Ananya Saha
Jan 24, 2014

‘Clients will look at ways to exploit the one-to-one communication channel’

Q&A with Jonathan Wade, head of digital practice, Apac, Weber Shandwick

‘Clients will look at ways to exploit the one-to-one communication channel’

In 2010, Weber Shandwick brought in Jonathan Wade to head its digital practice in the Apac region. Even as the practice gains momentum, Wade is kicked about the Indian market. While on a visit here, Campaign India caught up with him to talk about planned investments, potential acquisitions, and digital trends emerging in 2014. Edited excerpts:

What brings you to India?

I am over here talking to teams about expanding our capabilities here in India, particularly in digital. We are going to make quite a big investment in India on the content production side, expanding our digital studios that we have set up across the region so far. We will invest partly for servicing the domestic Indian marketplace, and as a semi-outsource play for clients across the region - where we move some regional accounts into India. Potentially, we can even move global work into India.

Strategically, India for us is a very important market and we have important plans for the market in 2014. I am here to meet a few key people that we are already in talks with about setting up operations. We are almost at the end of the process.

Of secondary priority is talking to the teams and clients here about the Mediaco (content) offering, which was launched last year. We see that as a big opportunity. We are trying to figure the appetite for that kind of service here in India.

What kind of investments are we looking at?

We are looking to invest significantly and put a sizeable team in 2014. We also see the market growing substantially. There are going to be further investments in terms of infrastructure.

When are you planning to bring in Mediaco into India?

We will do that in the coming weeks.

You joined the team in 2010. How has digital as a practice grown within the organisation since then?

When I joined, we perhaps had 20 digital practitioners across the region in the Weber network in 12 markets. Now we have almost 80 across the markets on the strategy front. On the content production side, we have about 70 people. It's been a massive growth, in terms of staffing and change in the structure of the business of the PR agency. These people are also embedded into various teams, and look after our clients as well. The contribution that digital makes to the business is growing in proportion to the investments made.

Can you tell us about digital’s share of revenues?

At least 20 per cent of our business is digital now. When I joined, it was perhaps less than 10 per cent.

What will be Weber Shandwick's strategy to keep it growing?

We see continuation of the key trends that have helped us reach here. It's not that that the traditional PR techniques are not relevant anymore. It's just that there is a whole new armoury of techniques that we can use to get coverage and reach audiences for our clients. Re-engineering of our business, adding additional tactics and strategies to the whole armour that the teams have, is what is going to drive that. The armoury such as web, mobile etc. is not slowing down. As new devices and channels come on board, it makes the job more difficult because it requires greater investment across various mediums.

Ten years ago, it was easier because there were only a number of publications rather than a multitude of channels that pick up information.

How is India's share in digital revenue pie growing?

We see India as a high-growth market and that is why we are making the investment here. We made the full acquisition of Corporate Voice Weber Shandwick last year. It only reiterates how we see the Indian marketplace. It's share of the pie is going to grow but I do not have any numbers to quantify that.

The Indian market is very unique, especially with traditional media still growing...

Within Apac, it is very different. From media landscape point of view, it is very interesting for us. Traditional media is still booming here. Population is getting more literate. From a PR point-of-view, it is going through a growth that many PR markets saw a little while ago. But at the same time, it is leapfrogging a lot of things that are happening in other markets, such as mobile phones. India has its own unique trajectory of growth. It is the reason why we have been able to pull the two things together - traditional PR approach and digital techniques - at the same time.

How different will your business strategy be here?

It will not be very different. We will continue with an integrated PR approach. We will still have a big investment in core PR services. But we will bring digital to the party as well. That will be the same as in other markets globally; these markets are different only in terms of device, proportion and adoption rates. The investments made in different kinds of techniques will vary. It will be the same strategy tweaked for the local market.

Are you looking at digital acquisitions here?

We always keep an eye out for acquisition targets. There’s nothing specific right now, but we are looking at potential partnership opportunities, particularly across the IPG network. There are various investments being made here, and we are looking at ways to leverage those investments.

What, according to you, will be the biggest digital trends emerging in 2014?

There are two trends that I see emerging. One is wearable technology. Our ‘wpForGlass’ is a US initiative. It is the first-ever WordPress plugin to allow Google Glass Explorers to publish directly to a self-hosted WordPress blog. It is interesting and important for us, particularly in the event space. It will bring more digitised experience to the participants at the event. We are looking at ways to exploit wearable technology.

The other trend is instant messaging platforms on mobile like Whatsapp and Line. These platforms that have come up in the last 12 to 18 months will potentially drive growth because clients will look at ways to exploit the one-to-one communication channel. We are starting to work with our clients in that area.

Campaign India

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