Behind the Headlines With Chris Dobson
There are no guarantees that anything will last forever in the PR industry. With so much constant change, if you’re not prepared for the unexpected, you won’t thrive.
So how can you be ready for anything? Chris Dobson, president of Speyside Corporate Relations, recommends continuing to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
In this interview, he discusses the importance of authenticity, how information and news is distributed so quickly and what successful brands are doing differently.
What drew you to the field of corporate communication?
I was lucky enough to start out with a forerunner to Speyside – a fiercely ambitious independent agency with a clear vision to expand internationally out of London. Thinking back, I was attracted as much by this fearless frontierism as anything else.
Communication and particularly the written word had always beguiled me – it seemed only natural to combine this with a deep-rooted wanderlust and see if I could contribute to something significant.
What was the most important lesson you learned from your first position?
Probably that anything is possible, as cliché as that sounds. I started out on the lowest rung of what has effectively today become Speyside – 10 years later, I am running the same company across 16 markets and living in Moscow. A surreal journey that was as exciting as it was (initially) unplanned.
What do you hope to accomplish in your new role as president of Speyside Corporate Relations?
To cement our reputation as a global emerging markets specialist and build on our entry into sub-Saharan Africa. Particularly in uncertain times, companies are relying on us to give real insight and support in some complex, often opaque and volatile, but key growth markets.
What do you think is the biggest PR challenge facing brands today?
Authenticity. There’s no hiding place in the modern world – we all know that stakeholders are now more diverse and numerous than ever, and reputations can be lost in the blink of an eye on the back of even one bad stakeholder experience.
The lack of authenticity displayed by some companies and brands still amazes me – they are walking a tightrope.
What do you see as the key components of a strong brand strategy?
To some degree this hasn’t changed remarkably – values, authenticity and messaging all remain crucial. What has changed completely, of course, is the myriad of touch points and two-way communications between a brand and its consumers and stakeholders, and the constant flow of content in both directions.
Successful brands, in my view, are those that can build and sustain a sense of community among their followers that enhances the overall brand experience. Nike’s partnership with Apple for the running community was a great early digital example of this.
How has the PR agency changed over the years?
In far too many ways to mention here! But speed and diversity would be towards the top of my list.
Speed because of the sheer pace of information and news flow right now – this was unthinkable even when I started out in 1995 – and because it requires a level of scenario-planning and readiness like never before.
Diversity because of the far greater range of tools and expertise required to be a successful communicator or marketer – witness the battle between ad and PR agencies over the digital space, driving a staffing model totally different to that of the traditional PR agency – creatives, planners, producers, etc.
What advice do you have for those looking to begin a career in PR?
Learn your trade well and don’t allow yourself to be spread so thinly you can never truly excel. And before you are ready, make sure you push yourself beyond your comfort zone, because others might not. Be mobile and learn another language.
Rapid Fire Round
1. I always thought I’d be…living and working in London forever.
2. My biggest pet peeve is…email and phone addiction – although I’m as guilty as anyone.
3. The thing that gets me up in the morning is…my two-year-old yelling for his cocoa.
4. My favorite social media platform is…I’m addicted to all of them, but probably Facebook as it is now so ubiquitous. I was living in Moscow when it really took hold and it really felt like a revolution in terms of our ability to keep in touch and track each other’s lives internationally.
5. My guiltiest pleasure is…live sport. Drives my wife crazy.
6. The most interesting thing about me is…probably for others to decide! I speak pretty good Hungarian which isn’t an easy language – how about that?
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