In 2021, buyers or translation and localization should not overlook smaller or midsize language service providers (LSPs) as they either have similar capabilities to larger players or may even specialize, innovate, and have an expert talent pool to service a buyer’s niche.
This is the theme that runs through the year’s first batch of newly announced hires featured on Slator.
Characterizing the optimism that still prevails in the industry — despite health and political crises — this month’s featured executives point out the opportunities from language market consolidation, where companies are still looking to fill posts, and the top client growth areas going forward.
Steve Higgins – Travod
On January 5, 2021, Steve Higgins joined Travod as Chief Commercial Officer, a new role at the London-based LSP. He reports to CEO Elena Grigoras.
As CCO, Higgins is in charge of the overall development and commercial strategies for Travod and sister company Wordminds. (Both are part of holding company Mondia Technologies Group.) Higgins said, “The US and European sales teams, headed up by sales directors report to me, as does the marketing function and commercial unit, BI, and analytics — which in total consists of about 50 people at present.”
Prior to Travod, Higgins spent the past decade in leadership roles at LSPs Janus, Jonckers, and Capita TI. Asked for his take on the current market consolidation led by big players, Higgins replied, “M&A in the language services market has been a constant for as long as I can remember. Perhaps it seems more prominent these days since we have seen some large consolidations over the last few years — RWS-SDL is the one that really stands out. However, the historic one that comes to mind dates back to 2005, when Lionbridge acquired Bowne Global; and, of course, I was present in 2011 when Gavin Wheeldon sold Applied Language to Capita plc.”
As how consolidation impacts compensation and productivity, Higgins said that if one were to consider the pool of potential candidates for sales roles (e.g., BDMs), then it would be natural to expect pay rates to fall. But four factors could mitigate this, he said.
- Top-notch sales talents know their worth and have skills transferable into well-paying sectors (e.g., software industry), so they have other options.
- Apart from M&A, there are winners and losers because of Covid, so many LSPs are actively recruiting to build their sales teams right now.
- Going low on compensation while hiring does not build a credible, longstanding relationship with employees. Moreover, Higgins pointed out, offering low pay means “we will not build credibility or trust; we will merely offer them some form of income until times improve and then they move on.”
- Senior management and executives who have to move on post-sale, when their roles become redundant, have a number of options, according to Higgins: “Join rival LSPs and make plans for expansion, form new LSPs since barriers to entry are almost nonexistent — and both bring new opportunities for others in the industry.”
He added, “So yes, the recent consolidation can see compensation reduced, but things level off; and, as the market picks up post-Covid, this will surely change things once again.”
On whether he still sees current supply gaps in the market, Higgins said that, on the contrary, “it is quite the opposite these days and incredibly competitive” for mainstream services. He said e-learning and multimedia-related services have been big growth areas over the past year because of Covid, and there are cases where a buyer takes on four or five suppliers to translate training courses in a frantic effort to deploy them “into a number of languages yesterday!”
He noted two growth areas among many midsize and enterprise clients that are, perhaps, overlooked by many LSPs — Market Research Localization and Digital Marketing & Creative Services — “with much of the focus put on the development of AI, alongside growth in Pharma, E-commerce, and E-learning in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. [There are] only a handful of specialist or niche agencies really making an impact in these areas.”
Higgins told Slator: “These gaps are nothing new, I recall a meeting with a well-known media and news agency many years ago where they highlighted a high demand, and at the same time struggle with the resourcing of, creative localization services, transcreation, copywriting, and research. I still see the same issues today, perhaps because the great advancements in technology and AI do nothing to support this area of human-driven localization?”
Asked whether Travod plans to expand into other (non-core) services, such as data annotation, Higgins described the space as “quite a specialist area” and, as such, Travod is not exploring it at the moment.
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Historically, Travod’s client base comprises other LSPs, Manufacturing, Medical Devices, and Learning & Development; and, according to the CCO, “I think that data annotation, market research, digital learning, and e-commerce are all growth areas for LSPs to carve out a niche for themselves in 2021, but it would be foolish for us to think that we can do everything and expand into too many areas too soon without proper planning and strategy.”
Therefore, in the next couple of years, he said they will focus on strengthening their offer in the services they already have a growing demand for, such as digital learning and marketing, e-commerce, AI, and technical integrations.
Mélissa Hulin – Word Class
Mélissa Hulin joined Paris-based LSP Word Class as Sales Director on October 6, 2020. The sales team reports to her and she, in turn, to CEO Antoine Camus. Hulin is in charge of leading sales strategy and pitches, as well as prospecting a dedicated client portfolio.
