Ruder Finn Asia: Agency Business Report 2015

While Ruder Finn's growth average in Asia has held a steady pace of 25 per cent since 2001, Asia chairman, Jean-Michel Dumont notes that 2014 turned out slightly lower.

Jean-Michel Dumont
Jean-Michel Dumont

Asia Head: Jean-Michel Dumont, Asia Chairman
Ownership: Independent
Asia Offices: 8 wholly owned; Partner: 12
Asia Revenue: US$21.379 million
Asia Headcount: 282

While Ruder Finn’s growth average in Asia has held a steady pace of 25 per cent since 2001, Asia chairman, Jean-Michel Dumont notes that 2014 turned out slightly lower.

Dumont highlights China as a consistently strong market for the agency. It has seen business almost double as well as welcome Ruder Finn’s sister brand, Thunder, which opened two offices in the last 12 months, one in Hong Kong and the other in Beijing.

Other regional openings of note include an office in Bangalore, India, as well as a new division the agency calls Activation. This is a regional group, based in Singapore and Beijing, designed to help clients find the right communication platform—be that the Beijing Arts Fair or a conference specific to a client’s brand product or message. "The aim is to bring clients together and help them develop their engagement program with their stakeholders," says Dumont.

Looking at top account wins versus losses, Dumont points out that the wins were three times bigger than losses. Winning back the Cotton Council was a major success and taking on new, well-known clients, such as Richemont, Blancpain and Volvo, were highlights from the year. In India, significant retainer wins include Visa, Barracuda, Roche and Sembcorp, which continue to ensure that the agency maintains a highly diverse portfolio.

Most of the agency’s losses in the year were small and project-based—such as the revamping of facilities for Suntec City Singapore—and did not have a huge impact on long-term business.

Dumont is particularly happy with achievements the company made on the management level, with zero departures from top senior management, and very low movement in the second layer. "That’s why I think we’re securing new clients and keeping the ones we have. We have a family culture where we work really closely together and everyone knows each other and knows each other’s plans and weaknesses. I am very proud we have achieved that," he says, going on to explain the importance of creating a culture in which people want to stay. "At the end of the day people want to work in a pleasant environment … and where they can trust each other. We have a lot of exchange programs where people do stints in different offices, internal transfers, division to division, so that we can really grow our staff."

Dumont has noticed a convergence of needs among his clients when it comes to media. "The needle has moved away from traditional media and into social media. That’s becoming increasingly integrated but increasingly we are getting clients asking about alignment including messaging on CRM and advertising, etc.—and then aligning all this with internal communications. We need now to come with integrated solutions for our clients and most of them are asking for this."

Two years ago, Ruder Finn rebranded and repositioned RFI Studios, a subsidiary already in existence in the US for the last 18 years. "We decided to spin it off and make it a standalone division to address specific social media needs of our clients. That doesn’t mean the other teams don’t do social media as an integrated part. What it means is that RFI Studios approaches specific lines for social media and work solutions." In Asia, RFI Studios looks at areas such as online word-of-mouth, key opinion leaders and does this through channels such as Weibo, Wechat campaigns, content development and the like. It can also review and improve websites, online platforms and more technical elements.

"But from my perspective, all our team members need to be experts in traditional and social media. You cannot be in this business anymore if you don’t have these skills. [Social is] different than traditional so it makes more sense to have it this way so they can help across all the groups," says Dumont.

The agency also recently acquired the privately held SharpeLankester’s Asia-Pacific portfolio, which brings greater knowledge and experience in reputation management, crisis communications and investor relations. "Working with Charles Lankester, who brings to the table over 20 years of experience, has been a pleasure and a perfect match in corporate culture," Dumont says.

For 2015 the agency will continue to look at additional acquisitions to maintain growth across the region. It has budgeted to double billings growth this year. India, which Dumont calls this year’s "hotspot", and Singapore, which was 2014’s fastest-growing geography, could drive much of that expansion.

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