Directing the company for three years now, Catarina Vasconcelos reveals that the association of the company to its founder, Luís Paixão Martins, is an "heritage" that requires always to be seeking to improve and to innovate.
Here is the full text of the interview:
Briefing | Briefing | Catarina, you have been LPM’s managing director for three years, but the market still associates the consultancy to its founder, Luís Paixão Martins. How do you feel with that constraint?
Catarina Vasconcelos | I feel fine. We all value the “lpm factor”. It is an asset to the consultancy’s image, as well as a prominent element of its identity. Luís’s “heritage” forces us to be more demanding with ourselves and to always try to improve and to innovate. Those are principles that I never forget and that I constantly seek to instill into our teams. LPM was the one to introduce Public Relation consultancy business in Portugal and the first one to give commercial visibility to disciplines such as financial communication and brand corporate communication. LPM was the one to provide business professionalism to political communication and to lobbyists’ communication. Those are the examples that we seek to follow.
Briefing | Some consider that the current activity does not stand to LPM’s past. Would you like to give us some examples of the continuity that you are referring to?
CV | We are constantly innovating, always ahead concerning communication trends, market’s demands and introducing new disciplines, in the search for better results to our clients. We have a Hybrid PR placement, which results in a convergence between traditional and digital media. In 2013 LPM launched an ORM (Online Reputation Management) digital service for contents in Portuguese and the group sensed an opportunity in Health communication aimed to professionals, for which it strengthened the competencies in this area. Both initiatives are the main causes for the growth that we have achieved in the last financial year, positively amending remuneration arrangements that have stood in some market segments.
Briefing | Have LPM’s indicators grown despite the financial crisis and pessimism?
CV | The indicators of LPM per say have stood comparing to the previous year, but LPM group has grown about 20% in revenues, returning to the 10 million Euros area in sales. It is public knowledge that the group has maintained the strategy of diversifying the service offer in some companies for several years, which means that LPM’s sole performance can be somehow penalized. Still, LPM has maintained a stable historical client portfolio and we struggle to replace some divestments in Communication with the entry of new clients.
Briefing | So you also complain about divestments, I mean, reduction of fees…
CV | We must praise companies, brands and institutions for seeking to improve their efficiency, forcing service providers such as LPM to make more with less. We sympathize with our clients and are available to find adjusted fees solutions, as long as it is possible to maintain the quality standards that define our brand. We absolutely reject presenting proposals to entities that look for us as vultures seeking desperate consultancies that will subject working with unrealistic, suicidal fees.
Briefing | Are you reporting the most recent State’s contests as well?
CV | Unfortunately those State’s contests are not a unique situation and due to their visibility they end up influencing other private and associative entities. An annual fee of 15 thousand Euros for high profile companies is the pig in a poke in our sector. But fortunately it is not a problem we have to deal with. We simply alert that it may not go well to the client it will most certainly go wrong to the consultancy.
Briefing | But you agree that fees correction has become some sort of a routine in the Communication sector…
CV | I absolutely disagree and I do it sustained on objective information. Since the beginning of the financial crisis three years ago less than 15% of LPM’s clients have asked us to reduce their fees and in most cases they have done it focusing on services. I mean, they have asked us more services for the same fees. On the other hand, in the beginning of the year we had a boost in the fees of two of our clients as a bonus for going way beyond the goals set for 2013. Those were just two cases but it is a sign that business is returning to normality.
Briefing | We are still unaware of LPM’s policies concerning contests and prices. What is it?
CV | As for contests we must set apart those who value the teams’ quality and experience as well as the consultancy’s credentials and availability from those who simply seek to identify the lowest fees. We have recently had a contest where an abnormally low price was identified and set as an example. LPM is available for the first ones and unavailable for the last ones. However, our real investment sets in entities who when they decide to hire a Communication Consultancy, they settle for LPM. Those prospectors know that they can count with the best resources and the commitment from management, as well as flexibility to discuss fees.
