After seven acquisitions across Asia in the last 18 months, the stated focus for MSL Asia is to create a common collaborative culture across the different entities in the region. To start with, according to Glenn Osaki, Asia president, people will move across offices in the region—and outside.
Campaign India (CI): After the spate of acquisitions, how big is MSLGROUP in Asia?
Glenn Osaki (GO): We have grown both organically and through acquisitions. The focus has been on building the network to address the two most important markets - China and India. In India, we had Hanmer MSL (since 2007), we acquired 20:20 Media and 20:20 Social. In China, we acquired Eastwei Relations, Genedigi and King Harvests.
Across the region, we would have around 1,700 people today, with over 800 in China and around 550 in India. We would be the largest player in terms of revenue and headcount in both markets. Of the Indian talent, over 50 constitute our social media capability; this number will go up to 75 by the end of the year.
CI: Now you have the size and the spread. What next?
GO: The biggest focus for us would be on integration of offerings, and collaboration across geographies. We already have clients we represent across markets, especially the public affairs space. We represent ’Invest in France’ in the region, TAITRA from Taiwan across markets and the World Gold Council (in India, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore).
CI: How big is the social media offering for MSL - in India, Asia and globally?
GO: In India, I estimate that social contributes 10 to 15 per cent of revenues; across Asia it would range between 10 and 20 per cent, with countries like Hong Kong and Japan it would be closer to 20 per cent. In the West, I would think we’re between 15 to 20 per cent. The target is to move this to between 25 to 30 per cent of revenues - our holding company Publicis Groupe has 30 per cent revenues from digital.
CI: So even in markets where social media caught on faster, the contribution to billings is not correspondingly high. Why is that?
GO: Social media still needs better measurement, even in the West. Clients recognise that social media is important, but the fees don’t reflect that. Also, the other 80 to 85 per cent (of revenues) comes from not just traditional public relations, but other arms like events, design and so on. Traditional public relations will be the largest chunk though, by far.
CI: Could the lower representation of social media on the revenues list also have to do with all kinds of players having social media offerings - and not just those in the traditional communications business?
GO: Yes, in social media we do have non-traditional competition (not normal competitors). There is a bit of a land grab happening, because the space is not very well defined. We have media companies, digital agencies, social media specialists and more.
As a holding company, Publicis Groupe has decided to take that on. Over the last two months, we have an internal initiative going on to define the digital space. To understand where the market is going, and who will take ownership of which space within digital. PR has played the role of storyteller always, earning media, staying interactive. So in social media, PR can and will have a role to play. It will be defined and different from what our brethren from advertising and media agencies in the Publicis Groupe would do.
Within Publicis, we are getting business that is passed on from group agencies for our storytelling abilities. We have also created a tool, a crowd sourcing platform. We are moderating it on behalf of a number of clients, sharing content, mining insights, and it is constantly evolving.
CI: Not all acquisition-led growth stories have been success stories. What has been your experience? And is there scope for more acquisitions by MSL?
GO: We will continue to look for opportunities in India. And on past acquisitions, we have been very careful with the choice of partner - almost always, we had worked with the agency as a partner before making an offer.
They for us to succeed is people, and integration of agencies. I am now spending a week every month in India. We did a survey six months ago, to understand the employee cultures, values of each entity in the group, and consolidated that into an MSL Group Asia culture. We have had customized learning and people development sessions for MSL Group employees, with internal experts from Asia coming down to India.
We’re also ensuring mobility between offices, and have launched an orchestrated mobility program after studying several other programs. To start with, around 50 people will spend between a week to three months in another MSL office, either in Asia or outside. It’s about collaboration, and about fostering an ‘Asia’ culture across the group.