Our business in India has doubled in the last four years: Baxter Jolly, Weber Shandwick

CEO APAC, Weber Shandwick spoke about the factors that have kept traditional PR agencies strong despite numerous challenges

by Ruhail Amin
Published - Oct 5, 2018 8:55 AM Updated: Oct 5, 2018 8:55 AM

The role of traditional Public Relations (PR) agencies has changed with the coming of digital. Also, with many brands going for in-house agency solutions, traditional public relations firms have upped their game and moved to providing not just communication strategy but also business solutions to stay relevant.
On his recent visit to India, Baxter Jolly, CEO APAC, Weber Shandwick, spoke about the factors that have kept traditional PR agencies strong despite numerous challenges and explains why in-house agencies are no longer a threat to the domain.

Edited excerpts:

In your view, how has the communications domain evolved over the last 10 years?

From our experience, what we have seen in the last 10 years is the constant evolution of the communications industry. I think what has driven that, to a large extent, is the advent of digital and social which has changed the landscape very rapidly in terms of the way we engage with our stakeholders.

When I joined the agency many years ago, it was very much media relations driven and very traditional, but over the years the change has been very rapid. I think the next phase of this change will be equally important and what our clients would want us to do will be far different from the campaign type of work and we will be more focused on providing business solutions.

Do you think public relations has more opportunities to diversify and get more work as boundary lines across sectors are getting blurred? How is Weber leveraging it?

I think integration is definitely driving a lot of change. Some of firms have not evolved enough to face the opportunities on that front. Weber as a firm had started investments with that view many years ago. I think our journey happened 6 to 7 years ago when people were still thinking of digital and social and we were already driving that. We were also changing the type of talent we had in our organization by bringing different kinds of skill sets into the firm. So rather than having traditional media relations, we were bringing designers, production people, planners etc. into our organisation to meet those client opportunities. If you look at where we are today, we have started bringing a lot of focus on data and analytics in the organisation. I think we have constantly evolved to stay ahead of the game and stay relevant to the client’s needs.

There is a growing trend of corporates opting for in-house agency solutions, how is that working out for the PR industry at large?

Firstly, I think it is an equally competitive environment for the client too. Many of the clients have transformed their own businesses to meet the advent of the digital world, artificial Intelligence and all of that. So they are changing and they are under tremendous pressure to differentiate themselves in the toughest business environment. So having an in-house agency is something they tend to look at, but many of them want our help in terms of providing business solutions. Many of them do still believe in having an agency on hand to bring in a different perspective of how we look at things. So having that external dimension and that external point of view is still very critical for the clients. They are coming less to us for the tactical reasons and more for the strategic insights which we bring as an organization.

How would you describe the factors that have kept Weber strong despite growing competition in the domain?

As we know, the biggest challenge in our industry is talent. Having the right talent is critical and we have seen that in India where our business has doubled in the last 4 years. Moreover at Weber Shandwick, we are proud of the strong stability of our leadership and most of them have been with the organisation for more than a decade. So having that stability at the top leads to stability in the lower ranks.

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