Portraits in PR

Agency heads share what’s changed in PR over the last year, what inspires them, tools of the trade and what the future holds

For Marketing’s yearly PR wrap-up series, we’re checking in with agency heads on what’s changed, what they’re reading, what inspires them and what’s to come. Here is the second installment.

GOLDY HYDER, PRESIDENT AND CEO, HILL+KNOWLTON STRATEGIES

GoldyHyderWhat is the biggest challenge the PR industry faces in 2015?
The biggest challenge we face is that we must make sure we don’t miss the biggest opportunity the PR industry has seen in decades. We need to do a better job of educating and informing our clients on the evolution of our profession and how our services — many of them new — integrate together to bring about actual solutions to the things keeping them up at night.

What is the biggest challenge your agency faces in 2015?
Continuing to hire the right talent to meet the demands of our time. We have extremely high standards at H+K and ensuring that we can find premium talent to meet our high-quality standards and evolving offering is something we take very seriously.

Your favourite work-related book?
The Making of a Public Relations Man by our founder John W. Hill. Mr. Hill was a pioneer, not only for the company that still bears his name, but also for the public relations industry as a whole. His seminal autobiography traces the evolution of our profession from its earliest days through the early 1960s. His observations on the role that technology and access to information plays are as relevant in our time as they were in his.

Where/how do you find job-related inspiration?
There are two things that inspire me: my family and sports. I am the proud father of three teenage daughters. They are the first generation to live with the internet since birth. As a result, they don’t perceive geography, time or access to information as having boundaries. To look at the world through my daughters’ eyes is to see the future.

In sports — particularly hockey and football — I love the strategy of the game, and the leadership shown by players and coaches. I regularly draw examples and analogies from sports as there are many parallels to leading a PR agency and a sports team.

Other than your wireless device, what’s the one tool of the trade you can’t live without?
It is decidedly low tech, but I always carry a moleskin notebook titled “Memo” with me. It helps me organize my thoughts. The joke amongst my colleagues is that you know you’ve said something “important” when I reach for my notebook.

What’s your top prediction for PR in 2015?
The ability to integrate insights, content and visual storytelling to reach the right audiences will continue to gain momentum. We are moving more and more to a co-creative environment, and as such, our ability to understand audiences and bring them together for shared purposes of doing good is going to be a critical feature of an evolving PR industry in the coming year.

CAROL LEVINE, CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, ENERGI PR

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat is the biggest challenge the industry faces in 2015?
Differentiation and integration pose a tremendous challenge. We know what sets us apart from other marketing disciplines, but many clients don’t. In a connected world, brands and organizations need to speak with one voice across multiple platforms. We need to address the question of ‘Why PR?’

What is the biggest challenge your agency faces in 2015?
Recruiting top talent will be significant, but it’s not surprising, as it is also one of the biggest issues for the industry. Part of this problem resides with the fact that many experienced practitioners choose to work independently or on the corporate side. But there is also increased competition for great people from other disciplines as our services become more integrated. The pressures that PR agencies face today, including doing more with less, the 24/7 client, as well as unpredictable growth or client loss demands a skill set beyond the traditional abilities of writing and media relations. We are looking for people with maturity, old-fashioned communications skills, resilience and business instincts.

Your favourite work-related book?
I really enjoyed reading Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. For many years, including when I started, the image of the PR industry was one where women dominated everywhere except at the highest level. Sandberg examines the sacrifices women often make in terms of career advancement, but also offers insights on how women can take better charge of their careers. Needless to say, I encouraged many of the young women I know to read the book.

Where/how do you find job-related inspiration?
There is nothing more interesting to me than being around accomplished people. I have had the privilege of building extraordinary business relationships and friendships with PR colleagues in Canada and around the world. My associates in the Public Relations Global Network are brilliant, and hearing about what they do is extremely valuable. I also read, listen and seek out advice.

What advice would you offer a graduate looking for a job in PR in 2015?
Be prepared for some tough love. They need to acknowledge that PR, like all businesses, reacts to the economic climate and manages by the numbers. Not every client will be a dream account and you may be asked to roll up your sleeves and do something outside your written job description. I would say that a huge advantage would be to convey how they see adding value to the employer and not the other way around — pretty much the approach we’d take with a client.

Other than your wireless device, what’s the one tool of the trade you can’t live without?
It would be my handwritten lists. My lists are almost therapeutic. I take pleasure in crossing tasks off my list in an array of coloured highlighters.

What’s your top prediction for PR in 2015?
Risk management. PR will own responsiveness, accountability, integrity. This past year told a sad story of deliberate deceit at “Late Night” laughable extremes (data breach, politics, transportation disasters). In every case, basic public relations counsel was either ignored or discounted. PR will need to be ahead of the game in listening, measuring and reacting.

