It’s been about a year since Edelman made senior level appointments for its digital practice in India. What kind of growth have you seen in the past one year?
We’ve grown fairly well. On the PR side, it’s been good growth. We just hired a creative director and there is a client servicing director coming on board in Delhi. Globally, our digital business employs 800 people. In terms of revenue, in 2008, we were at US $ 15 million(digital). In 2012, we finished at US $ 91 million. So we’ve grown exceedingly well in a year’s time. In India, we’ve got about 15 people dedicated to digital now. A year ago, we had a very small team.
Does that mean India’s contribution as of now isn’t significant enough as compared to other countries?
It’s growing quickly. India is a big and very important piece of our overall business. It’s still a developing practice at this moment in time. But we’re going to grow very quickly here.
Among other companies in the world offering integrated digital services, how is Edelman placed? And what is Edelman’s core differentiator?
Globally, we’re by far the largest social media agency in the world. While we do online marketing and some development related work in digital, our core business is social media management, helping brands manage reputation in social media. Our competitors such as Digitas, Razorfish etc. are skewed towards development and advertising side of the things; we’re really one of the few agencies globally who’re experts in the social side of the things.
How different is the Indian market from rest of the world when it comes to social media?
India has a lot of similarities to major markets in the world. China, for instance, is a very hard country to do social media in. Out there it’s not Facebook and Twitter but more about specialised channels. So it’s hard to bring expertise around the world into that market because they have to be familiar with Chinese-specific networks. In India, we can still bring in our best people around the world and have them execute a Facebook programme or a Twitter programme and really draw on the global experience.
Do you think PR as a vertical is better placed than advertising agencies or standalone digital agencies in handling social media accounts?
Yes, I do. When you’re managing frontline social media on behalf of a brand or a company, you’re certainly going to have some issues. It could be customer service issues, a major crisis or something else. Ad agencies and stand alone digital firms have no idea about managing online crises, and there are examples where advertising agencies and standalone digital agencies have failed to efficiently manage a crisis. Coming from a PR agency that’s got a massive global crises practice, if there is a small issue that arises on a Facebook page, I can pick up the phone and consult top crisis experts in the world and get advice on how to handle and manage that. That’s something we bring to our clients, something that advertising agencies and standalone digital agencies can’t.
Any specific learnings from the West which you’d like the India team to look at?
If you’re talking about Facebook community, most brands have more or less the same strategy. What we’re starting to see in other markets right now is the complexity and the investment in social media communities is being amplified, so brands are going out and cutting entertainment deals specifically to have content that suits the Facebook page; they’re adopting much bigger sort of content strategies, entertainment strategies, bringing real talent in etc. We’re making investments and increasing our own capabilities to get ahead of this. That’s where I’m seeing a lot of change where companies are going from very flat content strategies to a much more dynamic creative type of strategies.
Globally, is it a big challenge to attract talent to PR/digital media services?
There is a bit of supply and demand issue going on right now. It’s a young industry and there are not may experienced people out there. As a company, we’ve been pretty successful in attracting talent, and one of the reasons behind that is we’re an entrepreneurial company, so people can really develop their career paths here; they can develop their career paths on a global basis. Which is a very exciting thing. We tend to attract young talent and the senior talent pretty easily, but attracting talent at the mid-level is bit of a problem.
We look for people who have the ability to crack great ideas, people who’re able to adapt and change quickly. We’re making our revenue from the type of things we’re executing for clients today, but it could be very different six months from now. So we want people who’re naturally curious and have the ability to learn and adapt to new things quickly.
What is your view on measuring social media campaigns? Globally, it is too different from how it is done in India?
There is no one model that works for everyone. You have to customise your measurement package for different clients. Standard metrics work very well, but my understanding is that metrics can show huge discrepancies. One needs to look at various metrics such as quality of conversations, search metrics, traffic metrics etc. and then you can basically craft a picture of what it actually means.
Do you think search plays a critical role in social media marketing?
Search is driving brand reputation and brand visibility right now. So if you’re not doing a good job with traditional media, or hybrid media, it’s going to ruin your search results. We want to make sure that information people are finding is the information we want them to find. Today, social has started to drive search results, which means, search is critical for any brand to look at. So one cannot afford to ignore search, even if it means it’s a social media campaign.
In terms of growth you’re expecting in the financial year 2013-‘14, what is the target you would like to achieve globally?
We would like to grow by 20 per cent this year. I expect our revenues to exceed US $ 120 million from US $ 90 million of last year. Our New York office has shown the maximum growth, where we’ve nearly grown by 100 per cent. I’m optimistic of India’s growth within the APAC region. We have recently hired a new head of our APAC operations and I expect 2013 to be an eventful year in India as well as other markets in the region.
What is Edelman’s growth philosophy? Are you a believer in acquisitions?
We’ve done some strategic acquisitions in key markets in particular situations where they’ve made sense. They’ve all been relatively small acquisitions. I believe that unless you grow organically, you don’t really have a cohesive agency identity. You’re really a fragmented company and it’s very hard to deliver consistently in multiple markets. We’re investing in certain markets to accelerate our growth, but again, unless there is a smart fit for us, we won’t be making any significant acquisitions.