About Jon Higgins

Jon Higgins is responsible for Ketchum’s offices in Asia, Latin America and Middle East & Africa. In these regions, he is responsible for client stewardship, business development, and new ventures, as well as enhancement of the agency’s global reputation for creativity, innovation, and thought leadership. Jon is a member of Ketchum’s Executive Committee. Prior to assuming this role in 2008, Jon was CEO of Ketchum EMEA, covering offices in the U.K., Germany, France, Spain and Italy, as well as an exclusive network of 20 affiliates. In addition, Jon helped lead the creation, global launch and agency integration of the Ketchum Programming Process (KPP), an ambitious undertaking aimed at leveraging the agency's digital strategy, creative resources and unique culture into a consistent approach to client programming. Jon is based in Washington, D.C. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California.

Author Archive | Jon Higgins

Turning the Page on 2016

“Reading is a way to slow down and get perspective. There’s something particular about quieting yourself and having a sustained stretch of time that is different from music or television or even the greatest movies.”

He didn’t single me out directly, but when Former President Barak Obama recently said this to the New York Times, well, I just know he was talking to me.

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A Creative Spark to Ignite the Brazilian Market

It speaks volumes about the confidence a business has in its people when it takes a step forward in a moment everyone else is retreating. Or standing still.

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The Good Black Hole

“It’s a shame when people can’t grasp the infinite—a failure not just of imagination but of simple vision.” —Jess Walter, “Beautiful Ruins”

For too long in the business world, the “black hole” has gotten a bad rap.

Think about it. When something doesn’t get done, it’s said to have gone down a black hole. Haven’t heard from a colleague in a while? They’ve fallen into a black hole. A black hole swallows things up. That’s not good.

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India’s Business Opportunity in a Phrase: “Horn OK Please”

It’s pretty amazing to see history being created before your very eyes.

We didn’t say those exact words to each other, but I know Rob Flaherty, Ketchum’s CEO, felt it, too, as we dropped into our airplane seats at midnight, after two mind-boggling days in Mumbai last week. We met with clients, with Omnicom leaders, with Rajan and Bela (founders of Ketchum Sampark), with colleagues from 7 different offices via videoconference, including the entire Mumbai office staff.

I may have imagined it, but everywhere Rob and I went, everyone seemed out of breath … from the pursuit of opportunity, from the pace of growth, but mostly I suspect, from sheer hard (and very impressive) work. No one in India is standing still.

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A Scots App Tae Ye

The last time I laughed at something in the Financial Times was . . . well, it probably goes back to those giddy days before the global financial crisis smackdown.   But that was my reaction to Lucy Kellaway’s brilliant “Business Life” column last week, in which she cited Apple as a brand that understands language can be “beautiful and easy to use. Words can be fun to read. They can look elegant. They can make you laugh.”  Case in point — the set of guidelines for apps sold at its App Store. Instead of endless pages of legalese in two-point type, Apple’s language is, as Kellaway put it, “funny, clear” and something anyone can read “effortlessly.”   There’s a lesson here.

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Dinner Reservations

In England, it’s back to school time.

Yesterday we dropped off my son at his new boarding school.  As we met his five new roommates, it occurred to me that a dorm room of teenagers is a kind of Petri dish for observing cultures other than bacteria.

Most fascinating to me was to observe the interplay between father-mother-son.  The various combinations and the milestone occasion made for a very interesting window into the family dynamic.

There was tension, there were tears … there were trembling stiff upper lips. 

And in the fullness of truth, most family members appeared to be genuinely excited about the next chapter in their lives – whether it was the son embarking on his next five years of study – or the mother and father coming to grips with it.  

The scene brought to mind a dinner conversation I had with one of our clients in Beijing last week.  The general topic was about the difficulty in hiring top management talent. 

After wringing his hands over the particular challenges in China, our client relayed to me a new element in his interview process.  He invites the family to dinner and looks for the subtleties in the inter-relationships between family members.  Once, he said, he did not make an offer to a highly respected candidate because he could tell the candidate’s son was afraid of his father.

“Trust comes from inside the heart,” our client said.  “And a kid’s eyes tell you what is in their heart.  If you can’t manage your own family, then you’d be a disaster trying to manage my business.”  Jon

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Go, China

Go, China

The Beijing Olympic Games were a powerful spectacle, stunning in sight and sound.

But the moment that made the biggest impression on me came during an informal visit just before the Games to one of the new Chinese internet companies, and in conversation with some of the younger Chinese entrepreneurs.  

These people, men and women, were smart, sharp, forthright, unafraid to express their views about China and its future.  Above all, there was a confidence, an optimism, a lack of the cynical, and a presence of the spirit of get up and go, that reminded me greatly of the United States at its best and any country on its way forward.

These are the words of Tony Blair, taken from an op-ed he wrote for The Wall Street Journal shortly after the Games concluded two years ago (August 27, 2008).  Its headline:  “Help China Embrace the Future”

The former UK Prime Minister’s observations back then summarise perfectly the energy, the sense of commitment and ownership of the future that many of us felt in the presence of our Chinese colleagues last week. 

As you have seen elsewhere on myKGN, Ketchum Greater China marked its 30th anniversary with a major training programme – easily the biggest we’ve ever done there.  My fellow instructors – Peter Fleischer, Jonathan Kopp and Roy Edmondson – came away from the experience feeling that we, the teachers, may have learned more than the pupils.

