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Fri 18 Oct 2013 10:15 AM

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NY-based PR firm eyes further MidEast expansion

Cohn & Wolfe aims to build on Bates Pan Gulf minority stake deal completed last year, says CEO

NY-based PR firm eyes further MidEast expansion
Cohn & Wolfe’s CEO Donna Imperato.

American US public relations firm Cohn & Wolfe is aiming to use its acquisition of a minority stake in regional firm Bates Pan Gulf (BPG) as a springboard into growing its presence in the region, its global CEO told Arabian Business in an interview.

New York-based Cohn & Wolfe, whose parent company is British advertising giant WPP and which counts top US brands Universal, Colgate, Ford and JM Smucker among its client base, in May announced it had bought a minority stake in Bates Pan Gulf (BPG), one of the Middle East’s best-known home-grown PR agencies.

The size of the deal, which was undisclosed, saw the local firm renamed BPG Cohn & Wolfe and will have offices based in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Baghdad, Doha, Jeddah and Kuwait and affiliates in Cairo and Muscat.

With 34 employees in thirteen countries and clients such as Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, Visa International and the Alshaya Group, Cohn & Wolfe’s CEO Donna Imperato, who has led the firm since 2002, is aiming to expand further into the region.

“We’re very saturated in North America and Europe and so we’ve been very focused on expanding in Asia and the Middle East... It’s sort of completing my pie,” she said.

“We’re going to look at growing further in Asia, which we did a lot of expansion in last year and the Middle East, Africa, and probably going into the next couple of years, Latin America. But I see the real growth now as being in the Middle East and Asia.”

Imperato said the tie-up with BPG will make it simpler for Cohn & Wolfe to offer its North American and European clients services in the Middle East, and made more sense for the agency to buy into the market than to start its own regional operation from the ground up.

“It started with a couple of clients asking if we had a presence in the Middle East, and we had some affiliates, and it became clear to me that if we’re going to win those big global clients, we have to have a real offering in the Middle East.

“What we want is a network, so we can say to our clients ‘we have a network here — people who know this region really, really well.’ So I talked to WPP, and they said to me you have to talk to BPG.”

Imperato believed the strategy is dictated to a large extent by that of its clients. Many of the company’s big customers, she explained, have discovered that growth now comes at a premium in developed markets like Europe and North America, due to a combination of market saturation and recession economics.

“I think the Middle East is going to be critically important. A lot of our clients — it’s similar to the Cohn & Wolfe situation — are saturated with a really strong presence across North America and Europe. So they think ‘where are we going to get our growth from?’ and they go to growth markets like Asia and the Middle East. That’s how our clients are thinking.”

Cohn & Wolfe currently has 55 offices worldwide and it was estimated it raked in more than $150m in revenue during 2012.