"PR agencies need to think of the 'big story' - this will be a game-changer"

Fred Cook, CEO, GolinHarris & Joseph George, CEO, Lowe Lintas & Partners talk about the JV between the two firms, challenges it brings & their aim to change the essence of the industry

e4m by Priyanka Mehra
Updated: Sep 4, 2013 8:57 AM
"PR agencies need to think of the 'big story' - this will be a game-changer"

Partnerships, mergers and acquisitions are indeed the flavour of the season, and GolinHarris and LinOpinion, the PR division of Lowe Lintas & Partners India, are latest to join the club.

The two agencies have entered a 50: 50 joint venture. The new entity will now be known as LinOpinion-GolinHarris. Both the brands come under Inter Public Group (IPG).
Though in today’s crunched economic scenario, a partnership definitely adds to the collective strength of a group, providing a definitive punch by taking the advantage of scale to a whole new level, it does come with its own set of challenges.

Fred Cook, CEO, GolinHarris and Joseph George, CEO, Lowe Lintas & Partners talk about the JV between the two firms, the challenges it brings and their aim to change the essence of the industry through the partnership.

What kind of timeline are we looking at for the joint venture?
Fred Cook:
We want to make this happen as soon as we can; in fact, in our Mumbai office, there is already a sign in the lobby that says LinOpinion GH. We want to make it as smooth a transition as possible. We have already gone for pitches together, not to forget, we worked together in the past. The integration will now become more intense. 

How does this partnership help both the agencies?
It provides us both with greater global reach. A lot of our clients are MNCs, who want to expand in India, which is an important market. The JV also allows LinOpinion’s clients a bigger public relations network. We already have some common clients such as Unilever and Sodexo. Moreover, our G4 model, which brings four areas of expertise – strategists, creators, connectors and catalysts, completely fits in with the Lowe Lintas model.

Joseph George: The timing is critical as we clearly wanted to scale up, but in a particular direction that is different from the way the current industry is operating. From a group perspective, we have one bucket of Lowe Lintas clients and one bucket of LinOpinion clients – GolinHarris fits with both with a huge synergy.

The quality of creative ideas will better for LinOpinion-GolinHarris with Lowe Lintas creative guys working with them.

PR agencies today don’t think about the ‘big story’, which is equivalent to the ‘big idea’ for a brand from a creative perspective. This is integral because without a ‘big story’, which then becomes your brand story, how will you manage reputation for the brand? It is basic, but most of the PR industry does not think like that. This approach needs to change. This is why we have such acute issues of remuneration, because we operate at the lower end of the value chain.

Do you think integrated solutions are the need of the hour in India?
I think the Indian market is ready for new thinking. Other parts of the world are changing the communication landscape and we have to be ready with big ideas and insights.

George: Yes, today clients want all the solutions under one umbrella and PR is a critical part of this. The PR solution cannot be dreamt of in isolation; it needs to be seamless and in sync with the creative solution. Our brand teams will be working on the integration.

There have been numerous instances of partnerships not working out in the long-term. How do you plan to ensure success of this JV?
As you expand as a company, you can open an office in a new place, put people here or use acquisition as your strategy, but 75 per cent of these things don’t work in the long-term. However, we have known each other, we have similar cultures, we have worked together before with the same values, same quality of work. We also have a JV in Paris, Sweden and Romania; this relationship works and there is a synergy we know.

George: At a conceptual level, both the agencies have primacy of strategy, creative and the big idea. So we are ‘made for each other’.

What are some of the challenges you foresee?
Re-designing your business from ground-up is about finding the right people. It is the combination of training the existing staff to make them specialists and hiring the right kind of people to fill in the gaps.

What does this partnership aim to do for both the firms in the next couple of years?
The matrix will be ‘Are we serving our clients better?’ So we will have to ask ourselves if we are using better strategy and hiring people with better skills; if we do all this, business will grow. I suspect we could double the size of LinOpinion in a couple of years. We did a lot of research with clients before entering the JV. They wanted insights, creativity, technology – these are not things that PR firms are delivering. Our quality of work going forward will be important. 

George: Scale is derived; if we do what we are intending to do, the very essence of the PR industry will change. When more and more clients become advocates of this product, we can change the industry and the remuneration model. Once all these things are in place, we will get our numbers. The ‘big story’ is what PR agencies need to start thinking about – it will be the game-changer. 

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