Ogilvy Public Relations Asia Pacific President and CEO Scott Kronick
- Pic by Daminda Harsha Perera
By Malik Gunatilleke
Ogilvy Public Relations celebrated 35 years in Asia with all its regional leaders converging on Sri Lanka last week for the Ogilvy PR APAC Regional Leaders Conference held in Negombo.
Among the Ogilvy bigwigs who attended the conference was Ogilvy Public Relations Asia Pacific President and CEO Scott Kronick who sat down with the Daily FT for an exclusive interview, on the eve of his departure, to discuss the public relations business and Ogilvy’s recent successes globally, and in the Asia Pacific region.
Kronick has been with Ogilvy for 29 years and has been involved with Ogilvy Asia for 25 of them. In 1991, he was involved with Ogilvy’s operations in Taiwan and in 1995 he became one of the founding members of the PR operations in China. He was appointed the regional CEO in 2014.
In his interview with the Daily FT, Kronick explained that there was a culture of getting all the leaders together to discuss the past and future of the business and the company. A meeting was held two years ago in Singapore, while last year Ogilvy PR had separate meetings for North Asia and South Asia.
He stated that Ogilvy PR intended to use its network to help Sri Lanka, given the briefs they had received, which was part of the reason why Sri Lanka was chosen for the first time to host the conference.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: What are your highlights from the Ogilvy PR APAC Regional Leaders Conference held in Sri Lanka?
A: Everything was a highlight. We had our Global Chairman Christopher Graves here. We have a lot of really smart people in the group, who really think about the future of marketing, where the world is going and how communications and marketing plays into that. I created the agenda, so I’m obviously biased but everybody said it was great. We had a celebration of 35 years that was lots of fun. Sometimes in this business you have to celebrate your wins; it’s about creating a culture.
Q: In the global context, how important is the Asia Pacific region for Ogilvy?
A: This region is the largest region in the world for Ogilvy PR. We are the fastest growing business for Ogilvy PR globally. The China business is the largest market for Ogilvy PR globally.
Q: What are the highlights in the region under your time with Ogilvy Public Relations Asia Pacific?
A: One of the reasons for success is that we’ve been very lucky in cultivating people like Manilka Philips (Ogilvy PR Worldwide Sri Lanka General Manager). You need strong local roots. You can’t have a guy like me come here and tell you how to do things in Sri Lanka and tell you how Sri Lankans feel. But what I can bring is the knowledge of how we’ve done things elsewhere in the world. Manilka takes it with her team and meshes it with how it can work in Sri Lanka. We’re a conduit for that type of experience.
For me, the highlights are the strong local roots we have; in China, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Australia and throughout all the markets in which we operate. We do the World Economic Forum in Asia, that’s our client. We’ve had some major client wins. To me, our clients help distinguish our leadership. We have over 1200 staffers who are predominantly local experts.
Q: What do you feel about the talent pool in the region?
A: Given the rise of social media, the business has changed; communication has changed. People get their information in different ways. It’s not just the newspapers, or television or the radio anymore and because of that it has changed who leads in this industry. It used to be the US and maybe Europe. But that’s changing; there’s a flattening and therefore there has been a rise in talent. At this conference, we had people who had been with Ogilvy for 20-25 years and so they’ve got the same skill set as the people we have in the US. So the talent is getting much better. It was a relatively new industry 35 years ago in its present context and it’s changed quite dramatically.
Q: With the rise of social media, do you find the game has changed in terms of how the industry approaches people?
A: We debated that a lot in the last couple of days. Before, marketers or brands, you could read about them in the newspaper or you could see it on a billboard or watch a TVC. Now, on social media, people will click something and say “I want to read that”. So the permission to influence is greater and because you’re in a new realm, you have to know where people are getting their information from and you need to know who influences other people on those platforms. Earlier, it could have been a celebrity endorser but now someone like your best friend could be your greatest influence. So the world of influence has changed. Then, the message, the type of content you develop has changed. We have got some thinking around what we call ‘earned influence’. That is the ability to influence people but you’re earning that ability to influence them.
Q: Social media has also made people more critical and analytical. Does that push the industry?
A: It helps. If you are a really good marketer and a communicator, it’s authentic and you can’t sell faulty products. So it’s helping. Brands have built a trust with the consumer so the whole area of trust is now even greater than before.
