India Office Bolsters Kirk Communications

Kirk Communications co-founders Anoop Rohera and Nate Tennant are proving that human capital is sometimes a company’s greatest resource. The Portsmouth, N.H.-based marketing firm also is demonstrating that benefitting from a talented and cost-effective workforce in India does not have to involve outsourcing.

According to its founders, Kirk Communications is positioned at the intersection of old-fashioned marketing and the field’s latest technology, including an array of digital production services, pay-per-click Web applications, and Web site and logo design. In addition to the Portsmouth office, Kirk has an office in New Delhi, India, where employees carry out such back-office functions as Web development, design and other technology-related work. The New Delhi team also conducts research on behalf of clients.

The core of Kirk Communications’ offerings falls into the digital marketing services category, which Tennant , who works in the Portsmouth office, estimates accounts for 85 percent to 90 percent of its business. The remainder comes in the form of public relations work.

Tennant said that having an in-house branch office in India rather than sending work out to be completed piecemeal by other firms pays off in many areas. One key benefit is that Kirk’s employees in India understand the marketing needs of Kirk’s U.S. and European company clients, since their work is devoted exclusively to fulfilling those needs, he said,

“The difference is having someone on the ground [in India] who understands the needs of the Western world and understanding where to find good people who are attentive to detail,” Tennant said.

Rohera, who heads up Kirk’s New Delhi operations, said the ability to identify a workforce that is technologically savvy is important, but perhaps even more important is assembling a group able to anticipate and meet the expectations U.S. and European companies when it comes to the creation of the latest Web-based marketing applications. Since Kirk’s New Delhi team focuses on the same types of projects and often works on multiple projects for the same Kirk clients, they are far more knowledgeable about and able to help Kirk’s clients far better than if the work were outsourced, Rohera said.

Kirk Communications’ clients are increasingly interested in what is known as “closed-loop marketing,” which enables companies to access online feedback from customers regarding the company’s marketing strategy, according to Tennant.

Technological developments also are rapidly springing up around social media-based marketing in the form of newsrooms, places where client companies can store and view digital media such as movies.

“It’s almost like having your own YouTube,” said Tennant. The development of social networking portals is a great way to generate free, instant buzz, he added.

Much of the high degree of customized requirements Kirk Communications clients expect require workers with an equally high degree of know-how, matched by a willingness to carry out the exhaustive research needed to keep pace with that customization, said Rohera. This is another spot in which having an office in India is invaluable, he said.

Kirk’s New Delhi workers are energetic and are willing to put in long enough hours to save the company time through quick project turnaround, he added.

The 25-member team in India is dedicated to fulfilling projects from start to finish, a feature Tennant defines as rare for tech work being done in India but which is highly advantageous in yielding cohesive results.

Accountability is another benefit of keeping work in-house. Should a customer complaint arise, Kirk’s top down approach gives Tennant the ability to identify who is responsible for the error – a difficult thing to do if operations become too compartmentalized or segmented, or if various tasks are shipped outside the company for completion, according to Tennant.

Tennant said the most important benefit of having the India team be a long-term, integral part of the company is that Kirk’s developers are not just order-takers but also problem-solvers. Each employee working on a given project can typically solve customer issues, having at least a basic knowledge of several steps in the development phase.

Aside from the benefit of streamlined operational processes and a low-cost structure in India, there is an energy and an eagerness to problem-solve among the more highly-skilled Indian workers, said Tennant.

That eagerness can be self-perpetuating, according to Tennant, who added he believes that employees willing to jump headlong into the unknown and solve problems is the ultimate antidote to boredom and work dissatisfaction.

Tennant said it is a misconception of some companies that American workers are better at coming up with creative solutions to problems than their Indian counterparts. Given the proper context and background info, such at that afforded to Kirk’s New Delhi office, Indian works are terrific problem-solvers, he said.

When confronted with a problem, the team in India’s mentality is “’We’re not sure we can do it, but we’ll try,’” Tennant said.

Tennant is tight-lipped about Kirk’s revenue numbers but said the private company has seen a 100 percent increase in business since last year. The New Delhi office has grown from a single employee three years ago to 25 today, he said.

But having an office in India is the point at which Kirk’s relationship on the subcontinent ends. The company currently does not currently have a single Indian client. Tennant and Rohera said that plans to penetrate the Indian market for sale of Kirk’s services are still about two years away.

While India is ahead of the mobile technology curve, it lags in terms of adopting advanced marketing techniques for its own businesses, said Tennant.

One problem Rohera and Tennant said they see with outsourcing in India is a negative connotation the country’s business community has formed about foreign firms after dealing with American and European companies interested only in looking for ways to trim their overhead costs. Dealing with such companies has created skepticism and confusion among many in the Indian business community, the Kirk founders said. It can be difficult for them to distinguish between good and bad companies, so potential clients prefer to stick with Indian companies rather than doing business with foreign firms like Kirk, Tennant said.

Another roadblock to Kirk’s doing business in India lies in the subcontinent’s businesses almost exclusive focus on what Tennant calls more traditional marketing.

“It’s hard to convince [business leaders in India] that a Facebook application is good to have,” said Tennant.

Tennant and Rohera launched Kirk Communications, which has a third office in Luxembourg, in 2005, after working together at consulting and IT services company Theikos in India.

In October 2008, Kirk Communications opened its New Delhi office in response to substantial growth, according to Tennant. Another, smaller office in India opened seven months prior, but was quickly overwhelmed by the influx of business. It has since been merged with the New Delhi office.

According to Rohera, any company, even small and mid-sized firms, looking to replicate Kirk’s two-office business model would be able to do so without much problem. What is hard to replicate, though, is establishing the level of trust that Rohera says is essential to the successful operation of a company, but is hard to achieve and maintain half a world away, especially for smaller firms.

Rohera and Tennant formed close ties during their years at Theikos, which in large measure allows them to keep the U.S. and India offices in lockstep, even when face-to-face meetings are rarely possible.

“There is a rare [bond] between Nate and I. That’s not a model that can be easily replicated,” said Rohera.

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