PAUL LOCKHARD, PRESIDENT, ENVIRONICS COMMUNICATIONS

PaulLockhardWhat is the biggest challenge the industry faces in 2015?
It may be fending off the challenge from non-PR agencies that see the PR agency’s seat at the table as fair game to attack. I believe clients no longer see as clear a dividing line between one agency partner and another, driven mostly by the rapidly increasing importance of digital components of the marketing and communications mix. Having said that, I see the glass as half full, because the PR industry’s strong DNA in influential storytelling (now called “earned media”) is a skilled craft, and adding digital tools only amplifies this “super power.” I think digital gives PR agencies the upper hand.

What is the biggest challenge your agency faces in 2015?
Scaling the process I call “digital humanity.” That’s the marriage of human creativity that builds both strategy and engaging content with the scalable, data-driven tools that allow us to more effectively reach segmented audiences. There’s also a component tied to delivering real-time measurement.

Your favourite work-related book?
My go-to foundational book is Good to Great by Jim Collins, because I believe it provides the blueprint for good business management. With all the change and learning caused by the growth of digital marketing and the Internet of Things, I also have to give a shout out to The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. It’s a fantastic book for the current age of test/learn/iterate-quickly — I have so many pages noted, and I refer to it regularly.

Where/how do you find job-related inspiration?
Hanging out with people of high integrity and personal character. I had an ‘aha’ moment 15 years ago when I realized my happiest times and best work came when I was surrounded by people I trusted, and with whom I shared the same values. Everything, I mean everything, was easier, and the security and support fuelled my confidence to explore disparate ideas and relate them to a business need.

What advice would you offer a graduate looking for a job in PR in 2015?
Be a great writer, with the ability to clearly articulate your thoughts, ellicit an emotional connection, and for heaven’s sake, have good spelling, grammar and punctuation. It’s table stakes for communications professionals.

Other than your wireless device, what’s the one tool of the trade you can’t live without?
A white board. I see things visually almost immediately. A white board allows me to get my thoughts out right away, and to refine them easily as they re-form via discussion. If I’m not near a white board, a clean sheet of paper and a pencil are the next best thing.

DEBORAH WEINSTEIN, PRESIDENT, STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES

DWeinsteinWhat is the biggest challenge the industry faces in 2015?
PR’s greatest challenge will be to prove its merit and mettle in the dynamic, ever-changing media landscape where the lines between paid, earned and owned brand stories are blurring; and where the skeptical, info-questing consumers are bombarded daily with a surfeit of native and digital advertising disguised as news you can use. Bridging the credibility gap is an issue that looms large for PR.

Your favourite work-related book?
Learning and improving everyday is one of our core values here at Strategic Objectives. It is key to functioning at the leading-edge and to being a trend-spotter and trend-setter, rather than a follower. I am well-known for my obsession with what’s new and what’s next and have become addicted to Twitter for detecting the right-now, need-to-knows that affect our clients, our team and our communities on an ”as it happens” basis. You are very welcome to laugh and learn along with me @DebWeinstein.

Where/how do you find job-related inspiration?
I find work-related inspiration in just about everything I do – from the museums, movies, concerts and theatre I attend; to the reality TV and Netflix I binge-watch; to the people I get to know in both the real and virtual world. PR is all about living in the zeitgeist, being concerned with the concerns of others, taking the pulse of the community. I am a keen observer and participant in everyday life and apply my insights and instincts to both my work and my play.

What advice would you offer a graduate looking for a job in PR in 2015?
It’s imperative for PR grads, who want to practice in Canada, to always be up-to-the-minute and aware of news and current affairs that affect Canadians. You need to know the lay of the land in Canada from a geographic, psychographic and demographic point of view, and understand the regional diversities that shape public opinion and influence behaviors.

At this point, proficiency in PR, social and tech skills are a given when it comes to landing a job. Your knowledge, combined with people skills – including a firm handshake, the ability to speak spontaneously, with confidence, while looking someone in the eye – are what will differentiate and elevate you above the competition.

What’s your top prediction for PR in 2015?
As we look forward to 2015 we are reminded that trend-spotting and trend-setting are essential to what PR does, both in the earned media space and across the social web.

In 2015, businesses – whether B2C or B2B – that rely on the web to drive significant consumer awareness, engagement and sales, will feel the impact of the “grown up” social web. Marketing PR pros will need to create strategies that recognize how savvy and often jaded consumers are online, and deliver valuable social proof – not just more noise. We believe that strategies featuring content marketing, real-time content and news-jacking, and performance measures – engagement and influence – have potential to light the way.

For brands to win in 2015, social media channels can no longer be looked at as a fun place to play or even a necessary indulgence. While your brand voice can be fun and engaging, you will need to treat your social networks with the same respect as you do all communication channels – as a business tool.

For more details, please check out my Social PR Predictions 2015, here.

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