David Blecken
Aug 6, 2013

PR needs to diversify: Porta CEO David Wright

HONG KONG - On a recent visit to Asia from London, David Wright, chief executive of Porta Communications, spoke to Campaign Asia-Pacific about the company's plans for growth in Asia and the need to offer more than just PR.

Wright: anticipates
Wright: anticipates "more and more general assignments"

A former journalist, Wright is the founder of PR firm Citigate. He launched Porta, a marketing communications holding company, in 2011. Porta yesterday launched Newgate, a communications consultancy within the group, in Australia. The agency will be led by Brian Tyson as managing partner and Felicity Allen as deputy managing partner.

Porta also recently expanded Newgate into Singapore, hiring Terence Foo to lead the operation. The agency launched in Hong Kong in January, headed by Richard Barton, the former Asia managing partner of Kreab Gavin Anderson. It also recently signed affiliate deals with Jet-Go in Taiwan and CRGI in Macau.

Porta is a relatively unknown quantity in Asia. How do you plan to grow?

I’ve always built businesses rather than have affiliates. With affiliates, you have less control over the quality of service, so it’s always best to own the company. That’s the first option—I will keep to our business plan of startups or, if there is clear synergy, acquisitions. The only time I would contemplate affiliations would be if I am unsure of a particular market or if I needed to get into a country quickly and could not find a suitable acquisition.

I’ve always said we’re going to build a full-service communications group. Financial is the biggest growth area, so we’ll be predominantly financial and if need be, develop into consumer PR or advertising , direct marketing or even market research. Whatever we launch, we can develop into other areas. I see a full service global agency. We are already in London, Brussels and Frankfurt, as well as in Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. China will come next. We’re going to start with PR—we’re doing it London, and there’s no reason we can’t do that wherever we go before we launch other services such as advertising. We have to have a global presence.

The moment I set up Citigate, I said I wanted it to be a multi-disciplined agency on an international basis. No one believed it was right, but I’ve always believed you’ve got to be multi-disciplined. The more you can offer, the more you can lock clients in. Time pressures mean that companies are getting fed up of dealing with a load of different agencies.

So PR agencies are still not broad enough in their offering?

I just see more and more general assignments in the future. It’s only a matter of time before it happens here [in Asia], as companies and senior management look to build brands and images alongside their financials.

Some of the large financial firms are too dependent on big deals. Because there’s no strong base of regular income, they struggle. We need and will have a much better mix.

Presumably there is still a role for financial ‘PR’ in the traditional sense?

Suddenly people have woken up to the value of strong brands. A lot of what we do is helping to build image. I wouldn’t say that’s financial. At the moment, [financial companies] are all building their brands ahead of an expected increase in M&A activity. At some stage, acquisitive companies will take advantage of the cheap targets that have done little to improve their images or ratings. We have to be in a position to service all that. So we need a lot more strings to the marketing bow.

If PR activities alone are not enough to sustain a network’s operations, how does Porta define itself?

I would call it an equity partnership. People [staff] need to be rewarded in a different way to how they used to be. All key operators have a stake in our business. They see equity as more attractive than cash. Most of our competitors don’t want to give up their equity so their key executives never get to have a stake in their business. I’ve always believed in having a smaller piece of the bigger cake, so I have never worried about dilution. This changes the whole way that individuals think and operate and how long they are prepared to commit. Our turnover in staff at Citigate was probably one of the lowest in the industry. Once they are committed, the future is in their own hands. The proof will be in the pudding, but I’m sure that it’s the right way.

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