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Video Interview with Chris Lewis, CEO and Founder of LEWIS PR

What is special about LEWIS PR's approach?

There's three things. Firstly, there's our creative heritage; we've got a lot of former journalists here, and I'm a former creative as well. So the creativity is a big difference in terms of where we come from, because the actual creatives own and run the agency here. It's independently owned; the people who work in the agency own the agency. When it comes to reinvesting the profits back in every year there's no problem with that. So that's a second aspect – it is independent ownership that makes a big difference, especially when things are changing so fast and you want to invest in new technology, new people, that sort of thing. Thirdly, our international heritage. We have 25 wholly-owned offices around the world and all of those are payroll people, not a partner network or anything like that, and so that creates a real international flavour of journalism around the world. That sort of creative heritage is now morphing into the social and digital revolution that we see in front of us.

What do you look for in new recruits?

I think it's interesting because a lot of universities talk about skills and this year we launched our own foundation which goes by a Swahili name of Kupambana, which means to be proud of creativity. The initial trench of investment there has gone into the Institute of the Contemporary Arts at Lancaster and the Chelsea Art College, which is our neighbour here, to finance bursaries and research into the creative industries and so we look for students that come from creative backgrounds and have creative skills. Also, there has to be a balance of skills with an international approach and enthusiasm and interest. So, put simply, it's not just about skills, it's about attitude as well. We want people who like working in an international environment, we like people who are passionate about digital technology and want to experiment and try things. That balance of attitude and skills is really important.

As a media trainer what advice do you have for business start-ups?

I think when you're a startup it's important to be clear about what you're addressing and what you're trying to do. Clarity, simplicity and above all else frequency, so the ability to embrace all the social channels that are there. The social channels – the access is not expensive to do that – so they can have the message out there internationally, quickly and very simply. Too many startups in my view spend a lot of time gazing at the navel about 'what are we', 'what are we trying to do', yet the customers will tell them what they're trying to do and tell them the market. The first and most important thing they've got to do is say 'We're here!', and sometimes they forget to say that.

What are the main challenges facing the PR industry today?

There's a number of things, to come back to these factors about differentiation, in our industry there are really ten major American brands which now account for one half of the global spending. That's an almost oligarchic market, so for the agencies coming through in the other 50% of the industry there's ten that dominate half the spending, and then hundreds that are fighting in the other half of the industry. So, entrepreneurial flair and people participating in the ownership of their companies, how you get people to subscribe long term to the cultures that they work in, that's a big challenge.

Also, the industry itself is being faced with the challenge of rapidly changing technologies, new communications methods coming on stream and an increase in cycle time of how fast they need to work. Once upon a time content could be created and kept for a month or so, we're seeing an environment where content is old within a couple of weeks and in terms of, say crisis management with social media, that cycle time can be in hours. So the industry is facing this rapid cycle time, everything is speeding up and becoming much more global so that trend towards more technology, new technology, faster technology whilst also trying to keep clients upto speed with that type of change, that creates a lot of pressure for agencies. Caught between the competing demands of an ever-hungry market place for content and also clients who are moving at a slightly greater pace but have to take these opportunities that this new environment throws up. 

How has social media changed the PR landscape?

First of all, it's made it faster so the world has become sped up by that process. Secondly, because it's become more international, the content itself has become more visual, so we see much more emphasis on either short or non-existent text. A whole group of people coming on to the internet who are either unwilling or unable to read the text that's there, so the text that there is becomes shorter but the content becomes much more visual. When it becomes more visual it becomes more international and becomes easier for people to pick up stories. Sometimes people forget that when they're producing stuff for the internet it's actually going to go global; people are going to see it from around the world. The more visual it is, the more accessible it is, so those are a couple of examples.

As an ex-journalist, what's your take on the PR/journalist dynamic?

The relationship between the journalist and PR person has been historically like dog and lamp post – that sort of relationship – which is, depending on which side you're on, sort of traditional. But now that's changing a little bit, because (I think) there's a greater crossover. We have a lot of journalists working here so a lot of it is anticipating what journalists are looking for, but also recognising that journalism hasn't died and it's not dying. Journalism is actually expanding very rapidly, it's just being done by less institutional forms. So it's not just about magazines, newspapers, TV and radio, it's actually about all of the social channels that surround the brand. For instance, if you look at a major brand and you've got YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, Linkedin and all manner of social channels surrounding it, at the centre is the brand. The brand becomes like a brand of journalism that's at the heart of marketing. What we're specialising in is the brand journalism that addresses all of these things, so we're working as journalists on behalf of clients to get that story out there. All journalists work for an editorial director, whether it's the client or whether it's the proprietor of that magazine.