Watatawa founders Bill Rylance and Simon Pangrazio are loathe to describe their new venture as a public relations firm. The website calls Watatawa (the name is an abbreviation of “walk the talk and talk the walk”) as “an Asia-based stakeholder engagement consultancy and strategic investment firm with a unique business model and specialist global resources” and there is no question that its capabilities extend way beyond any traditional public relations business. But having said that, there’s no question that most of what Watatawa does fits the broad definition of PR—it’s about helping companies enhance their relationships with various publics—and that the firm has the potential to become a major player in the Asia-Pacific (and ultimately the global) PR business.
Certainly, the principals of the firm have impressive public relations credentials. Rylance worked for Burson-Marsteller in London, established his own firm (Merit Communications) in Korea, sold it to Burson, and rose to become the global agency’s regional CEO, responsible for a team of 500 people in 16 Asian markets. Pangrazio joined Burson-Marsteller’s Australian operations in 1996 and worked in Singapore, Beijing, Tokyo and Hong Kong before succeeding Rylance as regional CEO in 2007. Other founding partners include Chris Werner, an expert in the banking and financial services sector; Gus Chow, CEO of Harmony Asset and chairman of FutureWorld China; Bryan Matthews, a former journalist who was Korean market leader for Burson-Marsteller until he left the firm in 2009; and Michael Beamish, an expert in the luxury and FMCG brands arena.
The firm is focused on helping clients manage relationships with their key stakeholders, including employees, customers, business partners, regulators, NGOs and others. Its approach is based on the belief that intangible assets—including human capital, relationship capital and intellectual capital—are making an increasingly significant contribution to organizational value and that a “company’s destiny is now shaped by its ability to engage and converse with stakeholders.” There’s also a conviction—evident from the firm’s name—that stakeholder relationships are determined by a company’s actions rather than just its words. The firm then takes a discipline-neutral approach to crafting solutions, working with partner firms to execute as necessary.
A final distinguishing feature of the firm’s approach is a focus on bottom-line results, and particularly on the value of intangible assets. Watatawa is affiliated with BNP PARIBAS Business Assets Valuation, a leader in the measurement and evaluation of intangible assets.—PH