Q&A: Glenn Osaki of MSLGroup Asia

Campaign India caught up with Glenn Osaki of MSLGroup Asia to talk about the company's India strategy, and the new integrated offerings

Q&A: Glenn Osaki of MSLGroup Asia

MSLGROUP India, positioned as Publicis Groupe’s flagship strategic communications and engagement company, has announced an expanded India growth strategy with the PR and social media network, made up of three agencies – Hanmer MSL, 20:20 MSL and 2020Social – as well as a specialty content and creative unit, MSLGROUP Creative+. The new flagship MSLGroup Mumbai office, located in the new Urmi Estate building in Lower Parel, will house all the various offerings from the group.

Pointing out that along with an enhanced positioning for the agency, the focus will now be on multiple areas of ‘strategic communications and engagement’ across all offerings, Glenn Osaki, president, MSLGroup Asia talked about the company's new integrated positioning and the several initiatives that have been rolled out as part of the plan. Excerpts from the conversation.

Campaign India (CI): What brings you to India this time around?

Glenn Osaki (GO):  I have been coming to India quite often over the last few months, and I have been quite excited about lot of different initiatives that we have in India. After China, India is the most important and fast growing market for us. This is a market where we are extremely well positioned and want solidify our role. So, this week are moving into a new location in which the team from HanmerMSL and 20:20MSL will be in the same floor and around 225 of us will be together creating the flagship Indian operations. That is a big part of the celebrations. Even more than the geographical locations and state-of-the-art technology, we really want to demonstrate our commitment. I would say the main reason I am here and I have been coming here consistently is to demonstrate to our team, the commitment that we are making to India because the more we can invest in our people, then more successful we can be as an agency. If there is one thing that we want to be known for and be differentiated in the industry, it is the way that we cultivate and develop our talent.

CI: With respect to talent, what are the key efforts undertaken by MSLGroup over the past few months?  

GO: One of the key initiative is around mobility where, in this year itself, around 30 people have been migrated or moved from one city to another country within Asia or to even Europe or the US. These mobility experiences for staff could be anywhere from couple of days to couple of weeks to couple of months to even couple of years. The reason we are doing this is that many of our staff want to have international experiences. They want to know that they can learn from the best around the world and improve themselves as professionals. We are doing this program for all levels. Some agencies might do it at the VP level. This is really even for the account executive or the manager level who can participate. That is one part of it, and there are many training initiatives that we are rolling out for our talent.

CI: Other than this, what are the other initiatives that MSLGroup is focusing on, in India right now?

GO: We are also talking about investments that we are making in the structure of our business, so how are we positioning ourselves and how are we structuring ourselves are also part of what we are discussing. So, from a positioning stand point, we know that we have to elevate our services and our reputation. The idea of talking about public relations is sort of a misnomer because we do much more than that. Public relations in India is lot more press relations or publicity but what we are doing is strategic communication consulting part, and that is where we have to go. So, rather than talk PR, we are talking about strategic engagement and consultation. And, engagement means talking about our social media offerings and the way we interact with our consumers. We are also better leveraging our MSLGroup India as sort of an umbrella brand, with its various unit offerings including HanmerMSL, 2020MSL, 2020Social and Creative+. By going to the market in an integrated manner, we can be strong and leverage the scale and have efficiencies, and yet these brands can service different clients and needs.

CI: What are the challenges that you face especially in India while offering an integrated solution like this?

GO: It is somewhat difficult in India, with the fees being higher and the general level of understanding or the value placed on, is not there. It does not mean we stop trying. I remember, when I first came to China in 2005, the market was mainly underdeveloped and what we were doing was majorly media relations. We were doing basic events but it wasn't strategic. Clients weren't paying us much money, and they weren't giving us very sophisticated assignments. But over the course of seven or eight years, I have seen a renaissance. A revolution in the way the industry has grown as the type of work that we do is much more strategic. However, it is not yet at the level as it is in the US, but I have seen it increase significantly. I have noticed that some of those clients are the same kind of clients that we have in India today, where they are starting to realise that there is a greater role that public relations can play. Though it is a discussion that is harder in India than other places, it is definitely improving and we are seeing clients whom we can offer strategic communication consulting.

CI: China and India are always said in the same breath by most global companies. Keeping aside the similarities, what are the major differences between these two markets?     

GO: I would say there is any similarities. The only two similarities are that these are two huge countries with population over a billion people each that are growing faster than any other economies of the world. That's about where the comparison ends. Because, if you look at the government, China has a strong central communist state versus a democracy. You look at the media environment, there it is state-run versus a free press. You look at the development of the infrastructure in China, it is very strong and in fact it is better than the infrastructure in the west and India is still falling behind. You look at very large middle class in China now, and their socio-economic development has outpaced India. So, if I look at it in terms of government, society, economy and consumerism, so many things are different between them. There are so many differences between India and China that I think all of these differences do impact our business as well, and as a result the way public relations is viewed in the two markets is different. The approaches and challenges are also different. Even though we service similar kind of businesses in both the markets, customisation is still the key in our business.   

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