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Is the Next Wave of PR Agency Consolidation in India Led by Mid-Sized US Firms? Quanta+Makovsky's Andrew Goldberg weighs in.

Credit: Andrew Goldberg

Geoeconomics and geopolitical shifts are driving US interest in the Indian PR market. Is there enough going on to make a trend? What sectors in India are exciting for Indo-US collaborations for PR?

 Quanta+Makovsky's senior EVP and COO, Andrew Goldberg spoke to PRmoment India editor Paarul Chand on the sidelines of his India visit about these and other trends for the Indo-US PR market. Goldberg says that a large portion of his firm's business is made up of Indian technology and pharma companies of all sizes. These are not just Indian companies, they are international companies and many of them operate in multiple markets in the world. 

Therefore it makes sense for them to finalise a presence in the Indian PR market along with their ongoing offerings in the US. Goldberg reveals that the collaboration with an Indian entity is now in place, focused on technology comms offerings, and will be formally announced later.

Goldberg believes mid-size firms pose considerable potential to cause creative destruction for larger PR firms, especially network firms. He also discusses the skills PR professionals need for the future and sectors within healthcare and tech that will attract attention from PR firms.

Read on.

Health IT Opportunity for Indo-US PR beyond generic drugs

Paarul Chand: You have mentioned reasons why the Indian PR market could be interesting. You mentioned the geopolitical framework in which that is happening. But, coming down to specific sectors, what areas would the US PR market be interested in for India? You have already mentioned tech and healthcare. So for healthcare, is it generic drugs?

Andrew Goldberg: "No, it goes beyond generic drugs. If I look at healthcare, Indian technology companies are now producing expert systems and artificial intelligence platforms that assist insurance companies in the United States in their payments. Broadly speaking, the medical systems of the United States for US patients are also powered by those technologies."

Therefore, what we're seeing is Indian technology companies, and IT services companies taking very significant positions in the US healthcare market, separate from generic drugs.

Second, we're only at the beginning of the potentiality of US biotechnology companies using or partnering with Indian companies in the drug development area, which used to be the case with China. But it will be less so with China and much more with India.

US Partnering for drug development away from China and towards India?

Paarul Chand: That's interesting, but is it going beyond lip service?

Andrew Goldberg: I would caveat it by saying that I'm a communications guy who works in the pharma area, as opposed to a pharmaceutical development guy.

"But about a month ago, the US Biotechnology Association, announced that, for strategic reasons, it was delinking itself from Chinese partnerships. So that's a fact, that's an out-in-the-world fact. Now, how this will translate into business relations within India, I would say that, to me, India has cost advantages, it has technology advantages. It may not, you know, happen overnight, but I do believe it will happen. I don't think it's simply lip service. I think that those relationships are being built right now."

The Indian IT, AI Advantage for Silicon Valley

Paarul Chand: Talking about tech specifically, of course, now it's tech is pretty much in every sector, but specifically, what is it that you would be interested in?

Andrew Goldberg: Within our holding group we have built in organically a Gen AI content development platform which was created for us by an Indian partner who is part of our network. So the reason why I say this is not to put in a plug for our company, but rather to say that the Gen AI revolution has, I think, put India squarely at the forefront of building all sorts of new businesses.

"Most people don't realize that India has been partnered with Silicon Valley in pretty much every single tech development. They provide most of the software development, software as a service. Much of that development is in India."

Andrew Goldberg: When we started to go into these so-called metaverse technologies, quietly and behind the scenes, companies in Bangalore were already doing this business in partnership with Facebook. So now with Gen AI, it's the same thing. It allowed the same Indian companies, or let's call it Indo-US companies, to scale off of their existing relationships. So they already have a competitive advantage in terms of their partnering and now again, given the geopolitical trend. It would become more so as US companies move themselves out of the rest of Asia and into India.

Creative Destruction of Network Firms? Job losses or redirection?

Paarul Chand: Flowing from that, do you see that as a trend? We've had 20 years of consolidation in the Indian market but that's been by the network firms acquiring Indian firms or rare cases having a subsidiary of their company there, and we have seen only one example where Indian entrepreneurs have invested in another Indian firm. So that's been the structure so far, dominated by network firms. In your experience, do you see another type of consolidation happening, and what shape is it taking, and is it enough to call it a trend?

Andrew Goldberg: I don't think it's a trend yet, but I do believe that it will become that way and the reason why I believe that is because of how the large global holding companies presented themselves in India through acquisitions or by creating a local market presence designed to serve the Indian market is, to me, the way of the past. I also think that many of these companies, including those that I worked for in the past, if I look at the large agency holding companies, I think that there's going to be a substantial amount of disruption and creative destruction in those areas.

"I think that these companies are going to be severely damaged by the artificial intelligence revolution because it will allow younger companies, newer companies, to be able to compete at scale with the large agency networks that have always been burdened by big overheads, lots of people, big real estate holdings, and those structures are simply not affordable anymore."

I think we'll see a very different world within five years, just as we've seen a very different world happen in the last three, ever since the first Gen AI announcements came out.

Paarul Chand: That's a very strong statement that you've made. So what does that mean for job loss? What you're saying also means job loss, and what does it mean for the future of the PR industry as a whole?

Andrew Goldberg: I would like to use rather the language of our clients in the technology area because they don't view it as job loss. They view it as job redirection and job creation. There's no question that certain jobs that were otherwise occupied by large numbers of people creating content for advertising, for PR many of those jobs may go away in the short term, but they're rapidly going to be replaced by a universe of agency talent that understands how to utilize artificial intelligence, that have a strong technological competence, even if they're not technology experts themselves. So I think it will actually create more opportunities. As these firms upskill, I think the jobs will also come from elsewhere. 

Rather than someone coming out of a school and saying, well, I want to work for WPP XY agency, I think that the jobs are going to come from the proliferation of new companies using new models with an international focus.

Can Indian PR firms go international?

Paarul Chand: Why don't we hear about Indian PR firms expanding to the US?

Andrew Goldberg: I think should not answer that. Not that I don't have an answer, but I would say that if you are an imaginative agency executive in India today, there are opportunities there that are different than you know some outside holding company acquiring you, there are partnership opportunities, there are cross-border activities that can be pursued. 

"I think that Indian PR agencies should have a little bit more of a global rather than a local perspective, just as their clients will, and I won't say more than that."

Future PR Skills

Paarul Chand: So if I were to ask you for one word of advice to a PR professional who might be on the verge of redirecting his or her job, what would that one skill be to learn? And secondly, if you know, what advice would you give to other new firms which you're saying will take off? How should they approach technology?

Andrew Goldberg: First of all, number one, strategy still matters, and in fact, it matters even more, because you need to understand not only how to use the technology, you need to understand what your clients want. You have to be a more skilled strategists. The second thing I would say is that client relationships will still matter and will matter even more because no client wants to deal with a bot. They want to deal with a creative human being who knows how to deploy the technology. So I would say that the two things that are going to matter most for a young executive today are that combination of strategy and client skills. I think that it does not mean that being a great writer or being a creative and imaginative PR person won't matter, but I think strategy and account relationships will matter much more.

Andrew Goldberg: The third area that I would say is that, if I'm in the PR business, the bread and butter of dealing with journalists is still going to matter. Journalism is changing. Changing your journalistic partner might be somewhat different, but having those valuable relationships with journalists will still matter. That's not going to be replaced by some, you know, some robot or some AI in fact, it matters much more to do a better, stronger story.

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