by Shruti Sriram
May 25th, 2015

This article first appeared in www.businesstimes.com.sg

Weber Shandwick is banking on the rising importance of digital communications and social media platforms to boost growth in the coming years.

Firms were just “dipping their toes in the water” in the past, its chief executive, Andy Polansky, told Business Times. Increasingly though, they are seeking advice on digital activation and strategy, according to Polansky. He points out that firms see the water level rising and they need to learn to be good swimmers to be successful.

As a result, Weber Shandwick has been making a concerted effort to hire employees with strong digital expertise from different backgrounds, including advertising, strategic planning and online content creation. Having a diverse team also helps in crafting good and unique ideas, which is important since the field calls for reacting in real-time to events and creating content that will reach out to consumers online.

andy polansky

“Our business is becoming increasingly digital. We do so much (to) help companies navigate the digital platforms and social media sphere,” he says. “It’s changing the nature of the types of teams we have.”

Digital communications and social media have been the biggest driver of Weber and Shandwick’s business, fuelling two thirds of its topline growth over the last few years.

“We’re natural story tellers. Now we’re just creating content in the digital realm. We’re well suited to do that,” says Polansky, who has been in the public relations business for over 30 years.

It is “not unusual”, Polansky indicates, for the firm to represent the same company in up to 50 markets around the world as clients increasingly seek advice on how to manage their communications globally – regardless of where they might be headquartered.

Where attracting and retaining talent are concerned – a challenge faced by many firms today – Weber Shandwick leverages on its network across the globe to provide opportunities for its employees to work in different cities. This is not just a compelling proposition for staff in terms of career development, but also benefits the group as it is able to offer clients a team with diverse backgrounds and expertise.

Today, Asia is one of the fastest growing regions for Weber Shandwick, accounting for nearly a quarter of overall revenue for the company. The public relations firm currently has 18 offices in 12 markets across the region, with a headcount of over 700 staff.

“So many of our clients are looking to Asia for their growth. It’s been a growth engine for Weber Shandwick at the same time,” Mr Polansky says.

Weber Shandwick’s revenue grew in the double digits last year, while its operations in Asia pulled off a robust performance. The core Weber Shandwick operations rake in over US$600 million in revenues annually.

This comes as public relations and communications are becoming “more front and centre” in the region today, with companies placing more focus on their communications and marketing strategies. Coupled with the rising interest in the digital and social media platforms, this means there is growth to be extracted from both the emerging and mature markets.

“We see a lot of opportunity across Asia,” he says. “Sometimes in our business, there’s a natural tendency to focus on emerging growth markets. But because of the dynamic shift (in mature markets), we see a lot of growth opportunity to build our business.

“Singapore is certainly an important hub market for pan-Asian activities. Our business here has grown by double digits this past year. There’s a lot of opportunity we see in this market working for local clients but also for multinational corporations.”

The firm’s Singapore office works closely with firms in industries such as healthcare, technology and the consumer business, but it is also a “studio” operation that houses its digital experts, ranging from content creators to graphic designers, which does work for the region as well.

Aside from Singapore, the firm also has a presence in countries such as China, Japan, Australia, South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Polansky remains upbeat that Weber Shandwick will still see strong growth in the region, with the digital and social media business driving a good deal of that growth.

“We’re very bullish that we’ll see very strong growth in the business continue,” he says. “We’ve seen that type of environment even in markets where the economy is contracting somewhat.”

In the future, Weber Shandwick may deepen its presence in some of its existing markets in the region, such as Indonesia. At the same time, it will continue to scale up its digital and social media operations, where Polansky expects business to grow “exponentially” in the coming years as firms tweak their marketing efforts to capitalise on those platforms.

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