NEW DELHI—After taking over Edelman India in 2009, Rob Holdheim grew the firm's presence in that country from 50 staff in two cities to 300 across 11 offices.
Since then, Holdheim has been entrusted with also overseeing Edelman's expansion in the Middle East and Africa, as CEO of the firm's 'APACMEA' region.
Speaking at the ICCO Summit in New Delhi yesterday, Holdheim laid out his 11 rules for getting things right in emerging markets, where international PR firms fail at least as often as they succeed.
1. Complexity rules. "Embrace it", said Holdheim, using India's political system — where coalitions often form around issues, as a pertinent example.
2. Push the boundaries. In particular, said Holdheim, aim to move beyond media relations. The traditional "swim lanes" that characterise communications and marketing silos in mature markets are often absent in emerging ones, leading to greater opportunity to access bigger budgets.
3. Lead the market. "But not by too much," added Holdheim, warning of getting too far ahead of clients. A good start, he said, would be to "stop calculating results of PR on the basis of coverage received."
4. Grow the pie. "Drop the concept of market share and focus on marquee clients."
5. Mind the gap. "Know your audience," said Holdheim. "Know your client, who would be judging your work and on what basis." In emerging markets, he added, "in-house comms is very often not considered a strategic function, but a cost centre."
6. It's all about the talent. But you will have to grow your own, said Holdheim. "You won’t get ready-made talent. Get them young and help them grow. Motivate by giving them training, advice and authority."
7. Content is king. "Think beyond the press release," he said. "Context is queen."
8. Go digital, go mobile. Holdheim pointed to several stats showing the remarkable rise of mobile and social media in various emerging markets. Saudi Arabia, for example, ranks first worldwide for Twitter use as a percentage of population. India, meanwhile, has a mobile penetration of 74% and growing fast.
9. It is all about the experience. A sophisticated content strategy is all well and good, said Holdheim, but "sometimes you just have to go out on the street and tell people."
10. Integrate, integrate, integrate. "These markets are changing quickly — they are leapfrogging the many decades of development in Western markets," said Holdheim. "The only way to get to a reasonable budget is to move beyond PR budgets and tap new budgets — luckily there’s a greater degree of openness to lane jumping."
11. Expect the unexpected. "Things will not go as planned...deal with it. Always have a plan B, a plan C and even a plan D." Wise advice, coming shortly before a power cut at the Summit.