Briefing | Going back to the 2013 launch, tell us what went well and what went wrong with new service package?
CV | Those are two very distinctive cases. ORM is not a very well-known service amongst our current and potential clients. It must build its reputation. LPM is offering an original service that starts with contents in Portuguese and is able have a global outcome. As an example we have intervene in Russian or Mandarin in media from markets as specific as Singapore or Dubai. After a year we find that ORM has had more demand from foreign clients than the Portuguese market. And so that you can have an idea of its importance for us, the group has just integrated seven experienced technicians to help us develop that area.
Briefing | Are you telling us that you have recently hired, despite the crisis?
CV | I can tell you more: we have had no human resources restructuring due to the crisis. Naturally the fact that we are constantly adapting our resources towards our markets and the fact that we are very active in offering new services helps. In January 2013 a group of twelve has joined our new Health communication service offer. Now, in January, ten more people have joined, some for digital media, others for consumer aimed communication. However, I don’t want to give the idea that we are getting fat: we are very demanding with our workers and are constantly evaluating them according to the market’s demands. I value my team very much.
Briefing | Digital media, consumer communication. Those seem like investments in niche markets somehow distant from the Public Relations general image…
CV | Francisco Balsemão wrote a few weeks ago a very interesting article about the future of journalism where he stated that Social Communication companies must integrate TI experts in their newsrooms and educate them in journalism. It is curious to see that article was published just when LPM was welcoming a TI team in the group with the goal to educate them in Communication Consultancy and so that they can help our PR experts. As you can see, it is not a niche…
Briefing | You said before that there has been a boost in LPM group for the Health sector. How did it happen and what is the goal?
CV | Historically, LPM has had areas of expertise where it is remarkably strong, such as Health, Tourism, Consumerism and Lobbying. As for the Health sector, we have the biggest team in the market and a set of enviable credentials and valences in consumer communication. Therefore we are an important asset at Chandler Chicco, the greatest Health global consultancy. In the beginning of last year, the group sensed an opportunity that converged with this fact and invested in a publishing house specialized in publishing for health professionals. Due to circumstances that may be difficult to repeat in the future our new “neighbor’s” performance was very interesting in its first year. It is a strategic investment that we will proceed with.
Briefing | Your reference to your “neighbors” is amusing. That is how LPM treats to its associated companies, right?
CV | If they are associated companies or not, it depends. We call them “neighbors” because they are indeed our neighbors. We work in a very curious service building that is almost a cluster of companies that are connected to communication in one way or another. For instance here we do the clients’ media training in fully equipped studio from a neighbor with whom we have no corporate relationship. However, when we mention our neighbors we generally refer to companies with whom LPM has some corporate relationship.
Briefing | With or without you “neighbors” help, how do you predict the future of both LPM and the Communication Consultancy market?
CV | As you may have understood, we are more the type to build the future than to predict the future. Therefore, more than a forecast, I can tell you what we are preparing in our lab, seeking to maintain LPM’s tradition of being the incubator in the Communication Consultancy provision of services. Most services that integrate the general offer in the Portuguese market have indeed started at LPM. LPM is especially strong in innovating its offer because new services are how we are able to maintain the company commercially profitable. Usually when the offer becomes too populated and the margins start declining we disinvest in those services.
Briefing | And what are the offers that you are preparing?
CV | Let me just remind you that four years ago our lab 2.0 originated our neighbor that is the first Portuguese consultancy in consumer generated marketing as well as the concept of Hybrid PR that has marked LPM recent evolution. ORM was born the same way. Now we boosted the development of content marketing. We are convinced that this PR valence will represent a third of our group’s income in a nearby future, both in content creation – which aggregates much of what we already do – and in counseling, where there is still much to do.
NextPower / Communication Consultancy
NewsEngage / Communication with specific professional groups
NewsFarma / Communication with Health Professionals
WebView / Digital Communication Tools
ShopperEngage / Consumer Communication