Weber Shandwick’s Andy Polansky on the Evolving Needs of the Client and the Future of PR

March 29, 2013

This past November, the Interpublic Group announced that Andy Polansky was the new CEO of Weber Shandwick. Since 2004, he served as president of the agency. On March 14, The Strategist stopped by Weber Shandwick’s Midtown Manhattan office to meet with Polansky, who recently returned from a whirlwind business trip to Delhi, Bangkok and Beijing. He was upbeat about his agency and the prospects for the profession.

How do you see clients’ expectations changing?

The expectations are always high, as they should be. I relate that to opportunity from a PR agency partner perspective. The expectation is, “Bring me great ideas.” 

We’re being invited to that discussion and, in some cases, with other marketing services, disciplines and other agency partners, whether it be advertising agencies or digital partners. That’s a great place for us to be.

What we bring as practitioners is a more holistic view of the landscape because we understand reputation — we understand brands and how to reach various constituencies in this evolving world of social and multiple platforms.

What are some of the ways that Weber Shandwick is transforming to meet these needs?

A collaborative culture is certainly critical — it’s probably the thing I’m most proud of when I think about Weber Shandwick and what it stands for.

Your client [wants] the best thinking wherever it may be within your enterprise. Silos get in the way of that delivering the best ideas. So, our model is the classic matrix model. We have practice leaders, client leaders and office leaders all working really closely together.

The first thing is to establish the right kind of culture that celebrates, facilitates and encourages collaboration. Think about that in a way that goes cross-practice because in today’s environment, a tech company is as interested in your consumer marketing expertise as the expertise you might have from a technology perspective.

As CEO, how are you setting the tone for digital growth within the agency?

Digital and social are embedded into our core. I don’t think that one can look at them as a separate business. It certainly is core to how we should always think about public relations today. It provides more opportunity to bring new thinking to clients and to generate content that could be repurposed across multiple platforms. We call it content fusion in terms of how we push out the information across multiple channels.

In terms of the work environment — we have, by design, looked to recruit not only great PR people who might have experience working for other agencies or on the corporate side, but also people from other backgrounds. We brought in people depending on the nature of the practice — we have public policy experts, we have people from government, we have lawyers who are essential to our corporate and issues practice.

In the marketing realm we increasingly are hiring former journalists to help with content creation, videographers and advertising people who are looking to PR agencies as an interesting and natural evolution for their careers. When you put that all together, it creates a very dynamic environment. I like to think it’s a nice place to work. People genuinely enjoy each other.

You mentioned hiring. Do you see a lot of people out there looking for work? Are you getting overwhelmed with résumés?

The interest in public relations transcends whatever the economic cycle might be. It’s an exciting business. On the agency side, you have the opportunity to work on a variety of challenges for clients in different industry sectors.

As a side note, I will say that I’m getting more résumés than ever before because as a father of a 22 year old and a 19 year old, on top of the usual résumés one gets from folks looking to enter the profession, I now have everybody who ever thought about public relations sending me résumés [saying] they’re connected somehow to my friends and family. [Laughs.]

What PR positions have been more challenging for the agency to fill?

Our business is becoming more specialized. So you want people who have deep subject matter expertise. Sometimes that requires deep exploration to find the people with the right expertise.

It’s still hardest to find people in the middle ranks. There are many people entering the profession today, and we have folks who are well-established in their careers. But for a variety of reasons — including the tech bubble — a lot of people left the business at a certain point in time [and] didn’t come back. So that created a bit of a challenge at the middle level.

But I firmly believe that if you create the right culture and work environment, then people are going to want to work for your firm, and even if there are fewer people [on the market], you’re going to attract more of them.

What business-related matters keep you up at night?

Well, when you’re responsible for a global company, a lot of things keep you up at night. [Laughs.] We’re in the intellectual capital business so the thing you always worry most about is talent, whether that is retaining talent or attracting the best talent.

From a global perspective, where are the biggest opportunities?

More companies are aligning their communications strategy with where they see the growth opportunity. There was a time when a CEO would articulate a vision — and they see all this in emerging markets — but there wasn’t a lot of activation around that, and the budgets often flowed to mature markets. Now we’re seeing a change, and a lot of things are driving that.

Social and digital are an engine for growth. They provide more opportunity to target and influence across multiple platforms. That’s true in a global sense. It might play out differently around the world. There are some markets that still have newspaper media markets that are booming, and in other areas we’re seeing the business model under siege and changing completely.

But what’s always been true of PR professionals is that we are natural storytellers. We know how to engage constituencies across multiple media platforms. That’s still the heart of our business, and given the digital-social revolution, is all the more relevant.

John Elsasser

John Elsasser is the editor-in-chief of Strategies & Tactics. He joined PRSA in 1994.



Shankar Chelluri says:

Interesting insights about a global PR agency CEO sharing trends, client views and expectation besides job opportunities in PR. As a former journalist & now in PR having around 20 years experience - this optimism keeps me going to do my best & offer 2-cents value to clients.

April 15, 2013

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