PR industry needs honest answers: Olivier Fleurot, CEO, MSLGroup

17 Jan,2013


By Johnson Napier


While a sluggish outlook has dampened growth prospects across industries the world over, it’s a different story for the communications space. Or so it seems for the India market, which has been demonstrating decent growth year-on-year. Part of the success that the communications industry in India is witnessing could be attributed to the phenomenal performance of some of its prominent players. Like MSL India, which had a fantastic 2012 growth story to boast of.


In India for the MSLGroup’s Board Meeting and to unveil the second edition of its industry report titled ‘Public Relations in India: Inside the Industry’s Mind and the 2013 Outlook’, MxMIndia spoke to Olivier Fleurot, CEO of MSLGroup, to gather his views on how far the PR industry has arrived in India, and what is it about the Indian communications market that makes the world sit up and take notice.


Apart from India, China and other hot and emerging markets is where the action will come from, going forward, asserts Mr Fleurot. Excerpts:


We’d like to begin with your observations on the trends that the PR industry in India and across Asia threw out, post the release of your outlook report in 2012. What were the ground realities you came across through the course of last year on the growth front?

It is very clear that the PR industry in Asia is developing very fast. It is probably less mature than the Western Europe or US markets and therefore has a great potential for growth. Because we have acquired certain properties and have big ambitions for India and China we were of the view that we should be taking the lead in terms of organising a debate and finding honest answers on what is the road ahead for the future growth of this industry. That is the reason we launched our first executive report last year and have done it again this year. It is a contribution to the debate process and a way to show that we think we can be a thought leader in this industry.


What was different about the way the Indian communications market grew in 2012 versus the other evolved markets?

In India, what we managed to do is get a lot of western companies here as now we are very confident of our operations. As you’d know, foreign investment is very important for India and what we did for the country on that front is a good thing, so we think. As for Asia, I would say that it is the region in the world where the growth in our global industry is the highest. And I think it is going to be like that for several years because unfortunately in other markets like Europe the economy is not dynamic enough; we expect it to be flat for some more time. But clearly Asia is going to be the major driver of growth for our industry and we are very happy that we invested in this region a few years ago.


Everyone seems to be hopping onto the digital bandwagon. What is going to be your strategy for growth for 2013?

We are the clear No 1 in China and I can say the same thing about India as well. For us, digital was one of the key sectors where you saw us do a lot of initiatives in that space. Gaurav Mishra has been leading the digital and social media space for us in the whole of Asia. We are looking at acquisition opportunities across the region. Also we would be looking at other countries outside China and India to see if there is a potential for growth.


Are you looking at emerging markets as an avenue for expansion going forward?

Countries that are really opening up include Vietnam Indonesia, Latin America etc. We are always monitoring markets for potential acquisition possibilities wherever they be. These markets have to important in terms of the skills and experience. After all this is also the business of people so we need to keep looking out for new talent especially when dealing with new businesses and sectors. The best are those that have created their own company; they are more entrepreneurial and if they are ready to join it is always a fantastic experience. They need not necessarily be big companies but skills and talent is something that we are looking at.


Are you satisfied with the growth story of MSL India in 2012? How does it compare to the growth story in your other important markets?

Overall in Asia, our organic growth has been about 30 per cent which is way higher than the global industry figure of 5 per cent. A few countries have reported low numbers on account of low marketing and communication spending. For 2013, I am looking at a global growth of 5 per cent knowing that Europe will still be flattish and also Germany whose GDP grew by just 0.5 per cent given that it is the largest economy in Europe…also the industries are more mature in these countries. Actually, I am a bit optimistic about the US market as well given the fact that the elections are over and new budgets being approved etc. I think we can be surprised about the US market in 2013.


Do you see opportunities arising out of upcoming or unexplored sectors going forward?

We see huge opportunity in the energy sector given all talk about renewable energy etc. So we expect certain number of clients coming in there. Also, healthcare is also a priority for lot of clients across markets. The fact is that many industries are witnessing profound transformation these days. Also because of the growing use of social media and web most media are struggling to find a new business model or to promote their activity as where there were 3-4 channels, today that number is 100 or so…Also, Financial Services is another sector that needs some help going by what happened in 2012. So there are plenty of opportunities that exist.


What are the takeaways that the industry can take a cue from the second executive report you’ve launched yesterday?

The industry here in India should agree that there is a lot of potential and that it needs to come together and debate what are the best practices, how to raise the game, etc. There is need for the industry to see how it can offer value-added services, be more innovative etc as it is no longer about media impression anymore. It is much more complex than that especially on the web. So it is about measurement, being able to analyze data… basically see how we can develop a more sophisticated industry.


What about talent? What is the way forward on that front?

The fact that the industry is growing by 20 per cent we need to find the right talent. We need to work on our own image and on the image of the industry. We have to ensure that we attract the right young talent pool to our industry.


What would be your core objective going forward?

The aim going forward is to be a clear leader while also trying to be at the forefront by way of participation, debates etc in this industry.


On Tuesday, January 22: Read extracts from the PR industry report – Public Relations in India: Inside the Industry’s Mind and the 2013 Outlook


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