Over the years and on more than one occasion I have heard Kenneth Chu, chairman of Ketchum Greater China, make the point that our agency will have to evolve and adjust to a global marketplace in which economic power soon will be shared with the Far East.  

I wonder if we quite understand what that means, we whose culture (not just our politics and economies) has dominated for so long.  It will be a rather strange, possibly unnerving experience.  Personally, I think it will be incredibly enriching.  New experiences; new ways of thinking liberate creative energy.

Tony Blair wrote those words, too.  

Today Blair’s memoirs, “A Journey” have been published and, perhaps predictably, he’s getting ripped.  “Reads less like a memoir, more like a long memo to his staff …”

But he got his op-ed on China and its future exactly write.  

Jon

PS Read the full piece click here

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30!

30!

This week, Ketchum Greater China is marking its 30th anniversary in the Chinese public relations market. With more than 150 employees in five major cities across the country, Ketchum Greater China is one of the keystones of the Ketchum’s global network in one of the world’s most rapidly growing markets. Among the special events that have been taking place this week, a 30th anniversary celebration was held in Beijing that included more than 50 Ketchum colleagues and over 40 special guests including clients, members of Ketchum Greater China’s Asia Pacific affiliates, and members of Ketchum’s parent corporation, Omnicom Group. This has been followed by three days of a series of special media and educational events and seminars focusing on such topics as corporate social responsibility and social media. The other night, I had the great honor to join our colleagues in Greater China to celebrate the occasion of their 30th anniversary in the PR business. It was a great moment in time to join with clients and friends of the agency to look back at the tremendous impact our colleagues there have had on the growth of PR in China and to look forward at the opportunities that lie ahead for us there. During the festivities, I had the chance to share some thoughts about the great work being done by our colleagues in the region as well as to toast Ketchum Greater China’s founders, Kenneth Chu, Partner and CEO, Greater China, and Betty Lo, President, Greater China, and reflect on their contributions to the industry. Below is my speech. 

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Buzzwords

Buzzwords

I grew up in a one-stop-light town in rural New England.  So it came as something of a revelation when I eventually made it to the bright lights, big city, and in my first class at university, the Journalism 101 professor opened things up by announcing the newest entries in the Oxford Dictionary of English.   It hadn’t occurred to me that the dictionary was a living, evolving record of the way we talk, not just a freshman’s most valuable resource.   My instructor was the classic, crusty, cantankerous news editor type, and that must be why I so distinctly recall the way he lit up as he revealed the one he loved best — “uptight.” His face squinched up with exquisite expression as he said it. He smiled.  That memory came flashing back this morning when my morning radio show announced a selection of the latest 2,000 entries, to be published today. 

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Smile, Camera, Action!!

With apologies to Bogey, of all the motorbikes in all of Ho Chi Minh City (4.1 million and counting), this one had to run in to me.  

It wasn’t the impact. No, it was the speedy exit with my camera that really hurt.  

A Monday morning agency meeting this week meant that I spent Sunday, the Fourth of July – America’s birthday – in Vietnam.  

For 12 hours, as I wandered all over the city previously known as Saigon, I couldn’t help but reflect on my memories of the war as a kid growing up in the States during the 60’s. During the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite one night, I remember asking my Dad what a “casualty” was … I also especially remember my mother’s tears of spontaneous joy as we watched a live television report announcing that a friend’s son was, at that very moment, a newly-freed POW. 

On the other side of the world on Sunday, I came away from this most patriotic of American holidays with one distinct and surprising finding – Ho Chi Minh must be the most friendly city I have ever encountered.  

“Hey California!” came the happy shout all day long – from taxi drivers, market stalls, and yes, people whizzing by on motorbikes. Friendly waves, and big thumbs up … complete strangers with no agenda just saying “Hello” and “Where are you from?” simply to strike up a conversation and to practice their English. 

Not only were people willing to have their picture taken, many took extra time to smile and pose with their kids and Grandma – all balanced on the same two-wheeled scooter.  

With yesterday’s meetings successfully completed and a flight to New Zealand later today, I decided to make use of the down time and hired a hotel car for an early morning photo safari at the Mekong Delta.  

As we were leaving the City with a glorious sunrise to another scorcher of a day, the bright colours of a street market caught my eye and the driver stopped for me to take a quick shot.  

I was outside of the car for all of 15 seconds. Before I had a chance to put the camera strap around my neck, it was snatched from my hand by a guy on the back of the motorbike. I yelled, ran, but my Nikon and a loaded memory card whipped around the corner and out of sight.  

It was 6:10am.  

Bummed? Sick? Feeling stupid? Yep, yep, yep.  

Yet, I also stand by my earlier assertion that this city is world-class friendly. A half dozen people immediately came up, each looking as nearly crestfallen as I, shaking their heads sadly and making comforting conversation. The driver looked particularly stricken – he had suggested we stop.  

We then proceeded to the police station where a barefooted Captain was sound asleep in front of the TV (an American film with subtitles on HBO). A cleaning woman poked him awake, and for the next two hours we revisited the scene of the crime and with the contributions of helpful street vendors, we collaborated on a four-page handwritten report in two languages.  

As we worked away together on the crime report, an older generation of neighbourhood police station groupies asked excitedly to hear the dramatic story again and again, each time wishing me good luck and good fortune at the end. If their kindness also included Vietnamese for “moron,” they did so with smiles and gentleness.  

I know I’ll never see the camera again, nor the 300 images of smiling, happy Vietnamese that I took on the Fourth of July. But I do leave with my mental memory card pleasantly full, intact and newly-updated.

 

Jon 

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