The "long engagement" is over: GolinMagic will bolster China presence and digital content offering

Fred Cook, Golin CEO, and Jonathan Hughes, Golin president, International, spoke to PRWeek Asia about why the long-planned deal took so long, and the benefits both sides stand to gain

Jonathan Hughes

After a long and steady courtship, Golin’s acquisition of Chinese PR firm Magic Group has come at the right time for both agencies, said Golin CEO Fred Cook.

"China’s always been a high priority for us. We’re not trying to be in every single market around the world; that’s never been our goal," he told PRWeek Asia.

"But in the key markets like London, New York, Chicago, LA, China, Singapore and Hong Kong, we want to have really first-rate offices. We want to be the best that we can be in those markets, so this deal really helps us a lot both in Beijing and Shanghai."

After signing a strategic partnership in December 2013, talk of a full acquisition coming shortly has been more or less constant. But it’s taken two years for the deal to close, and Jonathan Hughes, Golin’s president, International, said that is how he wanted it.

"We’re quite deliberate in everything we do. We don’t rush into these kinds of arrangements. For them to really work you have to find the right cultural fit and a real partner, and you can’t do that quickly," he told PRWeek Asia.  

"Whilst we’ve been in China for some time, in terms of finding new partners, this is all relatively new to us. So being able to sign a partnership where we could work together, that was a really good logical step."

As Hughes puts it: "We got engaged first and now we’re here on the wedding day, so to speak. It’s been a long engagement, but a fruitful one."

For Hughes, the things both agencies bring to table was what made the deal so attractive. From Magic’s side, he said, the firm has "incredible local knowledge", being a Chinese PR firm in operation since 1999.

"They’ve got some stellar brands, and they understand the fabric of China better than we would from the outset," he explained.

Moreover, Hughes said Magic’s views on client relationships tallied with Golin’s; both have several long-term clients that they see as partners.

"It sounds really corny, but that’s important. You want to find a partner [agency] that’s been able to work with clients for a long period, and they don’t just have a client that’s here today and gone tomorrow."

Also important in China, he said, is scale. The deal has tripled Golin’s China team from 50 to more than 150, which puts GolinMagic in a better place to compete for some larger pitches.

Magic’s expertise in the healthcare sector was also a key attraction, Hughes said.

"We’ve always been well connected with consumer and corporate, and good on technology, but our healthcare network is now properly global, which is a great specialism to have."

In return, Golin brings its global platform and client base to Magic, as well as international best practices and access to some of Golin’s intellectual property in the PR space.

Cook said the majority of GolinMagic’s work will be for multinational clients as both firms have strong client portfolios in this regard.

Magic alone bring with them Mars, Coca-Cola, BMW, Johnson & Johnson and Roche, among several other international brands.

"Adding Magic to our network is also going to allow us a much better opportunity to appeal to local Chinese companies and Chinese international companies that are interested in doing business in other markets," he said.

Given both firm’s expertise in creative content and digital communications, Hughes said GolinMagic is primed to take advantage of the growing tertiary sector in China.

"Obviously there’s much discussion about the slowdown in the traditional primary and secondary sectors, like manufacturing and construction. But the tertiary sector, or services sector, is really hot right now and it’s only going to get hotter," he said.

The boom in online growth through e-commerce is something all brands are looking to take advantage of, and Hughes said many companies are "really fighting to get their share of relevance in China and drive sales online".

"They’re looking for an agency that can be a bit more integrated, because the work in China tends to be a bit more integrated in some areas," he said.

"Everything from advertising, pure-play PR, digital, content, they want to get it from one provider. So we think that’s a very interesting space to be in."

As marketers become more shrewd with how they spend their budgets in China, Hughes said a well-integrated PR firm can really shine.

"I see this with a lot of our bigger clients. They don’t really mind where the idea comes from; they just want good ideas, and they’re far more bold with creative first," he said.

"It’s not something that comes naturally to some brands, but they are seeing the benefits of being creatively brave and putting together an integrated campaign."

Cook said the Magic deal is "the icing on the cake" of a very successful year for Golin globally, both financially and in terms of winning more business than ever before.

"We’ve opened offices in Moscow, Istanbul and Mexico City, and now there’s the Magic deal in China. We’ve hired senior people from Ketchum, Edelman and Fleishman, in a lot of different markets," he explained.

"I think that says a lot about our brand; we’re a company doing a lot of innovative things and attracting a lot of attention from our competitors, prospective clients and employees."

Regarding Asia, Hughes says 2015 has been a year of big strides for Golin that will help them hit the ground running in 2016.

"We have the Magic deal done, our India joint venture is doing incredibly well, our big offices in Singapore and Hong Kong are working well," he said.

"We have more than 300 staff in Asia. All the pieces are in the right places and in as good a shape as they’ve been for a long time. Now we’ve got to make it work."  

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