Exclusive| Digital is evolving the way PR agencies do business: Ketchum's Higgins

One of the most sticky spots in the marketing and communications tools could be Public Relations! While it isn’t easy to satisfy a clients brief, and even more difficult to manage (mostly) hot-headed journos...However, industry experts believe, things are changing with technological evolution and multiplicity of serviced offered by a public relations agency.

Taking cue from this, Adgully caught up with Jon Higgins, Senior Partner, CEO - International, Ketchum and NS Rajan, Global Partner and MD, Ketchum Sampark who spoke about the gradually changing public relations arena, importance of the digital as a communication platform and more.

Having a global presence does bring with it the opportunity to learn and implement various tactics and practices in every growing market. Sharing his thoughts about picking up global tactics to be applied in multiple countries that the agency operates in, Higgins said, “I think what I have learned about the world in international position over the last few years, its a really small place! We used to think of it as a subset of geographies – Europe, Latin America, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific. But frankly, the way out clients work its on a global platform and a very small community operating at a 24x7 pace and the leveller of this is the internet. So, I don’t think in terms of best practices from one region to region; it’s about keeping pace and a step ahead of what our clients are really looking for. So for us it’s really important to be user friendly for our clients. So if a client from India wants to have access to Europe or North America, we have to be able to provide a very seamless way to lever our products through that channel. The importance if training, knowledge transfer and a common way of working is really important. Hence we tend to look at it from a global perspective, rather than a regional one”.  

Ketchum and its India arm Ketchum Sampark is counted among the most geographically diverse PR agencies. Telling us about how the agency is placed both globally and in India and the markets that contribute highly to the agency, Higgins said, “Well to begin with, I am here to celebrate Ketchum Sampark’s 20th anniversary and hence I do not need to say much as this talks highly about the achievements the agency has made over the years. While we entered official joint business about 38 months ago, and today, I totally believe that we have attained a remarkable position from where we started off. As of August 2014, the business is in terrific shape, growing very well and is one of the star performers in the Ketchum network. We see India as one of the jewels of Asia- Pacific regions for us; we see it offering tremendous growth as the public relations business develops in many ways and as I see it, the business would rise along that growth. I believe these are great day for the public relations business across geographies; today clients are looking at us for answers which were usually attained from other businesses”. 

Sharing his vision for the agency for the next 5 years, Higgins said, “Well, I think it will be very interesting to see over the next 3-5 years is how our business becomes transformed by digital social imperative. Even today, it is driving great amount of business for our industry, and makes it the most exciting time to be in. In the 30 years that I have been in the business, public relations has unlike any other marketing discipline, has relevance to every stake-holder with in client. We manage the interplay between all of those constituents – whether its the investor community, consumer, B2B arena, government etc. In the next 3-5 years, we shall be witnesses to the tremendous acceleration of the work that we do from geographic stand-point; but we are starting to move from a capability of that lived in earned area, into paid for media, or shared media and owned media. This, I believe is a very exciting development for us as its a whole new way to thinking about our business”.

Rajan informs us that the agency is currently, as a part of the global program, runs two programs – Ide8 and Mindfire with various colleges in India; which is more tilted towards crowd-sourcing. “Here we are on the lookout for ideas from colleges students. Apart from that, going forward we are looking at focusing on the social media analytics as that is something, we believe, is very relevant as there is huge appetite for it here in India”.

Sharing the agency’s plans to ramp up, the digital team, Rajan firmly states, “Absolutely! I think globally, we are very evolved in this area as Ketchum has a huge global digital capability. In India, certainly yes, I think that is where, we believe, the business is moving and thus our focus is on that. We believe that over the next few years, probably, as a part of the pie, digital will catch up with the traditional over the next five years, and may be go on to become much larger than that”.

Speaking about the client portfolio the agency banks upon, and how they foresee beefing up the same, Higgins said, “As Ketchum is a full service business head-quarterd in New York, we offer a robust variety of services, whereas, Ketchum Sampark, is noted primarily for its very strong reputation in corporate and financial. But as we have developed the business, Ketchum Sampark is gradually becoming the mirror image of Ketchum global; so we have diversified quite efficiently into the consumer brand space, B2B, technology and one of the fastest growing businesses here is digital / social media play where we see tremendous upside. That space is transforming the way we do business, the way our clients’ business, we have got, several digital clients themselves, but in fact all of our clients are and / or moving towards becoming digital. So, the clients that are coming to Ketchum Sampark are typically looking for capability in multi-geographies, and services that engage across a number or different practice areas”.

Rajan mentions this year, the agency has grown almost 22% in the first 8 months and added about 8-10 clients. “Going by sector-agnostic practice, in 2014, the agency won clients such as Skoda, Star Union Daichi Life Insurance, Ambuja Cements, Axis Asset management, Euronet services, Wagh Bakri Tea and more”.


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