$27 million to be spent on acquisitions, training, tech: Chris Lewis

After securing substantial funding from HSBC, Chris Lewis, founder and CEO of Lewis PR, shares his shopping list with PRWeek Asia during an interview in Hong Kong.

Chris Lewis, CEO and founder of Lewis PR
Chris Lewis, CEO and founder of Lewis PR

His warchest may be newly filled, but Chris Lewis already has solid plans for the $27 million funding package his agency has secured from HSBC.

"As an employee-owned agency, we are selective about where we take financial input, Lewis told PRWeek. "We found HSBC to be outstanding in their understanding of our employee culture and our status as a challenger brand. Please note that it’s not a private equity investment, they don’t want any equity."

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The firm's status as a partner-owned agency will also greatly affect how it chooses to invest the funds, said Lewis. "We can afford to take the long-view in our decisions and not look for quick returns to satisfy shareholders."

Asia-Pacific is at the top of Lewis’ priority list. "You’re sitting in our new office in Hong Kong and we’re planning on investing heavily in India," Lewis said. "We’re also looking actively for acquisitions in Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Taiwan."

The agency has also announced plans to increase its headcount in Asia by at least 25 people this year.

China is not off the cards, but the agency acquired EBA in China in June 2014 and is still in the process of full integration. "We want to look after the people we’ve got at this stage," said Lewis. However the agency does plan to launch its digital arm, Lewis Pulse, in China later this year.

Besides investing by geography, Lewis PR will also be looking for opportunities in vertical sectors. "As an agency, we plan to move much more comprehensively beyond tech communications and into healthcare, consumer and financial services. The reason is that every vertical sector is driven by tech, and we view our expertise as a springboard into all these areas."

To bolster its entry into these new business specializations, Lewis PR is also looking to spend on acquiring tech capabilities in areas such as tag management. "It doesn’t matter how great a PR campaign you’re running if people can’t find your material," commented Lewis.

Another key area is mobile, particularly geofenced mobile marketing. "There is no point handling a major event in terms of publicity unless you have geofencing, because someone can lock you out. A lot of PR is event marketing and if you don’t understand the cellular nature of it, you’ll be locked out, irrelevant."

A nice chunk of change will also go towards traning, said Lewis. "It will be our biggest investment internally. This year alone, we spent a million dollars to set up a training academy in California called ‘Rise’. Each intake hosts 10 people from around the world, and we’ve run four academies so far. We’re targeting at least 100 people this year."

Lewis has long asserted that it’s the responsibility of the agency to create the talent it needs rather than try to poach it from someone else. He also has rather unique views on the type of training necessary.

"We put together a regime, in partnership with Chelsea University, aimed at putting our talent ahead creatively while teaching them every aspect of campaign leadership. To train the right and left brains at the same time," he said.

The academy’s curriculum includes people management, project management and financial skills such as understanding a balance sheet. It also incorporates creative elements such as storyboarding techniques taken from film and advertising.

"Where do people have their greatest ideas?" Lewis asked rhetorically. "It could be in the gym, the shower, while driving. The one place it never is, is the office. We need to get rid of limits. To allow for a more unstructured environment in which people can learn creativity."

Lewis PR plans to double its investment in the academy this year, pumping in about $2 million. "We are gambling on the fact that the biggest players won’t be spending $2 million training."

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