‘Weber Shandwick India’s work is some of the most creative in our system and I expect to see more of that’

Q&A with Gail Heimann, president and chief strategy officer, Weber Shandwick

Mar 10, 2014 04:40:00 PM | Article | Ayushi Anand

During her first visit to India, Gail Heimann, president and chief strategy officer, Weber Shandwick, spoke with Campaign India on the positioning of ‘engaging, always’, challenges from traditional and digital ad agencies, digital media growth, and more. Edited excerpts:

How has the brand positioning, 'Engaging Always' helped the agency in gaining market share and industry recognition?

We launched ‘engaging, always’ two years ago. Our proposition was to say that our end game is solving the problem by engaging the right people at the right places, wherever they are - in a mobile environment, a web environment, physical environment... ‘Engaging, always’ was a way of showcasing our approach towards every client and every client’s issue by recognising that our job is to engage across the spectrum. And, to do it with the kind of people who are able to engage across those platforms wherever they would be.

We have had steady and quite impressive growth globally. I do think that the spirit of it has infused our organisation in a way that has driven wins in competitive situations and has knitted together people around the globe with a common spirit. It has had an impact. Overall, we are one of the few agencies which has enjoyed robust growth over the last two years in almost all markets. I think we have received industry recognition. When we came out with it, I think we were the first in our category in public relations (to do so). Other agencies were projecting themselves as public relations agencies – as traditional PR agencies. We came out and said we are engaging always - the look and feel is vibrant. We are more content-driven in the way we push out some of our stories and messages. Now you will see that some agencies have tried to change how they look and how they are telling a story. I do feel that we came out in a differentiated way quite early, two years ago.

How has this positioning affected your clients in India?

India has always been among our most award-winning operations including awards at Cannes. Our operations in India has lived the brand positioning. Now we give more fuel to it.

PR agencies are today directly competing with traditional and digital ad agencies for talent as well as business in India. How is Weber Shandwick gearing up for the challenge?

At the end of the day, our business is about people. It is about matching extraordinary people to client assignments, problems and issues. Gearing up is about two things – training our people and bringing in the kind of people we need. If we are competing with digital shops, the battle is about content in some cases. We need to have producers and we need to have terrific writers and we need skilled editors to put that together in the same way that ad agencies or digital shops would. What we do better than anybody is that we get how to engage across all kinds of platforms. So we do the kinds of things that the digital shop does and the ad agency does but we bring the other skill of having a dialogue with the end-user. We have the authentic story telling edge that comes from having done public relations as our heritage and hopefully, when we win, we win because of that.

What percentage of Weber Shandwick’s revenue does digital contribute? How do you see digital media growing?

Yes, I do see it growing. But I do not think you can do terrific brand publishing without a paid component in that. Our digital revenue is significant and is about 30 per cent and it is growing rapidly. It would depend from region to region but overall, it is absolutely growing is an increasing portion of our business.

What are the different approaches adopted to ensure delivery of impactful work?

One is training - making sure that our teams are skilled in a diverse range of things. Two is the teams we create: having diverse skills, that is being from different places, spaces, and thinking differently. The third and most important thing is to create an environment that encourages creative thinking. That encourages people to take a little bit of a leap to have a brave idea and attract the kind of clients that want that kind of thinking.

Going forward, what more can we expect from Weber Shandwick India?

We can expect more wins, hopefully; more wins at Cannes. Weber Shandwick India’s work is some of the most creative in our system and I expect to see more of that. We will certainly see more wins locally and we will see more growth in some of the multinational business that we are doing in the rest of the system.