On a recent visit to India, Matt Stafford, president, APAC BCW spoke with PRmoment India editor, Paarul Chand on a range of topics. Stafford said that many of BCW clients in APAC are following the, 'China Plus One' strategy and that plus one is invariably India.
He also explained how PR firms are increasing their focus on India and what is driving growth for the Indian PR business.
PRmoment India: Matt, the first question to you is, what do you see in terms of growth for the PR business in APAC? And specifically for India. Pre-pandemic, we in India were between 12 to 15%, which I guess would apply to Genesis BCW as well in terms of growth. So, what do you see the growth like now that we have we've been through the worst in terms of the pandemic?
Matt Stafford: Firstly, all business leaders are focusing on potential recession. We think it will be a soft recession at some point next year, but still a recession nonetheless. For Asia Pacific, however, that's the consensus view among the financial gurus is that Asia Pacific will not hit as hard as other regions. India, especially.
China might experience a hit for other reasons. But India, there's so much investment going on in India, regardless of the financial hits, and the economic headwinds that come globally, India will always comparatively be much less worse off than the other regions. That's the consensus. And that's how I am treating our investment in India, we are expected to grow in India, in line with the economic growth that will be expected next year. We experienced double-digit growth in Asia and India, last year, from a revenue perspective. This year, we are on track to achieve double-digit growth in Asia and India. Next year, we're a little bit more cautious. But I would be surprised if we don't get close to double-digit growth for a third year in a row.
PRmoment India: When you say double-digit, is it possible to put a ballpark figure to it? High or low double digits?
Matt Stafford: Low double digits. We are looking at low double digits in Asia and India this year. But, the year isn't over yet, another 3 months to go. Overall, we are very happy with this year, India has been great. But, we obviously had a tough year in 2020, as all agencies did. It's on the record that we declined by 1% in the region, but comparatively speaking was pretty good, we were happy to only drop by one percentage point in 2020. And now we're back to the double digits that we experienced in 2018 and 2019. Apart from that one year, we couldn't be happier. To grow double digits on such a high base is very hard. And it gets even harder. But we've managed to achieve it in pretty much four out of the last five years.
PRmoment India: Whenever we talk about India, China invariably comes up as a comparison that China gets the higher fees we don't in India. Do you see that changing given the geopolitical environment and the restrictions imposed by the zero COVID policy that China has? Is there a shift in India's favour?
Matt Stafford: A lot of our clients are following the strategic direction of “China plus one” rather than just China and that plus one is invariably India. So there is an increasing shift towards investing in India. India will be the third largest economy probably within 12 months, up from number five, and investment flows into India will similarly reflect that. As a result, we will be doubling down on our India investments.
In this aspect, we are following the trend of the investments that are coming from our clients, many of which are multinational clients that are investing in India more and more. And as they do that, we are supporting them from a communications investment perspective.
PRmoment India: You mentioned double-digit growth. What is driving that growth? Has the base deepened or is it particular sectors?
Matt Stafford: The answer for us is very clear. From our perspective, we set a strategy on going into new high-value services, with consulting a priority, particularly within the public affairs space. We are now advising clients not just on their communications challenges, but geopolitical issues and ESG. And we are advising not just the communications heads, or marketing functions, but CEOs now on how to navigate the challenges of operating businesses in an increasingly fraught geopolitical environment. This is especially the case in China, but also in India and Southeast Asia. This is becoming a bigger priority for multinationals operating in this region and in this market.
This is a space that BCW is owning: Policy, communications, public affairs, rolling out ESG programmes that resonate with their customer base, their employee base and with stakeholders, as well as business transformation and internal communications. These are all critical areas and among our biggest growth drivers.
PRmoment India: When it comes to ESG there is a geopolitical point of view that for the developed world, it is also about getting better market access. So, there is a trade aspect to it. And then, of course, there is the need to attract investors—where companies get investment when they are ESG compliant. What do you see as the driving force in India?
Matt Stafford: I think it is a bit of both. A lot of large companies are actually doing great work in the ESG space, but they have not communicated it so well. They are getting runs on the board, with their customer base, their stakeholders and with the government, but they have not necessarily told their stories yet. We are working with them now behind the scenes on how to articulate, curate and develop those stories.
PRmoment India: Are these Indian-owned businesses or mostly the subsidiaries of international firms?
Matt Stafford: Both. We have Western-headquartered brands who are operating in India who are doing it and homegrown multinational multinationals headquartered in India who are doing it. This is one of the biggest trends I am seeing at the moment. They are doing really good work with their employee base, with the customers and with their stakeholders and communities that they operate within, but have not yet effectively communicated, or told that story yet. But they will.
PRmoment India: It's been 30 years for Genesis BCW in the PR business in India. It has been quite a journey, starting out in a basement office as Genesis PR, the acquisition by Burson-Marsteller and of course the recent mergers at the global level and with Six Degrees in India. What has it been like?
Matt Stafford: I've known Prema Sagar and her team for a very long time, over the past two decades or so. And it was a great honour last month at the Gabbys Awards, which is our internal annual awards to do a special presentation for Prema to mark 30 years. Our global CEO Donna Imperato dialled in online for that in front of all of our staff across the three offices and to reach that in 30 years is incredible.
I couldn't be happier with where we are. I also couldn't be happier for her successor Deepshikha to be appointed, three years ago, as firstly the Genesis BCW leader, and now CEO of the BCW India Group. And I also couldn't be happier with the integration with Six Degrees. That couldn't have gone better.
I also want to pay tribute also to Zack and Rishi who planned the whole transition with Deepshikha, Prema and me. We also brought in Vandana to lead Six Degrees and she's been doing a tremendous job as our new leader for Six Degrees. We are all now one big team, all sitting together in our new offices in the WPP campuses across three offices. So it's really worked well. Our clients are happy, our team is happy, and it's looking really bright for the future.
Matt Stafford, is President, of BCW APAC