers and public venues such as the Star Ferry pier. T.H. Kwan (關天道), the art director of the firm became a director of the company after 25 years of service in 1961. Betty Church, who liked to drink and smoke, lived in a house called Salamat on Mt Davis Road with her dogs. She was also into horse races and owned a horse “Jocelyn”, named after her late husband. 

APB under Paddy O’Neil-Dunne and Mary Wang 

By the late 1960s, American advertising agencies such as McCann Erickson, Compton and Ted Bates had entered the HK market through joint ventures or acquisitions. In March 1969, Church sold all her shares in APB to Patrick O’Neil-Dunne (鄧伯烈), the international executive of one of APB’s key clients for over four decades – the British tobacco manufacturer Rothmans. Church stayed on as honorary chairman (and she died in HK in 1979) while O’Neil-Dunne took over the management of the firm as managing director with T.H. Kwan and lawyer Fred Zimmern as the remaining directors. At the time APB just finished renovations at its Marina House office with new movie and audio-visual equipment for ad production managed by David A. Dunlop and Bernard Weill was also hired as manager. (KSDN, 1969-3-28) 

In September 1969, O’Neil-Dunne hired Shanghai-born Peter Yue (俞坤良) to be APB’s creative director. A graduate of the University of Sydney, Yue worked at Clemenger Group in Australia and O’Neil Advertising in San Francisco. He also made Sussex native Richmond, the former London rep of APB, the head of APB in HK and recruited Robert Stevens, the former manager of an American film company in HK as the new TV commercial production manager. (KSDN, 1969-9-17)  

A & PB Image 7 York Lo

Mary Wang (center) with executives from D’Arcy MacManus & Masius (KSEN, 1980-1-31) 

In 1971, Mary Shih Wang (王施旋坤, 1931-2016) and her husband Tim Wang (王衛虞) acquired APB. A 1953 English graduate of St John’s University in Shanghai, Mary was manager of Denmark Advertising (operated by D.J. Nurse, who also ran Marklin Advertising and was chairman of the leading industry group Association of Accredited Advertising Agents of HK, also known as HK4As) prior to her acquisition of APB while her husband was the eldest son of Wang Chin-yu (王振宇), a leading capitalist from Yunnan who operated Hearty Wig Manufacturers Ltd (一心髮品廠) in Hong Kong (see Cheung Chih-lung in the wigs article).  

Under the leadership of Mary Wang, APB grew at 15-20% per year and achieved billings of HK$18 million within a decade and added clients such as VSOP cognac, Cartier luxury goods, Hermes perfumes, Hitachi appliances, Coppertone suntan lotion, Wrigley’s chewing gum. (KSEN, 1980-1-31) 

APB also remained a leader in outdoor advertising in the 1970s, winning the contract to handle ads at the passenger terminal of the old Kai Tak Airport in 1971, a contract which was renewed in 1974 (KSDN, 1971-02-02; WKYP, 1974-02-07). It also won the advertising concessions for both outdoor and indoor ads for the KCR station in Tsim Sha Tsui in 1972.  (KSDN, 1972-11-09)

In January 1980, D’Arcy‐MacManus & Masius, the 10th largest American ad agency with 35 offices in 20 countries, acquired a majority interest in APB with Mary Wang staying on as managing director. Under D’Arcy, APB continue to grow and landed Yeo’s beverage, Mars chocolate and Tiger Balm oil as customers in 1982.In July 1982, APB acquired Adsell (formed in 1981) (WKYP, 1982-7-1) In 1984, D’Arcy dropped the APB name from its English name but retained the Chinese name of “Thompson Advertising”. In 1987, even the Thompson name was dropped when D’Arcy merged with Benson & Bowles and in 2003 became Publicis HK. 

Sources (other than those cited above): 

https://gwulo.com/node/40768

https://webb-site.com/dbpub/orgdata.asp?p=154707

Shaddick, Gill The Hong Kong Letters: A Travel Memoir, 2019 

Global Advertising Practice in a Borderless World, Taylor & Francis, 2017

This article was first posted on 21st October 2019.

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