Excited about India-US relations at a time when there’s geopolitical tension elsewhere: Kathy Bloomgarden
The CEO of Ruder Finn chats with us about the Indian market, ChatGPT and its role in PR, how being a family business helps, and more…
May 02, 2023 10:10:00 AM | Article | Raahil Chopra Share -
Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO, Ruder Finn, was in India last week for a three-day visit during which she wanted to meet with the leadership team to get insights and find out the priorities of the Indian market.
We caught up with her to understand how India’s 130-member staff force is important in the global scheme of things and more…
What’s the agenda for the India visit?
I’m meeting with our offices here over the next two days to get an update on them. I wanted to see what was happening in the India market first-hand. I want to make sure I have the insights directly on what the priorities are and aspirations for how the market is evolving.
How is the Indian market evolving?
We have a number of offices in India now having started to expand our presence a few years ago.
Elevating Atul Sharma as CEO
was an important move to make sure we have strong leadership and we were bringing the best in class services to the market here.
How important is it in the global scheme of things in terms of size and revenue?
India is an important and priority market for us. I’m excited about how India and the US are getting closer. In this era of geopolitical tension, this is one area where there is great affinity. We have so many students coming to the USA, and even so many people starting companies in the country, who are originally from India.
We are focusing on growing and making sure we have the best expertise here and are connected to our global clients. We are integrating our teams so that ideas and trends can be shared.
India is a market, which is important in the mission of making a team that is global and continuing to integrate our Indian colleagues into global clients.
In terms of size, we have more than 130 employees in India. We’ve recently moved into a new office space in New Delhi, and this office accommodates around 100 staffers.
We are growing well and I’m very pleased with the leadership here.
How much has PR changed over the past 25 years, since you’ve been in the industry?
It’s completely changed, thanks to technology - which we need to embrace.
Behaviours and attitudes have changed and communication is driving that. Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen communication become much more important than it was. Rather than it being cast aside as an afterthought, communication is now very essential for the company as well as the CEO and leadership. It helps with talent retention, and products reaching the right consumers too. It’s an essential core element in everyone’s life now.
Ruder Finn is essentially a family business, with you taking over from your father. Could you explain how the company operates?
Being a family business is a wonderful platform for us. Agencies are kind of working 24x7.
Everybody has a crisis every week. We are trying to create a supportive environment for the staff. For example, during the pandemic, we had no layoffs. We gave people extra support then.
I think this came about because we don’t have a parent company that tells us to deliver margins. We can make our decisions on our own and make sure people feel comfortable. We also let them pursue interests that they have or clients that they love.
I’d say we’re lucky to be a family business.
Ruder Finn's journey is much like India's journey post-independence and both are now completing 75 years. What's the outlook for the next 25 years?
My father David Finn, always had this model which I think is important for what we see in the future. He said ‘just because you haven’t done something, doesn’t mean you can’t do it’.
Sometimes, we are nervous and worried about doing something new. In today’s world, being bold and adopting new technology tools is super important. Going forward, it’s all about achieving total technology disruption in the communication field. We have to learn how to use these tools and help clients have a voice.
Technology can bring people together and build bridges.
There’s a perception that PR isn’t an aspirational place to be in. How can the industry do better PR for itself to make it an attractive place to be in?
I think PR is a great field for young people to come into. I enjoy talking to them at university and explaining how through PR, we have the opportunity to work on so many different brands. It’s about bringing about change in the world.
We owe it to young people to help them feel the excitement of all the various things they can do, once they’re in the space.
About changing perceptions, we keep talking to our clients about the importance of storytelling. It’s about leading by example now and telling stories about the business to clients. At an agency, as a young person, you can run clients and direct the conversation. For people who are looking for the ability to express themselves and own something, it’s a great place to be in.
Any other challenges within the space?
Like companies, people are conservative in the agency world. The challenge is to embed a willingness to do different things into our culture. It’s not easy though. When you think about writing an article, ChatGPT won’t write one for you but will give you direction. When I asked my colleagues, who would be using ChatGPT, I got to know that not so many are. We had a closed doors group discussion, with the heads, and everyone was concerned about using it.
I use it a lot to do research and it would take me a lot more time than the 30 seconds it takes. So the challenge is to make people comfortable trying technologies – some will work, some won’t!