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PR Interview with Alison Clarke, CEO UK & Ireland at Grayling

About the agency

What’s been happening recently at Grayling

It’s been an exciting few months at Grayling. We welcomed our new global CEO Pete Pedersen in February and since then Pete has fully integrated himself into the business, spearheading new campaigns and bringing a fresh outlook and experience to the company. With over 20 years of experience in the technology sphere, Pete has been taking large steps to ensure Grayling is a global PR business with social media and technology at its core.

We’ve also expanded our public affairs team with two new hires and we were delighted to announce that Zaiba Malik, former BBC and Channel 4 News journalist, has joined our corporate and financial team as director. Following 15 years in journalism, Zaiba has already proven to be a huge asset in providing strategic media counsel to our clients, particularly on corporate reputation issues.

What is special about the agency’s approach to PR?

Communications challenges come in all shapes and sizes and in our ever-changing world a client’s requirements can shift rapidly. I’m proud to say that Grayling is an agency which can (and constantly does) adapt to meet these changing requirements. We have strong sector expertise throughout the UK and Ireland, be that digital, CSR, healthcare, financial or crisis and reputation management and for all clients we draw on expertise from across the network to ensure we provide the very best service possible to meet the changing needs of clients.

What future plans do you have for the agency?

To continue to grow the company throughout the UK and Ireland.

About the industry

Do PR approaches to reputation management differ or conflict much? How does Grayling positively influence a brand’s reputation?

Approaches to reputation management can differ depending on who you speak to and which company you work with. However, what I’m sure everyone will agree on is that reputation management in today’s world demands nothing less than razor-sharp clarity.

With a team of ten board level crisis and issues management specialists across the UK, Grayling has unrivalled experience and expertise in protecting brands and managing corporate reputations for some of the biggest names in the private and public sector. Although we have this team on board, we always hope that we will never need to call upon them for our clients through providing strategic consultancy – bringing true insight, perspectives and an honest appraisal of the challenges and opportunities facing their business and by creating positive conversation and discussion around this within the media.

What’s the best approach to handling the PR for multi-market products or companies?

A truly joined-up multinational approach is the only way to really succeed in PR for multi-market products or companies. Grayling has over 1,000 employees working in 40 different countries and all offices are in constant contact with one another. Whether that’s because they already work closely on a multi-market programme/campaign or because one office may need to tap into the market knowledge from another for current or potential future client work.

In fact, as running campaigns across markets forms a large part of our work at Grayling, we have a dedicated team (based in our London office) who ensure that all international teams are aligned and programmes are continuing to run effectively and successfully.

In your opinion, what are the main challenges facing the PR industry today?

I believe that there are three main challenges for the PR industry at the moment:

1. Money – businesses don’t always fully appreciate the value of PR and therefore don’t always want to pay what they should for the work that we do. Often we are involved with the people at the top but compared to management consultants, we are not always recognised financially for what we provide, which is strange when reputation is everything!

2. Digital world – in today’s digital world, where the public can comment on anything or anyone with ease through blogs and social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, PR agencies are faced – on a daily basis – with managing reputations when negative views and (often incorrect) information hits these digital channels. Repairing the reputation of an individual or an organisation following damaging claims has always been a delicate and complex situation, but with the swift rise of social media sites it is now (and will continue to be) even more challenging.

3. Talent – finding new talent is a challenge for the PR industry as a whole. Like many professional services industries, PR needs to evolve from being a graduate-entry only profession to ensure that it really does attract the broadest talent. This is why Grayling is taking part in the PRCA’s PR Apprenticeship scheme, to open the doors to people who may not have thought they were able to have a career in PR without a university degree. Hiring people from a range of backgrounds and with varied experiences means a more diverse work force bringing fresh perspectives, insights and ideas into a company and indeed the industry as a whole.

Who are some of Grayling’s most well-known, or respected clients?

We work with some of the world’s most famous and well-respected organisations, including British Airways, Hilton Hotels Group, Lloyd’s TSB, Diageo and Nestle, to name but a few.

What advice would you give to recent business start-ups on their PR strategy?

Making a name for an unknown start-up company is no mean feat and can be a whole job in itself, making it difficult for the founders to do the PR work themselves. Therefore, start-ups should take the time to find (and hire) a PR company which not only understands its business objectives but is aligned with its ethos. It’s also important for small start-up companies to realise that fame doesn’t happen overnight and as an unknown company they can’t expect to be on the front page of the Financial Times on day one – it takes time (and a spokesperson who can provide real insight in the business sphere) for this to happen.

About journalists

Is there anything the agency is particularly experienced at when helping out journalists with their stories? 

As our teams are completely integrated, we are regularly sharing contacts and knowledge across the country. As such, when a journalist contacts one person looking for an interviewee (for example) if that person can’t help, they will always contact all other teams to see if any of the other clients can contribute instead. With our wide range of clients, this means that most of the time we’re able to meet the journalist's needs and offer a spokesperson even if it’s not the person they had in mind originally. Not only does this help us to build and maintain positive relationships with journalists it also benefits our clients.

What are your three tips/rules to building and maintaining strong relationships with journalists?

1. Be honest

2. Respond quickly

3. Do your own research

If you could ask a journalist one question out of the ordinary, what would it be?

Do you think you’ll still be a journalist in five years time?

About you

What media do you seek out first thing in the morning?

BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the BBC News app on my iPhone and the Twitter feeds of various national newspapers.

Name three guests you’d invite to a dinner party and why.

Bill Nighy, David Bowie and Nelson Mandela because they are all brilliant at what they do and I admire them all. Plus it would be a fun and interesting mix.

What’s the first rule of good PR?

Tell the truth well.