holdheim and baird

Pictured (L-R): Robert Holdheim, CEO of South Asia, Middle East and Africa; and Francois Baird, chair of Edelman Africa.

Today’s announcement of the proposed acquisition of Baird’s Renaissance means that Edelman at last will own a presence in Africa. I have worked with Francois Baird and the Baird’s team for over 10 years now and they have always been a quality partner. Moreover, they have tried to teach us during that time that Africa is different and helped us help our clients navigate those differences and be effective throughout the continent. We intend to continue learning from them as we help them to build out their capabilities.

I remember when we opened Edelman Poland in June 2006 and Barbara Kwiecien (our GM in Poland) became our first employee born behind the “Iron Curtain.” She brought a totally new perspective to our firm; of a generation of Europeans that were hugely positive towards the rest of Europe, massively pro-US and eager to participate in the global economy and “global culture.” We became a better firm for that in terms of being able to develop genuinely pan-EMEA programming as much as having another dot on the map. Just as then, I look forward to the Baird’s team bringing into our firm, and especially my region, an African sensibility and outlook.

I fully expect that our big global clients, still predominantly western, will increasingly access Africa through us, but equally, given trade flows, I also expect that we will be servicing Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern clients across Africa. One of Baird’s biggest clients is Tata, our biggest client in India, and that is one example of why we will be managing Africa and our Baird’s colleagues through our new sub region of South Asia, Middle East & Africa, bringing Baird’s together with our 320 employees in India, and the 75 in the United Arab Emirates under the leadership of Robert Holdheim.

I recognize that agency internal management structures are profoundly dull to anyone except those working in them (and even to some of those), but our recent re-structure of our regions and the creation of sub-regions in Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa is massively important to our future success in Africa.

Agency leaders in New York, London, Paris or Hamburg, for all their market sophistication, are often the least qualified people to drive agency development in emerging economies. Clients and employees have totally different outlooks and expectations and proximity helps to ensure that training and IP doesn’t just end up marooned in the big hub offices that in many ways need them least, but is developed and driven in smaller clusters of markets that have more in common. This is very important to employees who want better and more appropriate training and to clients that want better qualified, more professional and more creative teams working on their business.

So today is a big one for our firm and we look forward to contributing to the success and development of our industry in Africa and, of course, learning a few new things ourselves along the way.

Video announcement: