Weber Shandwick Digital Comms. President: ‘Ad Agencies, Interactive Shops and PR Companies Are All Coming to a New Place’


Chris Perry was recently promoted to President, Digital Communications at IPG (NYSE: IPG) owned agency Weber Shandwick. Previously, he served as executive vice president, Digital Strategy and Operations and general manager of the agency’s Los Angeles office.

Perry moved to New York in conjunction with his promotion, and we caught up with him today to get his take on a variety of pressing issues in the digital communications world.

What clients are you working with now?

I spend a good chunk of time on the business itself and managing different aspects of the business. On one hand it’s an innovation role, and then that gets into the consultant role, the business role and client work.

My client work includes HP and PepsiCo in particular. I spend a bulk of my time with those accounts and still consult on lots of different things that come into the agency day in day out.

You recently move to New York from Los Angeles. What are some of the biggest differences you’ve noticed in the PR industry, between LA and NYC?

The reality is that a lot of the work I was doing in LA, I’m continuing to do in New York. Obviously, the market in New York, just from a size and scale standpoint is more significant. There are a lot of pretty sophisticated things going on in both markets right now. The notion of PR in both markets is changing. Where we’re getting engaged and how we’re getting engaged is changing. And that’s not a market specific trend, it’s an industry specific trend.

How do you see the competitive set changing, in terms of digital communications services and agencies?

The way it typically works these days is because there is so much disorder on client side — they are re-thinking their ways of going to market, how they communicate with people — it’s changing agency dynamics quite a bit.

It’s favoring strategic shops like ours. What we do includes everything from digital strategy to organizational strategy. Sometimes our work is about helping clients help themselves. PR in some companies has been downstream and a bit tactical. Now we’re sitting in the center of strategic discussions.

It’s because of the people we have, and helping clients think strategically and how to get things done inside of big complex companies. People want us at the table whether we come from the PR discourse or any other.

Do you see more ad agencies moving to offer PR like services, or more PR agencies moving to offer advertising like services?

What you’re seeing is the definition of a new space. Again, the agencies and people at agencies that have the ability to really define that space and show clients value from that space are the ones that are going to get more and more of this pie. You can look at the 30,000 foot dynamic from how ad agencies, interactive shops and PR companies are all coming to a new place.

I think we’ve got a huge advantage coming to that new place because the nature of new digital and social media work requires a lot of flexibility, being nimble and more of improvisation as opposed to long term planning and campaigns.

If your business model is based on the premise of long term planning and development, it’s hard to change that business model to do that production, and make updates to that production.

Who are some of Weber Shandwick’s key digital partners, in terms of digital monitoring and measurement?

We’ve got a lot of great internal capabilities that we bring to the client. We’re also realistic in understanding the space is moving so quickly that a lot of best of breed emerging tech companies and service providers can enhance what we do.

We take a measured approach to companies we want to bring into our network and then how those companies are incorporating into what we’re managing. It varies widely by assignment.

Companies like Radian6 are still a standard within the firm. Within the monitoring and analytics space, there is no one company that has it completely nailed, especially from a global perspective. We have to have complimentary providers.

Weber Shandwick has a longstanding relationship with MySpace. MySpace recently announced plans to “simplify” its privacy settings. Was that at all an attempt to play off some of the negative press Facebook has been receiving around their privacy settings?

I can’t speak on behalf of MySpace and the teams that work on that business. But the notion of privacy is a big issue right now. It’s being discussed more online and more in the press and other social network providers have to have the privacy issue top of mind, because it can have material impact on their brand and how people participate on those sites.

What would you look for when looking to hire someone to work in digital at Weber Shandwick?

It’s going to vary by what we’re looking to staff. When you talk digital, that spectrum is very broad these days. With people working within the space that are successful, there is a certain DNA. People have a certain curiosity, and a deep interest in what’s happening now, what could be coming and having the ability to interpret what’s new, and having the ability to translate that into something of value to clients.

How they’ve approached past assignments, there is the application of innovation and not just people looking for the next shiny object that may not translate into helping a client out. Our success is based on work we do, not what we’re on the circuit talking about, or talking to press about every day. The focus of people we bring in is having that tangible work experience.

We’ve reached a certain level of maturity with clients, where people are getting a lot smarter with people they want on their team. If people don’t have that tangible experience they will have a hard time billing themselves as a guru.

What are some of the big digital communications trends you’re keeping an eye on for the rest of 2010 and into 2011?

The big trend right now is that the notion of what social media is will change a bit. It’s not necessarily about the technology and platforms, but about the behaviors they open up. You’re seeing based on the sheer volume of adoptions of this technology and the behavior it opens up has huge impact on brand perception and the image people have about products and services that they interact with on a daily basis.

You will see companies move through the adoption curve and become more mature, more thoughtfully orchestrated, more demanding. They will make sure what they’re doing across communications plays to what people are saying about the brand day in and day out. To simplify: it’s less about tools and novelty and more about pragmatic business implications about what we’re doing and how we get more from it.