Building Brands Through Relationships: Q&A with Ed James, Cornerstone PR
We were thrilled to chat with Ed James, president and co-founder of CornerStone PR Division, about his perspectives on today’s PR space and his experiences in the industry. Here he shares the challenges he met and the relationships he developed throughout his career, and the three tips he would give to future PR pros.
Q: Take us to the beginning – how did you get started in the PR industry? What prompted you to co-found Cornerstone Public Relations?
A: As I was pursuing a career in the arts – writing movies, playing music at clubs – I ended up with a job in the marketing and PR department of an independent film company. It was supposed to be temporary but I found that I really enjoyed the daily challenges, strategy and creativity involved in PR. I was hooked! With Cornerstone, I was fortunate enough to have them as a client at a past agency and maintained an ongoing relationship with co-CEOs Rob Stone and Jon Cohen. While the agency already offered extremely innovative and groundbreaking creative services, it was missing a PR division. The three of us discussed it and decided that a public relations division devoted to existing clients made a great deal of sense—and forming Cornerstone Public Relations also gave us the ability to take on new clients just for PR services.
Q: Can you give us an example of one of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?
A: For the moment I’d have to say BitTorrent. When they came to us they had a true PR obstacle – how to shift the public perception from what had previously been a misrepresentative assessment of their business, one that had existed for years. As someone who loves a great challenge, I jumped at the opportunity and in a very short time—working directly with the amazing team there and the incredible people at Cornerstone—we helped to shift media consensus and public opinion. It’s always fulfilling when a plan starts to come to life—especially in such a short period of time. What also makes the relationship especially gratifying is the tremendous enthusiasm from the internal team—quite simply, an incredibly smart team of devoted professionals. In addition, we’ve worked on some key campaigns for Diageo and Converse, designed by the creative team at Cornerstone, which began as local activations and have since grown into global initiatives for the brands. It’s been most gratifying to see – and be part of – the evolution and direct impact that these campaigns are having for the brands.
Q: For a year you headed up Global Public Relations for Gibson Guitar Corporation…can you tell us a little about that experience and what you learned there? Did you learn to play guitar?
A: Well, I already played guitar…sort of. What was unique about that position was that my task was not to focus on the guitars, but rather the lifestyle of the brand—what they regarded as the “cult” of Gibson. While I was there, the company acquired two consumer electronics brands and really began to take on a global presence. In turn, this offered me an international opportunity and perspective as I was responsible for growing the PR team overseas with an emphasis on Europe and Asia and a lot of travel.
Q: Do you mostly work with B2C clients? What are some main differences in working with B2C vs. B2B?
A: Yes, we are primarily a lifestyle agency so while we work with some B2B clients, B2C tends to make up most of our client base. In terms of approach, the differences lie primarily in the selection of media outlets and the way we release news. With B2B, we’re always cognizant that it has to involve more than just a straightforward outreach to the trades. There are other ways to reach your B2B audience because most of them read a variety of publications in addition to trades, and there are other creative methods that effectively convey the message.
Q: As a PR pro, what are your favorite social networks? In your experience, do journalists like to be contacted and engaged with on social?
A: I use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, etc., but I’m always on the lookout for what’s next. In terms of engaging with journalists, a social network is a great forum to comment on their work and follow them to ensure you understand what they cover, but a direct pitch or trying to “friend” a journalist on Facebook who is not actually a friend is a no-no.
Q: How important are “influencers” in your line of work?
A: Influencers are an important gateway, but with the caveat that it MUST be organic. Just because they have a large number of Twitter followers doesn’t mean that they have the best association for your brand.
Q: What are some upcoming trends in PR you’re seeing, and/or how do you keep current in the PR industry?
A: I think about this quite a bit and have to say that the rapid-fire changes in the industry over the past 20 years have been nothing short of crazy. The major trend I’ve been noticing lately is the blurring of the line that used to exist between marketing and advertising. In this business, it is a MUST to keep ear to the ground – always be aware of the latest trends and don’t be afraid to try them out and experiment in order to fully understand them.
Q: What 3 tips would you give to someone just starting out in PR?
A: Don’t limit yourself—give yourself challenges and don’t just try to do PR for your personal interests or passions. Read everything—it doesn’t matter if certain outlets or sections don’t cover what you work on or what you’re interested in—you never know where the next creative spark will stem from. In addition, it will allow you to broaden your thinking and do a much more complete job for your clients. Build a strong network and be a team player—press, business contacts, etc. It’s always a help to know the right people and be able to foster the right connections.
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