After departing Hong Kong for Europe, Rylance took on twin positions as Asia-Pacific chairman and global development chairman at B-M. He brought his 26-year relationship with the WPP agency to a close in late 2008.
Watatawa, Rylance told PRWeek Global, is born out of an ‘ironic inspiration' with the way that many consultancies currently operate. Instead, Watawawa will combine a consulting arm, focusing on discipline-neutral communications, with an investment arm.
‘I'm making it abundantly clear that we shouldn't be seen or described as a PR agency not because we have an issue with PR agencies – of course we don't – but simply because it's a fact,' said Rylance. ‘We're truly discipline-neutral and we go to clients with no prior agenda or the need to sell a particular set of services.'
Watatawa Investment, notably, will seek to assist entrepreneurs and start-ups with both intellectual and financial investment. ‘In practice that means providing our services in exchange for an equity position, an agreed success fee or investing capital into a business at a favourable valuation,' said Rylance. It will also work with mature companies with IPO and M&A goals.
The new offering features a roster of senior executive talent, including Simon Pangrazio, who recently departed his role as Asia-Pacific CEO at Burson-Marsteller.
The company's group of founders, in addition to Rylance and Pangrazio, includes former B-M veteran Bryan Matthews, ex-Standard Chartered Bank senior executive Chris Werner, and branding specialist Michael Beamish. Gus Chow, CEO of Hong Kong listed company Harmony Asset, completes the line-up.
Rylance added that the new firm would position itself around the twin values of social capital and market capital. ‘By social capital we refer to the importance of reputation, trust, relationships and other critical but often intangible assets that are notoriously difficult to manage,' he said.
‘We want to have a very real impact on shareholder value and in reality that means we have to address the values of all stakeholders. In fact, we're not interested in working on one half of the equation only.'
Watatawa will also be able to call on a ‘catalyst group' of consultants from around the world. This includes former B-M UK CEO Jonathan Jordan, and Beijing-based consultant David Wolf, who previously headed B-M's Asia-Pacific tech practice.
Rylance added that Watatawa's business model would not ‘charge based on time input', but would instead ‘charge for agreed-on outcomes that have tangible value, measurable by our clients.'
As for the name, Rylance noted that the partners wanted something that would prompt questions. ‘It's an invitation to explain our core values. We love our name and stand by it.'