Shinmin Bali
Aug 25, 2014

‘The desire is to make digital as big as our offline PR practice in five years’: Ketchum Sampark

Q&A with NS Rajan, global partner and MD, Ketchum Sampark, and Jon Higgins, senior partner, CEO - International, Ketchum

‘The desire is to make digital as big as our offline PR practice in five years’: Ketchum Sampark
What does the growth chart look like now, since the JV was signed?  
Jon Higgins (JH): We couldn’t be happier with the way the two businesses have integrated around people and operations. Both Ketchum and Sampark had our values in alignment which is what led us to the JV. So, three and a half years on from there, it is really about just putting the pieces together. 
What we are doing now is just a heightened level of coming together on client needs, training, client retention and growth practices. We have integrated the service offering in a way that it started showing great business (growth). So, 2014 I would say without giving anything away, has been a tremendous year so far with about a dozen new clients and on acquiring talent. These client wins have been across sectors. And a spread like that only means that you’re doing something right.
NS Rajan (NSR): We in many ways (today) are far more disciplined from a process point of view, which has been a huge learning since the JV. Whenever we go to a client, whether it’s a new pitch or a current client relationship, we now have access to the entire Ketchum database, and specifically the data that’s relevant to our market based on which we can offer them services. That’s a huge plus. Ketchum helped us launch our digital offerings; we are far more disciplined about measurement (now). So the overall experience, the discipline, the hygiene, has improved significantly.  
How has the JV influenced your client portfolio, in terms of new additions? 
NSR: It would be difficult to attribute it to Ketchum but we’ve always had a great track record in terms of retention. I see a perceptible shift in the client’s perception because the overall experience for the client has improved. In 2014, we have won clients such as Star Union Daichi Life Insurance, Ambuja Cements, Axis Asset management, Euronet services, Wagh Bakri Tea and more.
How has 'Knowledge Studio' worked out in the Indian market? It is exactly a year since you launched the same as a content-led VAS for the digital space.
NSR: Knowledge Studio has been a phenomenal addition and it has made a huge difference to the way clients look at us. Clients are very comfortable with the fact that we have that service, which for us has been a huge plus qualitatively. Quantitatively, the VAS service contributes significantly to our top line and bottom line.
How has 'Knowledge Studio' contributed to Ketchum's businesses in markets around the globe?

JH: Knowledge Studio is unique to India. In other markets, we do have content experts but we don’t break it up as a separate entity.
NSR: The Indian market requires us to offer a differentiated product in terms of content services and to price it accordingly. This differentiation is not necessarily required in the other markets Ketchum operates in.
Within the digital services that Ketchum Sampark provides, do you notice a marked split between mobile communication and 'traditional' digital communication?
NSR: Not exactly. People are first looking at digital and then the device through which the communication is to be carried. So typically you create solutions which are agnostic to any device. People are looking at solutions which can be carried across different platforms. There will always be specific programs created for specific channels or devices. There might not necessarily be a specific preference towards one or against the other. There is a huge amount of mobile penetration but having said that, a lot of the communication is still distributed almost equally across the board.
JH: We in the PR industry are excited and motivated about trying to understand the opportunities available to us to expand and to amplify the traditional earned space. Now, clients are seeing the power of the paid, owned, earned and shared media joined together. How we come together for clients in a single operation is a groundbreaking opportunity for us, which has been led by the advent of social and digital media. It’s not the mobile device or the laptop or the iPad driving this but rather the way people are communicating and evolving their businesses.
Digital is seen as a focus are by Ketchum Sampark for the next five years. What is the strength of your digital team in India?
NSR: We are at the cusp of a big digital revolution. We see a clear sign that over the next few years a lot of client resources will get diverted to digital. There are a lot of people waiting on the sidelines to evaluate the RoI that digital can bring. But some are also worried as digital is a two-way communication. It is not something that you run for a particular period of time, which was the case with traditional communication. It is a continuous engagement which demands resources. We as an agency would like to be ahead of the curve. We’re pretty good and solid when it comes to offline PR but now is the time to make all investments necessary to push the digital part of it.
Investments are ultimately made in people. As for the tools necessary, we have Ketchum and their experience to draw from.
At one level, digital and the traditional do go together and it is always better if the same agency handles both.
For digital, we have a team of about seven to eight people and we certainly want to ramp it up. For us, the desire over the next five years is to make digital as big as our offline PR. 
How much does digital contribute to Ketchum Sampark's overall revenue? 
NSR: Today digital contributes about 10 per cent to our overall and we’re hoping it grows to equal our offline PR.
Going forward, which would be the focus region for Ketchum?
JH: In Apac, we’re relatively junior. We made the acquisition of the Sampark business about three and a half years ago and acquired a majority in (and agency in) China around the same time. Last year, we acquired a business in Korea and Singapore. So, Apac is an area where we’re really on the move. This is the region where we see a tremendous potential.
(Changed basis clarification from Ketchum Sampark, that the agency is looking to make digital as big as its offline PR practice in five years.)
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