Q: A lot of companies attempt to tackle its own PR using social media platforms. How does that affect the industry?
A: The reality is that people consume information differently. Facebook is a major news driver. People go to Facebook and click on articles to read; I do. These social media platforms serve as new media platforms. Marketers need to learn how to work with them and use the data to understand them, and develop content and engage influencers. It changed the game a lot.
Q: Why choose Sri Lanka as a location for Ogilvy’s PR APAC Regional Leaders Conference?
A: It was raised to me about a year ago. Some people have talked about it for many years. When we decided on this, one of my colleagues visited here on some training. It was one of the markets in which we hadn’t done this before. I’ve heard so many great things about it but we hadn’t been here and it was first on my list.
Q: What are your first impressions?
A: I love it. We were in Negombo and the people have been great. You can just feel the energy. The capability of everybody on pulling together a great conference has been impressive. The beaches were wonderful and the weather has been wonderful. I’m not here long enough but it’s been a wonderful experience.
Q: What are your observations in terms of the Sri Lankan market?
A: I know that tourism is increasing. I encourage you to stay as authentic as you’ve been. I haven’t got a single bad comment from the 80 people who were at the conference. It’s hard; you have to keep your authenticity because that’s what makes it so special. The people, the food, the climate is all great.
Q: The PR market has boomed in the recent past in Sri Lanka which has resulted in many new companies springing up. What sets Ogilvy apart from them?
A: First of all, the more competition for companies, the more they have to stand apart and the more important brands become. The more competition, the more you have to create a differentiation. We try to build firms that are strong locally. We call it ‘the most local of the internationals and the most international of the locals’; which means, of the international firms, we can be seen as the most local, being able to understand the local market, and of the local firms, we’d be the most international.
Then, we have a network of people, so if the Sri Lankan operation wants to work on certain clients in the pharmaceutical or technology industry, I can give them 10 experts who would help them develop that expertise. So I’m here as just a resource pool; it’s to help the resources, to make them smarter, better, more nimble. That’s not even to say when Sri Lankan brands want to go global, like Sri Lankan tea, you have a strong local market with a strong network of people and the local firms can’t do that.
Q: In terms of this region, where does Sri Lanka rank on importance?
A: It’s developing much more influence. It is, in my sphere of responsibility, very integrated and it’s one of the important developing markets that we need to nurture. In China, we have more than 500 people. So in terms of people obviously it can grow much more but in terms of the importance, for me, I treat every one of the heads of the markets equally.
Q: What are your plans for the region?
A: We had a discussion about what the plan is for 2016 and it is increased practice expertise and helping with the outbound Asian investments and all these new companies coming in. It’s about getting the tools in the hands of the people so they can run the businesses.
Q: How do you see the rise of the people branding market in the region?
A: We have a lot of experience in it. We have had agencies who have been affiliated with us who have done lots of big stars. It’s a little bit of a different exercise. We do thought leadership campaigns for senior business leaders, so we’ve got a lot of expertise in that. Whether it is a real growth driver or not, it depends. Sometimes it’s very important to have those relationships with those people who are influential.
Q: The China market, as you said, was the largest globally for Ogilvy PR. What lessons can Sri Lanka learn from the Chinese market?
A: I think that its market has accelerated integrated marketing solutions. Clients don’t care anymore if it’s advertising, or it’s CRM, or if it’s an event or PR, they want a solution that would build their business or solve their problems. We’re forming integrated teams. I think in terms of the China business, we’ve all grown up together. I was one of the founders of the Ogilvy PR China business. We’ve worked together for a long time. So it’s integrated. We also need to look at what’s worked in those markets and look to export it; the public affairs business, the technology business, the use of data in communications.
Q: What advice do you have for a developing country like Sri Lanka in terms of brand building?
A: I should know more about the Sri Lankan market to be able to give the market a lot of advice. If I take my own experience, my message would be that you have got a gem of a brand and part of the beauty of this is your authenticity and the people. It doesn’t feel too commercial but it feels vibrant and happy. Those are the components that, as you get a lot more tourists and a lot more successful, you’re going to be faced with a lot more issues but don’t lose the essence of what I’ve experienced here. If I was working in tourism, that would be my message. I wouldn’t say it is a hidden gem because I think a lot more people are learning more things about it. Your awareness has risen as a destination in Asia. Don’t lose you authenticity.