Gayla Brock-Woodland: The new frontier of PR has arrived

September 10, 2013  |  Rebecca Harris  |  Comments

As the newly minted president of MSLGroup, Gayla Brock-Woodland is charged with expanding the agency’s footprint and boosting growth under a new business model. Brock-Woodland, who was formerly managing director at MSL Canada, talks to Marketing about her plans for the agency and why PR finally has a seat at the grown-up table.

What are your growth plans for MSLGroup Canada?

There are a few things. Our growth goals are bullish and I think it has a lot to do with where PR agencies are right now. We’re really at the grown-up table for the first time. I think all of us want the opportunity to be architects of our clients’ success. It’s a really different world for PR agencies and [MSLGroup] is moving into a new model as well. We’re moving into a content-centric communications agency model, which we launched over the last few months. It’s based on delivering strategic big ideas and then leveraging the content over multiple channels, obviously with great speed and cost efficiency… We’ve been moving away from always having print, radio and broadcast at the epicentre. [It’s about] looking at your target audience and their communications universe at the core. So, very often our start is going to be social media. And our clients are really excited about this because they’re dealing with a completely transformed communications landscape.

Will MLSGroup Canada be opening new offices as well?

As we’re adding to scope and scale, that doesn’t always mean bricks and mortar. Sometimes it’s about very powerful strategic alliances as well. So yes, we’re certainly looking to expand our footprint, but also to put together really powerful alliances. We’re looking to align with new creative and content experts who are going to help us accelerate this movement to content-centric. We’re looking to team up with content creators that extend our talent base, particularly in visual and video. We have incredible opportunity in terms of bringing together the right talent to deliver an absolutely transformed product.

Does MSL’s new focus speak to PR’s role as the “owners” of social media?

Social media is arguably the start of everything now. I think there is an unbelievable opportunity for organizations that are strong at events because the events become the material for the social. Events are something that we have done well for years as part of our PR mix, and now that becomes the genesis for a lot of what we do in social. So, I think it’s looking at what you’re great at. Storytelling by definition is critical, whether that story is in print or visual, and we’re great at telling stories. The second thing is we understand how to build a relationship with an audience. That hasn’t changed, but the way we do it has changed dramatically.

PR companies have been saying for years they want a seat at the big table. Do you think PR is finally there?

Our clients treat us exactly as they treat their advertising agency and their media-buying agency. In fact, we’re at the table with those other partners in coming up with ideas and often it’s incumbent on us to come up with an idea that can be the core for [multiple] channels. That is absolutely the expectation, so if you ask to be at the grown-up table, then you need to be prepared to deliver. That means understanding all those other channels and understanding what kind of idea or content is going to be effective. There’s no question that this is what the vast majority of our clients want. They understand that these ideas need to move across multiple channels and they want the cost efficiency as well because as you develop assets, they ought to be leveraged in multiple ways.

Are clients generally looking for more from their PR agencies?

Absolutely. As they should. We’re now dealing with a customized communication universe for every target audience. And I don’t say that lightly. That’s not to say that you don’t have to build broad awareness about your company or your brand or your product, but it does mean that that’s not enough. You have to go into a very customized channel to have a meaningful conversation with a target audience. And it’s not about one conversation. It’s about sustaining that contact for the whole year and having a two-way conversation. You have to be prepared to hear what they say and to act on it. So it’s a very different kind of level of engagement and it takes a lot more work to get somebody’s attention and to sustain it.

What’s the biggest worry for PR agencies and what keeps you up at night?

I think it’s nothing but upside for the communications industry. We went through a phase of great change in the landscape and now we’re presented with this unbelievable opportunity to truly help be architects of our clients’ business. And we’ve never had that kind of opportunity before. You might have had it in a corporate stream, with major strategic changes, but you’ve never had it the way we do every day in terms of being presented with a business challenge and being given the opportunity to really say ‘Here’s how I would develop a relationship with that target audience, here’s how I’d create preference and here’s how I’d move the needle.’ At the end of the day, it’s not about a successful PR campaign, it’s about impacting the business.

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