Sustaining the PR currents – Tobi Gerstberger, Global Director – Content & Campaigns, at Schneider Electric (Secure Power Division)
Ramdas Shenoyy getting insights of the global PR stage
What is PR for you? In the modern context, where a lot has become paid PR, how do you see its relevance?
PR is everything that contributes to a company’s reputation from social responsibility to media and analyst relations, to events, and employee communications. It’s reach and importance is massive. Think about a company who lost your trust. That impression sticks. Once you lose the trust of the public, its very difficult to earn it back. As a communications practice, public relations must be considered in key decision making to ensure actions are aligned with values.
In the digital world of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook what are the challenges for a corporate PR professional?
Most marketing professionals I know have a similar challenge – needing to do more with less. And, communications professionals are included as there are new comms channels and features within those channels every day. To be most effective, even with diminishing resources marketing teams need to understand their customer and focus on the channels that are most effective to reach them. Focus on what’s most important and do those things really well.
How is PR different in different economies?
PR is an inherently complex practice and understanding the distinct differences in the geographies in which you do business is key. Whereas social channels like Facebook may take the highest priority in some countries, you would be less successful in others if you focused only on Facebook.
Adding to the complexity, the Internet has been the single biggest game-changer for PR professionals. Whereas at one time it took time for information to trickle across borders, the Internet has no borders so, in addition to understanding the market dynamics, PR professionals need to coordinate globally and be prepared to address all matters, no matter where they occur.
What is Tobi to the world outside PR profession?
There it is. The question all PR people hate to answer at cocktail parties. PR encompasses many different marketing practices – so each person you ask may have a unique view. Some say oh, “you run events”; others “you work with the media” or “you write speeches”. They are all right. For while my mom thought I wrote articles for newspapers. She wasn’t exactly wrong.
Any incident which you can recall, in your career as a PR professional, where you were able to create a great business impact?
In a past life, I worked for a great PR agency called Matter Communications (Boston, Mass.). I had wonderful clients including a scrappy start-up that built an e-commerce platform for photos. The client had built a niche amongst professional photographers but really needed to boost subscribership amongst prosumer photographers. For months I pursued inclusion in a story to be published in a major consumer print publication, working with company spokespeople and customers to demonstrate the value of the platform, answering questions, providing additional details and following up, and up and up. The story took so long I started to wonder if it would ever publish. When it hit the web, we saw an immediate boost to subscribership and then again when the print issue released. The company increased its users more than three times over, which we shared in a press release and with potential investors. The article also supported their SEO strategy paying off for a long time. Shortly thereafter, the start-up received their next round of VC funding. Almost 15 years later they are still flourishing.
A PR professional is privy to a lot of confidential and management data, is it a boon or bane?
Interesting question. The access to confidential company information is a responsibility. Its required to be able to provide strategic guidance and prepare response plans. Trust between decision-makers and communications teams is critical to managing a corporate PR program. So my answer is its neither a boon nor a bane, it just is what it is.
What will be your advice to young aspirants who want to venture into PR as a profession?
My advice to people interested in pursuing PR as a profession is to gain as much exposure to the various facets of PR. There are so many areas you can focus on from corporate comms to speakers bureaus, to events, you really need to get in there. Learn as much as you can to figure out where you will shine brightest. The best thing I ever did as a young professional was to start my career at a PR agency (Brodeur Worldwide, Boston). I was exposed to different types of clients in varied industries and the fast-paced environment kept things very interesting. But, most valuable was that I was surrounded by communications professionals – with different backgrounds and specialties, all willing to share their experience with the newbies so we could grow our skillsets. I credit all my comms colleagues for teaching me along the way, and on through to today. What’s more, is they become a network you can lean on throughout your career.