In the by-lanes of crowded Udyog Vihar, Gurgaon, the Fleishman Hillard office is hard to find. A metaphor, perhaps, for the very low key Omnicom Public Relations Group firm in India.
Very under the radar, Fleishman Hillard India’s managing director for client services says, “ Fleishman Hillard India has had a very strong 2017, as we did the year before and we anticipate an equally strong 2018. 2017 was possibly our biggest year in our 10 year presence in India with consistent double digit growth.”
About 70 percent of the India business is part of global mandates and the rest has been locally pitched.
What has helped the firm grow, says Hatia, is focusing on providing additional services with a smaller pool of clients.
Explains Hatia, “Our 2017 growth has come from a smaller set of clients but with work that has extended outside of the 'normal remit.”Media buying has been the one surprise area where we’ve gone from almost nothing about 18 months ago to buying over USD 3 million last year. While this is still small compared to buying agencies, it is an interesting area that we see developing further in 2018.”
Strategic services, deep embedding with clients like General Motors
Fleishman Hillard is betting growth on strategic work tailored to business needs. Hatia points out that, “The work we’re doing for some companies is bespoke to their business needs and, in many cases, we work alongside, or even on top of, existing agencies. Some of this work is more management consultancy in nature and requires senior talent to get involved.”
He adds, “2018 is likely to see more of this and presents a big opportunity for agencies that are able to capitalise on a new need: complete communication solutions, strategy led PR and work that goes to the heart of what the business needs.”
Hatia says their General Motors mandate is a case in point, “Our deep embedded work for General Motors that has seen us work closer with a business than we’ve ever been asked to by any client.”
With General Motors, Hatia outlines the mandate, “ We are embedded with the business. This is quite rare for a PR business, to be part of the decision making process.”
Another client is Corning for whom Hatia says, Fleishman, “ Did very little 'conventional PR” in 2017 and the bulk of the work was developing more complete marketing programmes such as the ‘Incredibly Tough campaign where our teams created and launched three client videos as part of a series across the world. Our teams created the ideas, were fully involved in making the videos, developing the marketing amplification plans and launched them in India.”
The videos compared the toughness of Corning Gorilla glass through unusual metaphors such as the iconic Mumbai Dabbawalas:
Keep an eye on the margins
Commenting on the Indian PR industry, Hatia says that the consolidation that happened in other markets, may well happen in Asia as well. But Hatia says in light of recent merger activity in India for WPP owned PR firms," Nothng that we are planning for Fleishman Hillard India."
India is currently at a point where there is a significant international presence of consultancies , both on their own and through acquisitions of Indian firms. It now due for consolidation, peopled as it is by both boutique firms, mid-size companies and large PR organisations that are mostly internationally owned.
This range has led to pressures on retainers as there is always a smaller firm that can undercut you. There is also pressure for offering greater range of PR services.
Hatia says its up to firms to not give in to undercutting, “ The margin is very important. If you compete at that level, others have come in so low and then it’s to impossible make it work. You are creating that problem for yourself.”
Hatia signs off saying, “Our future plans are to focus on the kind of growth that we believe does justice to our capabilities and what will be the future of India’s PR industry. We also don’t measure our growth by the number of people we have, the number of offices we hold or the number of clients — our focus is more on fewer people, fewer clients and better growth that considers both revenue and margin.”