Q&A with a British PR guru

One of the aspects I have enjoyed most from Weber Shandwick is the global learnings and network. You’ll find that often times, many companies will use this as a selling point, when in reality, you may not have interaction with colleagues outside of your building. In my nine months at Weber, I have worked extensively with our London, Germany and Asia teams and have learned a great deal through them. Working at a global agency exposes you to different societies, cultural behavior and work styles.

Through this global networking, I had the pleasure of “virtually meeting” Colin Byrne. Colin first joined Weber in 1995 and has since become the CEO of Weber Shandwick Europe.  Prior to, Colin was heavily involved in international affairs and politics having worked for The Labour Party and serving as the deputy to the current EU Commissioner, Peter Mandelson.

Simply put, Colin is a busy, busy man. Fortunately, he was kind enough to let me pick his brain on public relations practices overseas, cultural differences and what advice he has for younger PR enthusiasts looking to expand their work to think, breath and work globally.

Q: Having traveled between the US and Europe, how would you say the approach to PR varies in each place? Are there any case studies or campaigns that can illustrate these differences?

Two main differences, both relating to scale. In Consumer PR, where the US has nine times as many consumers as the UK and a much more decentralised and diverse media, I have seen US campaigns that are awesome in their scale and the use of eye-catching events geared to television. At the other end of the spectrum, in public affairs, I think US companies still take political relations much more seriously and with a greater level of sophistication  than those in Europe.

Q: A big advantage to working in a global agency is being able to work on international initiatives that allow you to tap into multiple regions. What are some cultural differences that have caused you and your teams to alter particular campaigns and strategic thinking?

Good question. I think CSR means different things in different regions. In some countries it is still seen as philanthropy, in others more about core business strategy. Then there are the local regulatory frameworks which mean you can’t always run the same healthcare campaign in Europe as you would in the USA.

Q: As a pioneer in the PR industry, you have had the opportunity to work with practitioners of all levels. What personality traits and qualities have stood out to you the most?

That makes me feel old! Seriously, I think the key traits include a real interest in the world around you, a passion for media consumption, creative thinking, flexibility, the ability to argue a case, a toughness of character and an understanding of the need to listen and learn, not just speak.

Q: What suggestions do you have for young PR practitioners to reach the position of top-level management?

Get a mentor who has made good headway in their careen and learn everything you can from them. Be entrepreneurial. Focus on new ideas and bringing your own perspective to a problem. Don’t hide your light under the proverbial bushel. Consume media and information like there was no tomorrow. Live the digital life, don’t just talk it.

Q: PR is an industry that is limitless and ever-growing, yet many people choose to work domestically instead of taking the risk to work abroad. What would you recommend to a young practitioner interested in eventually working internationally? What sort of qualifications would this person need and what personality traits would you look for?

I would absolutely encourage PR people in their twenties to take an international posting. PR is increasingly less about understanding New York and London and more about China, The Middle East, India, Russia, Brazil etc. Before I came into consultancy I had the opportunity to work in corporate communications internationally. Seeing how PR is done differently around the world is a real asset for any future PR leader. At Weber Shandwick we have a great international exchange programme. In terms of qualifications and personality traits, the important thing to demonstrate is a passion for PR and a hunger to learn, plus the ability to be a team player.

Q: I can imagine you’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the world, tell us about your favorite city and/or country. Any young backpacking stories you’d like to share? =)

I didn’t do the ‘young backpacking’ thing. I went into PR straight from college and had four different PR jobs in four different sectors under my belt by the time I hit thirty. I wish I had done the year out thing but back then it wasn’t an option for me. In terms of interesting places I have worked or visited, working in Russia in the early 1990s was fascinating, seeing a huge society go through changes in a few years that Americans and Brits had centuries to go though. St Petersburg is an amazing city. Arriving in India for the first time was a cultural and sensual shock and a must if you get the chance to go. Hong Kong is amazing. I love Sydney and I love San Francisco, for pretty much the same reasons. Closer to (my) home, Ireland is wonderful but get out of Dublin and into the country. Cycle round the Dingle peninsula. Take a boat on the Shannon. Drink Guinness and eat oysters. Rural Ireland is magical. My favourite city in the world though is Florence.

For more information about Colin, his personal interests, his views on public relations and public affairs and why he’s proud to be from Greater Manchester (maybe it’s a UK thing?), visit his blog, Byrne Baby Byrne.

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2 thoughts on “Q&A with a British PR guru

  1. Jessica, thank you for this great post. It’s nice to see not only that you have developed a global network through your job but that you’re taking advantage of this to share great information such as this on your blog.

  2. Pingback: Public relations skills | Strive Notes

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