India is a hugely exciting market for us …

Brad Staples is Chief Executive Officer of APCO Worldwide. He leads the firm’s business and nearly 800 employees who are based in more than 30 markets around the world. Having spent almost two decades building APCO’s business and developing client service teams around the world, he is accredited for building APCO’s global antitrust and competition practice among several other programmes that he has led. Working in close collaboration with leading law firms and investment banks, he has managed global client M&A and antitrust communication campaigns and has assisted multinational companies from many industry and service sectors in achieving their communication objectives around major cases.

In a conversation with Reputation Today, he shares how APCO and the business of Public Relations has evolved in the last decade and what the future plans of the firm for India are.

RT: You have been with APCO for over two decades now. How has the organisation evolved over time, and especially over the last few years considering the volatile environment? 

In many respects APCO no longer resembles the firm that I joined 20 years ago. The company has deep cultural roots and an unflinching set of values that guide the business but, the scope of services has expanded significantly, moreover we are engaging continually with corporate leaders and operating across multiple countries on assignments for clients. We now address more critical business issues, many of our blue-chip clients are going through a phase of meaningful transition shaped by the digital economy and AI. We consistently advise companies at an inflection point, dealing with existential threats or massive business opportunities.

The quality of talent in the APCO team is greater now than ever, but we face the continual challenge of finding talented people across the globe as the business expands. Operationally, we have invested significantly in technology and training to ensure that the business is run both efficiently and boldly, leveraging the best available IT and enterprise systems.

RT: You have worked in different markets from Europe to Middle East & Africa and now the US. Which market has been the most challenging according to you and why? 

I wouldn’t say that any particular market is more challenging than another, simply because every region is defined by distinctive local complexities. One of our biggest challenges currently, and a feature identifiable in each region, is the need to get our clients to throw away the playbook of the past, to be bolder and more focused on the issues that stakeholders care about today. They need to engage on topics and address issues that are new, unfamiliar but key to demonstrating their corporate and brand values.

RT: With the advent of rapid digitalisation, how is Public Relations different today than what it was a decade ago? 

At APCO worldwide, we pride ourselves on having deep campaigning skills. With the advent of digitalisation, mobilising focused online campaigns is key. We draw heavily on the creative and data driven campaign skills our teams have developed globally. Creativity, storytelling and the ability to marshal insights and data to maximum effect is central to all of our work and in ways that would not have been anticipated a decade ago. 

RT: What is APCO’s vision keeping in mind the growing use of tech like AI, VR and ML? 

We seek to be the partner of choice for global organisations facing complex issues and challenges that allow no scope for shortcomings or slip-ups in how they are addressed. APCO is known for being the only truly global public affairs led advisory firm. That heritage is crucial as we look to a future in which political and business uncertainty requires focused campaigning insights and the capacity to deploy data analytics to shape compelling engagement strategies. In the future, AI capabilities will bring greater precision, insights and capacity to help meet our clients’ needs.

RT: What are APCO’s plans for India in the next couple of years? Does APCO plan to acquire a company in India? What is your vision for the India operations? 

India is a hugely exciting market for us, we have consistently done some of our very best work for our clients in this market. We are in our fourteenth year in India and our business has grown organically throughout this period. We are nonetheless looking at expanding our footprint and deepening our capabilities in India. Over time we will look to do both, organically and inorganically, as opportunities arise.

RT: What does APCO look for when it hires candidates for Public Affairs roles in India? 

We hire candidates from diverse backgrounds, with teams composed of communication professionals, ex-editors and reporters, lawyers, engineers, doctors, or development sector professionals. APCO looks for people with political insight, cultural sensitivity, a capacity to engage with people at all levels in all parts of the country, and that have a deep understanding of stakeholders. We welcome candidates who have the curiosity to keep up with the current ecosystem and have the thirst to keep on learning. Specific to public affairs, we need candidates who have the pulse of the dynamically changing global environment that defines the marketplace; the first-hand experience of having faced significant issues or opportunities with government; the ability to harness the power of data, insights and technology; and the passion to deliver unparalleled results.

RT: There is an interesting political leadership evolving around the world from the US to Turkey to India. How do firms like APCO help clients in business as well as within these governments navigate the complex environment? 

This new brand of populist and nationalistic leadership creates complexity and challenges for CEOs of multinational companies who want to build strong sustainable relationships with governments but avoid the challenges of day-to-day political battles. In this context, we have been guiding CEOs in dealing with this uncertain environment, helping them to secure a license to operate, and to align their business vision with the goals and the ambitions of nation builders.

At same time, we help political leaders that look to drive their economies through FDI and to engage in a sustainable way internationally. We offer robust counsel and a valuable external perspective to leaders operating in different political contexts.

RT: APCO recently hired a CSR shop, Tembo. What is the way forward on the CSR offering? 

This year, we have strengthened our social impact expertise, corporate advisory and management consulting capabilities through the acquisition of Tembo, a leading social impact advisory firm in New York. In today’s world, companies are pressured to go beyond their objectives to contribute to a better world. Our capacity to guide them through this is therefore essential and now is reinforced. Evaluating our clients social opportunities and risks is key to help them align their operations with their broader societal purpose.

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Reputation Today is India’s only print magazine for Public Relations and Corporate Communications professionals. It is the official magazine of PRAXIS - India’s largest offsite summit for Public Relations and Corporate Communications.

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