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Why Ketchum Sampark went wrong: Former staffers share their views

While the PR industry is trying to come to terms with a series of developments at Ketchum Sampark, Sanjay Rammoorthy and Bakul Gala who worked at the agency at different times for several years reminisce about how it all unfolded.

Seeds of togetherness

2011 was a landmark year for Sampark Public Relations when it tied the knot with Europe’s global PR behemoth Ketchum Pleon. I (Rammoorthy)was witness to a grand joint venture ceremony that was attended by clients, employees and the management boards of both companies.

We happily stood in front of the Gateway of India, holding placards “Ketchum Sampark Breakthrough”, one alphabet per person. The integration was smooth if not the best in the industry and life had to move on.

The launch of Ketchum-Sampark at Mumbai's famed Gateway of India

In one fell swoop, 17-year-old Sampark PR, built by NS Rajan and Bela Rajan, became part of a large “network” called Omnicom with competing PR agencies. Sampark got access to systems and processes, and an expected flow of international clients.

Post NS Rajan Era 

Of course, 30 years is a long time in the corporate world – Sampark was conceived in 1994. But the fact that Ketchum-Sampark could not survive beyond 13 years is also testimony to MNC Ketchum (and its parent Omnicom) getting it wrong after NS Rajan left as part of a planned exit. 

Indian clients expect one-on-one deep relationships, a virtue that NS Rajan perfected over time. “Personal touch” is deeply valued and the lack of it is what took Ketchum Sampark to its downfall.

RELATED: Ketchum Sampark lays off staff 

Post-Rajan era, we hear that some clients were told to “indemnify” the agency, contracts and certain clauses were unnecessarily revisited creating extreme discomfort among clients. Smart employees sensed these anomalies long ago and gradually departed from the once top 5 PR agencies in India. Revenue loss was a natural outcome which in turn precipitated matters to worse.

Entrepreneur vs network

In the past two decades, the PR industry in India has gradually aligned with its big brother- advertising agencies that have become the preserve of global “networks”. Most of these agencies are now owned by WPP, Omnicom, Publicis, Interpublic, Dentsu et al. The eternal question remains fiercely debated: can entrepreneur-run agencies survive against the backdrop of global networks? 

Ketchum Sampark’s demise has given a fresh fillip to this debate, especially when Asia’s largest Adfactors PR has crossed the Rs 460 crore revenue milestone with strong growth.

(Authors Bakul Gala and Sanjay Rammoorthy are ex-employees of Ketchum Sampark)

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