Definition of PR a 'ridiculous' debate, says WE's new EMEA-APAC lead VanderMolen

Discussion around the definition of PR is an "arcane and ridiculous" debate, according to global agency WE's new international president Alan VanderMolen - who also told PRWeek he is keen to expand the agency's health offering.

The former global vice-chair of Edelman's parent company, VanderMolen started work at WE (formerly Waggener Edstrom) last week, and arrived in WE's London office on Monday with the firm announcing his hire the same day.

PRWeek UK sat down with VanderMolen in London on Wednesday, before he flew to the firm's Munich office that evening.

Asked what he thought the biggest challenge facing PR today was, he said: "I think the industry right now, primarily driven by the holding companies, is obsessed with the question of what’s the definition of PR. I think this is an arcane and ridiculous discussion, because it only limits the ability of participants in the industry to address clients’ issues and to innovate, so I think the biggest issue is having holding companies define what PR is.

"I think increasingly clients don’t care about the name or the descriptor that comes after the brand; what they care about is the quality of the insight, the quality of the people and the track record in delivering it."

He also said that he was attracted to WE because it was an independent firm: "The independents aren’t constrained into artificial swim lanes, they have the ability to play where clients want them to play and be channel or discipline agnostic. I think that’s a huge enabler of growth."

VanderMolen said he imagined technology would remain the firm's core business, but said: "I think it’s really important that we apply our knowledge of the technology sector to continue to service technology clients but also to apply that to other sectors. The other sector we’re in aggressively right now is the health sector. We also have a very good base of consumer business that I don’t think people know a lot about, and we have a lot of business in social innovation."

VanderMolen will split his time between London and Singapore for at least the first year in his new role, deciding whether to be permanently based in one or the other at the end of that.

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