Ogilvy Group global CEO Miles Young sat down with the Holmes Report in Cannes to discuss Ogilvy PR’s global expansion plans and the "artificial divide" that is obstructing the rise of PR.
How do you view Ogilvy PR’s performance over the past year, and what are your current plans for growth?
I’m very happy. There’s been a smooth transition from [current chair] Marcia Silverman to [global CEO] Chris Graves. And, in Asia, from Chris Graves to Steve Dahllof. And we are very happy that we have Ogilvy Government Relations in the full church, and that the business is holding up. The opportunity for PR is to improve our performance in the developing markets excluding China.
We need to have the same capability in Brazil, Mexico, India and Russia. In a lot of those markets, PR is quite underdeveloped and still doesn’t have a strategic positioning in the marketplace. That’s changing first in Russia. Then, after that we have to do some market-building work. India is a hugely undervalued market. This is something we are taking very seriously. The final frontier is to get a really heavy-hitting PR capability. That means a PR capability that has some discipline strength underneath it.
In Europe, we have some good offices in France, Germany and Spain but we aren’t the strength we should be in London. We have an organic growth strategy. We are also looking at things that might fast-track us. We’re not in the business of a conventional acquisition. There are possibly some other ways in.
There has been speculation that you are looking to work more closely with Clarion.
We are already working with Clarion and that partnership is one way we can build our business. London is a priority but we are not going to do it in an old-fashioned way.
Is Ogilvy PR seeking to merge with Clarion?
I would not rule anything out at all if it made sense. Clarion is a good shop.
Are you searching for a successor to [former Ogilvy PR EMEA MD] Ash Coleman-Smith?
No. Our strategy is to sort out the UK and Russia first. Chris Graves is very focused on Europe.
Is acquisition part of your growth strategy for Ogilvy PR?
We want to find critical mass in Mexico, Brazil, India, Russia and London. That’s Chris Graves’ mandate. The business has always been North American and then the rest of the world. We’re now at a point where we need to make it a genuinely global business.
Do you see PR agencies being able to sit at the heart of a client’s marketing and communications?
Not completely, no. In some markets and for some clients, yes. The client structure often has PR reporting to a corporate head so it’s not fundamentally linked with marketing. BP is a good case in point. There is a tendency to not see PR as part of the normal comms mix. A few clients have broken that, like IBM. That’s because [IBM marketing and comms SVP] Jon Iwata came from a PR background. When you remove that artificial divide you actually start looking at the world in a totally new way. And your comms strategy becomes naturally elevated – because it’s getting into the fundamentals of why the company is in business. That’s so profoundly beneficial.
Is the PR industry articulating that point of view well?
I’m not sure it’s the PR industry’s fault. I think it’s the client’s fault. The other issue here is digital. You have social media which becomes the preserve of corporate PR. Digital listening and expression of the brand truth is so critical. It’s almost of PR, but out of PR.
Do client briefs reflect this shift in thinking?
The people who specify the pitch requirements tend to come from one silo. It’s not often that two silos converge to produce an RFP. While some briefs might mention PR, it’s done at a very notional level. It’s little beyond this idea of being “PR-able”. It hasn’t really moved on since the 70s or 80s.