She views the current language market consolidation as “a tremendous opportunity.” She explained: “It is very difficult for top-tier global companies to differentiate their service offering as most of their consolidation effort is focused on competing at scale. On the client side, procurement services are now well aware that they need to add in niche actors, like Word Class, to their vendor list to deal with their premium content.”
Hulin pointed out that internal client units (e.g., corporate, financial communications, digital marketing, HR, legal) demand short turnarounds while maintaining quality as well as custom linguistic technology and “only small and midsize niche players can provide this kind of service in today’s environment.” Their sales approach, according to Hulin, is to segment the market by content type and department or service rather than by industry vertical.
On the impact of Covid, she said, “We have seen a decline in on-site training sessions and interpretation services and a surge in remote interpreting, subtitling, as well as Covid-related content (e.g., internal communication, HR, online apps, company guidelines).”
Asked for her take on LSPs moving into the data annotation space, Hulin replied, “We have not specialized in this. We tend to think that technology can very soon commoditize this kind of non-core service.”
According to Hulin, they are “confident 2021 will be another good year” and they expect plenty of external growth opportunities. As for internal growth, the Sales Director described their strategy as “aggressive” as they plan to develop their European and US sales forces this year.
Madeleine Svärd – Linguacom
Madeleine Svärd joined Linguacom as Head of Marketing, a new role for the Stockholm-based LSP, on September 21, 2020. She reports to CEO Michael Larsson. Her responsibilities include communications, both internal and outward-facing, and producing content for Linguacom’s social media channels and newsletters. As Marketing Head, she also works on the marketing strategy and budget with the CEO.
Svärd comes to the industry from the Marketing & Comms and Retail sectors. Her biggest challenge as a marketing professional right now is understanding the industry alongside learning the internal workings at Linguacom. She said, “It’s quite different to what I’m used to in the marketing world. But my general mindset toward new situations is that I can do anything I set my mind on, which is something I’ve learned thanks to previous endeavors.”
Linguacom continues to recruit new talent, according to Svärd, as “most business has continued to go on as usual, which we’re happy to say.” And while there is a challenge to working from home as the team learns to work together via phone, email, and Slack, it has also been an eye-opener. “I, for example, enjoy working from home. I feel more creative and focused,” Svärd said.
The Nordic LSP has continued to participate in RFPs through Covid. Svärd told Slator, “We’ve re-signed several contracts during the year along with a group of new ones.” She added that, for 2021, Linguacom will focus on the private sector, as well as broadening its education courses.
Annette Hemera – Anzu
On January 4, 2021, Annette Hemera joined Anzu Global as Globalization Account Manager. She reports to Michael Klinger, Managing Director of the Massachusetts-based language industry staffing and brokerage firm.
Hemera will continue to be based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Aside from being tasked with assisting and growing existing accounts, Hemera will also work on acquiring new clients. Prior to Anzu, Hemera worked in senior leadership roles at recruitment platform Larsen Globalization and staffing specialist L10n People.
Asked for her views on current language market consolidation, Hemera described it as “simply an escalation of a trend that has been taking place for decades.” The only difference: market players have become more savvy. She said, “Many of them, particularly startup companies, plan well ahead and prepare their exit plan from the very beginning. Others carefully prepare for selling or merging by keeping their financials, debt, and profit competitive.”
She shares the view of many that the pandemic only accelerated changes that were already taking place. According to Hemera, the language services industry had already been “operating on a remote production model” when Covid hit. “So the new reality created by Covid was not as challenging or costly to adjust to. Covid has only catalyzed evolution. The pace of development, variety, and accessibility of new technologies will keep increasing and result in higher productivity, healthier competition, and better profit margins in the long run.”
Hemera added, “In my opinion, the market will remain segmented, with growing varieties of company size, revenue, geographical presence, products marketed, industries served.”
The staffing expert sees a talent gap for internationalization engineers: “Now with the marriage of language and AI, there is a shortage of technical professionals with linguistic training or knowledge.”
So what translation and localization roles will be in most demand in 2021? Hemera said, “With the growth of AI, speech recognition, text to speech, and smart machines, there is a high demand for technical and linguistic resources to support the global deployment of these technologies.”
Asked what the biggest challenge was for companies trying to fill key roles in light of Covid, she replied, “Remote workers have become a necessity. It is up to companies to learn to manage, support, and integrate remote workers into their systems. The good news is, that is the direction that staffing is taking.”