Australian media intelligence giant Isentia is probably best known in Asia for its ill-fated King Content acquisition. Since then, the company has exited the content marketing business and hired Ed Harrison as CEO to turn around the business. Around one-third of the group's revenue comes from its Asian operations — and in a conversation with the Holmes Report, Harrison set out the steps by which he hopes a new strategy will see that proportion rise, in tandem with the hire of new Asia-Pacific CEO James Merritt.

Arun Sudhaman: Are the issues you faced with the King Content acquisition behind you now? 

Ed Harrison:
Very much so. They cast a long shadow. With my appointment, we have a new board and a new executive team.

What’s the evidence to prove that this is a new chapter for Isentia?

We’ve got a very comprehensive new strategic plan that we presented to the market last February. It’s really reorienting the biz back to our core, which is providing great tools and services back to the PR and communications community. There’s 3 key elements. First, running an efficient operating model. Second, creating new world class products. And, third, leveraging the unique footprint we have across Asia. One of the biggest changes we’ve made is to our product development cycle. We’ve increased the velocity at which we develop new products. We’ve moved to incremental improvement of the core technology we’ve got. We’ve launched many, many new features to our core product — Mediaportal. In the past year we’ve had 66 new products and features launched in the business. The evidence of change is the speed with which we’re adapting to customer demands.

How’s the business outlook for the company as a whole?

We’re very happy with where we are. It's a blackout period now. The shape of our transformation is really moving our investments and resources from operational roles into technology. We have a new CEO, James Merritt, for Asia-Pacific. We’ve got very good growth in SEA — 17%. North Asia is not quite the same experience. We’ve got a slightly more traditional footprint in North Asia. That business has been challenging for quite some time. We do really well from Singapore and Malaysia. And we're small but rapidly growing in Indonesia and Vietnam. 

What would you say are the objectives for Merritt in his new role?

Very strong leadership across a diverse range of markets. It’s also, for us, getting a deep understanding of the requirements in each market and some of the nuances between each of them. As we move into product development, we are building products that are right for multiple markets. We are also looking at him standardising what we offer across the region. A large part of that is migration onto a single platform. 

Do you see your performance in North Asia changing much in the short term?

I don’t see it changing much. We know that the demand for traditional print media monitoring in those markets is not likely to grow. The strength we have in North Asia is the client base we have — a large group of international clients. We’re able to provide them with insight from around and across the region. And we have very capable people in that insight space. 

So in North Asia, you are delivering insights rather than selling tools?

That’s correct. Human generated insight rather than media monitoring platforms. We do have that capability in pretty much every market. Our team typically win AMEC Awards in this space. Although our business at its heart is a SaaS business, we also have a very strong people capability around that. In many cases, that’s what differentiates us from a lot of competitors. We believe that the majority of our clients want both of those.

Do you have any specific mainland China growth plans?

We do see investment in the insights capability, which is really investments in people. That is quite different from the Southeast Asian markets, where we want to make investments in technology. 

How do these new product features reflect how client needs are changing?

One of the big trends we’re playing to is simply speed. What social media has done to the news cycle. Now, of course, TV coverage generates activity in social media so they then need to go back to that original piece of content within minutes. The Live Alerts product in Australia and New Zealand — through voice-to-text technology — picks up all broadcast content, and we can deliver the content to client in real time.

The big trends are social, which pulls PR/comms closer to the marketing parts of the business. Certainly the speed. The other trend is the desire of clients to do things for themselves, up to a point. Where there is a time advantage to being able to use a tool rather than picking up a phone or email. It’s important we invest in the technology that [is] at their fingertips. Part of this is generational as well. 

Do you see any changes in your mix of clients?

The majority of our base is corporates and governments. We only do relatively small business with agencies. I don’t see that changing.

There’s been a lot of consolidation in this area. How do you see that changing the offering to clients?

There’s obviously been one player in terms of how that’s going. The jury is still out in terms of providing that end to end solution. Whether you can get to utopia as a single company, I would say the jury is out.

Are you expecting faster growth in Asia, compared to ANZ?

Directionally, yes. We’ve talked about, over a three-year period, we are looking at significant growth across Asia over that time. And just marginal growth in ANZ. Our centre of mass will move further towards Asia.

Do you have any acquisition plans?

It’s not the focus for the company at the moment. We’re focused on investing in our own tech and certainly paying down some of the debt we’ve acquired over the past three years. 

What's your message to the industry?

The new leadership team brings a very different approach and direction. Everybody can expect to see some significant changes to our product in terms of the speed at which we deliver and the quality of our products, and a whole load of new products. We’re well on our way.