In February 2018, WPP Group announced that it would be merging its' two leading PR firms Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe globally. This merger would include the firm's entities in India: Genesis Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe Six Degrees.
Quite naturally, there is considerable interest in how the merger plays out in the Indian market.
In order to discuss this and the case for businesses to have a view on issues of national interest; PRmoment India caught up with Matt Stafford, president Asia Pacific for BCW on the sidelines of the 6th annual meeting of the Public Affairs Forum of India.
India is large enough for two BCW brands
Currently, the two WPP PR brands in India have been rebranded as Genesis BCW and 6° BCW. As the latter is in the middle of an earn-out, a decision the structure of the merger of the two firms will need to wait until the earn-out period is over, according to Stafford.
Emphasising that the two firms have the BCW brand running through its names, Stafford said that, "We are so big in India with nearly 450 people (across both companies), we can afford to have two brands in India with the BCW name common to both."
Stafford says that as of now the P&L of both firms will remain separate while working closely on areas such as training and planning. Stafford agreed that having two brands is helpful in avoiding conflict of interest among clients.
These are structural practices that are followed by several international PR firms pointed out Stafford.
In a story filed by PRmoment India after the merger announcement last year, Dev Raman, managing partner, Lastaki Partners who advised on the Denstu-Perfect Relations merger in September 2016, told PRmoment India that, “One complication of an earn-out is that you have an independent P&L. ”
Stafford confirmed that the two firms are interacting closely on areas such as training while remaining strictly separate on the P&L.
In fact, Genesis BCW is set to move into a common WPP building in Mumbai and Gurgaon over the next one year. 6° BCW is likely to do so after their earn-out period is over.
PPR in India
Last week, WPP brand PPR was merged with Burson Cohn & Wolfe in Australia and New Zealand making it the largest firms in the region.
Answering a question on whether there would be a similar move for India, Stafford said, "We have not made any decision on that yet." Stafford said any consideration on the topic will only happen in the new year of 2020.
Record double-digit growth in APAC
The APAC region has seen strong growth in 2018, in double-digit figures, says Stafford. According to Stafford, the firm has not seen such high rates of growth for the last 15 years. This, he said, demonstrates how well the two companies have taken to the merger.
Stating that it's unusual to see high growth rates during a merger, Stafford shared that BCW has seen both high growth and a lowering of attrition rates.
Speaking candidly about the pre-merger announcement situation, Stafford said that BCW had lost almost half its staff in Asia. Now that situation has improved and attrition rates in Asia have halved to 29%.
Without commenting on specifics, Stafford said the growth and lower attrition rates are a result of the company culture with flexi work options and good business results.
"People have reacted well to the merger", he said.
"You could not have had two firms who are more different. Globally Cohn & Wolfe was strong in areas such as digital, consumer and healthcare whereas for Burson-Marsteller it was tech, public affairs and corporate; among others. But there are huge advantages to this, opposites do attract. People have reacted well to the merger", he said.
In India, clarified Stafford, Genesis BCW was always quite well advanced in its integrated marketing offerings.
Should business speak out more on national issues
Stafford said that internationally societies are moving towards a trend where employees expect the companies they work with to have a point of view on issues of a larger interest.
While it is not necessary for companies to have a view on every issue, Stafford believes they should consider having an opinion on issues that also align with their business purpose.
Not doing so, said Stafford, could mean not being able to recruit well. Employees today, pointed out Stafford, "Vote with their feet". They simply will not work with firms that do not have a larger purpose.