Shubhangi Mehta
Mar 12, 2013

“You have to change your brand to be appropriate for the reality”

In conversation with David Brain, president and CEO, Edelman Asia Pacific

“You have to change your brand to be appropriate for the reality”

What is the reason behind your India visit? Any acquisition or collaboration-related announcements that we can expect?

No acquisitions this time; that was done last time when we completely acquired Cream Events to strengthen the firm’s experiential marketing capabilities around in November 2012. The plans are that we need to broaden the PR, digital, experiential etc. The reason I’m here this time is that every year we do this intellectual property called the Trust Barometer. We launch it in India every year about this time.

What is Edelman Trust Barometer? How are its findings functional for India?

Trust Barometer, like the name suggests, measures trust in companies and business around the world. It’s the largest piece of research that the PR industry does. So, in each country we get a snap shot of why people trust businesses, government, media and NGOs. It gives a pretty strategic guideline for each country and allows comparisons between countries. We do two samples here in India. One sample is what we call informed public and ask them questions like ‘Do you trust ___’. Where people don’t trust companies or brands, we ask them why. The major reason we get most of the time is corruption. This gives us a strategic framework for helping clients.

Edelman announced a geographic re-organisation, with Africa and the Middle East being managed from the Apac region. What does this signify?

This comes into effect from July. Our business in India is a power house for us. India and China have come out of the developing markets so we look at them with much more importance. So, India now is going to be the hub for this pretty vast region. That means that our business in India will have increasingly regional people in it who are best in class of corporate and digital. And they will be expected to manage our businesses throughout Africa and Middle East. For us the reorganisation brought India at the heart of a pretty big region.

What differences do you see across markets when it comes to the PR industry? How different is it here in India than other countries?

All markets are different. Much of it is driven by culture. In India, the media is so vibrant and free that it makes a fantastic market for the PR industry. With educated Indians, the people who read newspapers, magazines or read online, the huge debaters due to the democracy, all this makes for an absolutely great market unlike other developing economies who have limited forms of democracy. This means, if you want stuff done in India, then you must follow the process and take along the stakeholders as well as the consumers. So, it’s a brilliant market for us.

We have around 300 people working for us across 11 offices in India and as in many things, in PR industry too size matters. If you’ve got 300 people working for you, there are better services available. India, because of its size, has got better specialists and therefore much better offerings.

Do you think that the focus on PR in India is much less than it is globally? What according to you is the reason behind it?

Yes, if you compare India to developed economies. But if you compare it to other developing economies, much of the work done here is pretty leading-edge and much of it has to do with the media. There is a vibrant and creative movie, print and TV culture in India. So, the PR industry needs to be at the same level. It’s not quite the same environment in China, where media is more controlled. Interestingly Hong Kong has got the same movie and celebrity buzz that India has.
The PR industry in India is not as sophisticated as it is in countries like Europe and the US, but it’s much better than it is in most developing economies. Also, clients these days are looking for agencies with new ideas and approach and we provide clients with multiple services, so that works well for us. We understand that it’s no more about buying a media space and putting something in it; now it’s all about engagement.

The fastest growing markets for us are India, China, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

What is the set of client expectations from PR? Has that evolved?

We have a client portfolio of local clients and also the biggest clients. Here in India, our biggest client with Rediffusion is Tata. I think if we were to choose clients, we would choose clients who believe in our engagement philosophy, clients that are prepared to take risk creatively. They should recognise the need for PR and engagement, which means that sometimes after understanding the reality post research, you have to change your brand to be appropriate for the reality. We would always prefer such clients over the ones who say, “Here’s my product, make it famous”. In reality, most of the clients come to us with the latter, but in the course of working with us, when they see the sort of research we apply, they drift towards the former.

How does Edelman balance between retaining of old clients and getting new businesses? Which out of the two is a focus for you now?

For us the focus is on retaining old clients and maintaining long term relationships with them. Even in India it’s the same; we’ve been working with Samsung for the past 20 years. We believe in building bonds and relationships with clients and that is the basis of our business model.
Usually, agencies get fired because there is a mismatch of expectations on delivery from the agency, or in terms of quality (of delivery). We have a system where an e-mail goes out to the client with a questionnaire and that happens quarterly or every six months. They can complain – it helps us know about the issue and we can go ahead and solve those problems. Our commitment to quality service is extremely important to us.

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