More than just communications

04 Sep,2013

(Left to Right) Jonathan Hughes, President, GolinHarris, Joseph George CEO, Lowe Lintas & Partners; Ameer Ismail Executive Director Lowe Lintas and Partners and Fred Cook, CEO, GolinHarris


Where so much is being written and said about the not-too-exciting state of affairs in the M&E sector, it comes as a pleasant surprise when a few buck the trend and manage to prove otherwise. On Tuesday (Sept 3), PR agency LinOpinion announced its joint venture with global firm GolinHarris.


With a 50-50 stake between the two, the new entity will now be known as LinOpinion-GolinHarris. While the two have been associated for the past 10 years given their affiliation under the IPG network umbrella, the new joint venture will enable GolinHarris to expand its reach and bring in some fresh new thinking and ways of working in India.


In conversation with Johnson Napier of MxMIndia, Jonathon Hues – President, International, GolinHarris shared that while the timing of their entry is perfect, what was important was the fact that clients in India are looking for more from their communications agency. In fact that’s what the new integrated model, called G4, will seek to offer them. “At the same time, we are also developing our capabilities across the region and India is an extremely important market,” he affirmed.


Agreeing with Mr Hues, Ameer Ismail – Executive Director, LinOpinion who will continue to head the jv agency said that the plan was to have sensible growth but not at the cost of quality. He affirmed that the focus will be to build on its current strengths and invest in others so that they emerge a bigger and better player, one that is committed to doing outstanding work with its clients. Excerpts from the conversation…


Q&A with Jonathan Hues:


What is your assessment of LinOpinion as a PR & Communications player in India that made you seal a venture with the group?

We’ve been working with LinOpinion for nearly 10 years now so we have always known how good they were and how strong their reputation in India is. So this is very much a natural extension to our relationship and one that allows us to expand our reach into India and to bring some fresh new thinking and ways of working to India.


Were you contemplating an entry in India at this juncture or was it work-in-progress for some time now?

The timing is pretty much perfect now. We think clients in India are looking for more from their communications agency and that’s what our new integrated model, called G4, is designed to bring them. At the same time we are also developing our capabilities across the region and India is an extremely important market.


What is the difference that GolinHarris would seek to offer its clients in India?

The aim would be to integrate and offer the brightest insights, the boldest ideas and the broadest engagement for clients in India. We have a very successful team in India already but we believe the market is ready for more than just media relations. We believe we need to further strengthen our strategic and creative capabilities and over time hire new, diverse talent from different fields so that our campaigns really resonate and engage. The other difference is through the close relationship with Lowe Lintas and the wider services it is able to offer. Together we can offer clients a whole new range of integrated services.


Among the many global markets that you are present in, what are the factors that make India a standout among the others?

It’s a key market in Asia but it’s not just about dots on the map. It’s such a vibrant and creative market and whilst we are bringing new technology and ways of working I think we will benefit from having India fully integrated into our business as there are many areas around mobile and digital, in particular, that India is taking a lead in.


There are already a couple of other PR agencies under the IPG umbrella operating in India. Would you be looking at leveraging resources across verticals or would you be competing head-on with them?

It’s the same in almost all the markets we work in around the world. Where it makes sense for a client then we will happily work with our sister agencies, and not just PR, within IPG. However, we are also happy to compete head-on as we believe we have something very different and distinct to offer.


What are the challenges you foresee for the PR & Communications space in a market like India?

To really demonstrate the value they bring and to compete in areas of strategic insight, analytics and creativity that have long been the domain of others. Today so much measurement is focussed on clippings and coverage and not on the change they bring about. We have several specific tools and methodologies within our strategist community to help benchmark and measure this change.


What according to you are the reasons that the PR & Communications medium in India has not managed to make a mark like the other mediums in terms of the ad pie?

Possibly because we have not shown our clients the same levels of insight and creative thinking that the other disciplines have. We have done great largely around media relations but now I believe communications is coming of age in India. Brands want and need communications to play a central role in helping their brands remain relevant to their consumers. We have to step up to the plate and that is exactly what this JV is designed to help us do.


What is your growth strategy as you begin your operations in India?

There is huge potential here in India and our partners at LinOpinion see no reason why together we cannot double the size of our business in India within a couple of years.


Q&A with Ameer Ismail:


The JV with GolinHarris is big news in recent times surrounding the PR & Communications space in India. How do you see the JV changing the gameplan for your activities in India?

This is a great milestone in our journey and the timing couldn’t be better. Clients in India are looking for sharper partners who can work with them and deliver outstanding, measurable results. We have been a successful agency in this market, with GolinHarris (GH), we will get the tools and the G4 model to deliver a completely unique and differentiated product to our clients.


What do you anticipate GolinHarris to bring to the JV that could make you a differentiator in the Indian PR space

Talent, Technology and Training are the 3 main inputs I see GH bringing to us. We will together upgrade our infrastructure and invest in areas to ensure we have a significant edge. We will also have ‘the Bridge’ in India very soon.


With a rich clientele offering from GolinHarris, do you see yourself leveraging the client/brand footprint in India too?

Without a doubt, we will now have an opportunity to work with their vast portfolio of global brands and likewise, our brands that are looking for global support can now access seamless service across the network.


Will the JV lend you more muscle to bulk up investments in other avenues in India?

This business will be significantly scaled in the next few years and we will be looking at any opportunity to achieve this objective and will be ready to make investments.


You seem to have restructured your service model and made significant investments to strengthen the team with vertical heads. Could you elaborate a bit more on this development?

We have been strengthening our talent pool at the senior level as a part of an earlier plan. We will now be reorganising our teams around the G4 model. Within this there will be vertical areas and experts.


There’s a lot that’s been said of the volatile economic climate gripping the Indian media sector as of now. Will the JV provide you more muscle to fight the survival test facing the sector?

It is my belief that agencies that focus on doing quality work will stand the test of time and economic uncertainty, there is opportunity for PR even in these times.


What are your growth plans for LinOpinion-GolinHarris in the coming year? Where do you see yourself in the player sweepstakes going forward?

We plan to significantly scale this business, however we want to have sensible growth and not at the cost of quality. We are already a leader in some areas; we will build on our current strengths and invest in others so that we are a bigger and better player, one that is committed to doing outstanding work with its clients.


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