Tim Dyson is CEO of Next Fifteen Communications, which owns agencies Text 100, Bite, OutCast, Lexis and M Booth. The company counts more than $200 million in annual revenues.
Next Fifteen acquired M Booth this past August, and is “still very active” when it comes to the M&A market, said Dyson.
In this interview, Dyson gives his take on Twitter PR, which is currently being run by Next Fifteen alum Sean Garrett, which global regions he sees as poised for growth, why he’d have “ethical issues working with a big oil company,” and much more.
You’re an active blogger and Twitterer. Do you think other PR CEOs and executives should be too? Or, does it matter if an agency CEO is or isn’t on Twitter, or blogging?
I think, like many of the people like myself, who have been in the industry for a long time, the digital revolution is a challenge to us. You grow up, you learn the industry, and you get used to doing things a certain way. You get used to brands being impacted by certain influencers. Digital has completely changed everything. From my perspective, I felt the very least I could do was to embrace the tools, and experience as much as possible myself.
If I’m going to manage a business through this transition, I at least have to participate. I feel there is an awful lot more I could do to grasp this change, and I certainly encourage other PR CEOs to do the same thing. If you’re going to go advise clients on how to handle Facebook or Twitter, or whether they should on Ning or be using some obscure piece of measurement software, the only way you’re going to give great advice is if you have experience with those tools.
Having said that, different businesses have different ways. I came from the client side and still very much like to keep engaged with clients. I know there are a lot of PR CEOs that don’t do that and still run a pretty good business. It’s also a style of how you run your company. If you have a CEO who manages the finances of the company and has lot of people around him or her who manage the clients, maybe you don’t need to engaged.
From my perspective, I feel it’s the only way I can do my job properly. I realize what the challenges are. I don’t blog nearly enough and it makes me realize it’s easy to go to clients and say, “You need to have an active blog.” But having an active blog is not easy, it’s a big time commitment and requires you have to have something interesting to say on a routine basis. That’s not easy to do.
You recently posted on your Twitter account, “BP = broken pipeline, broken promises, bad publicity.” It has been reported that Ogilvy PR has taken on social media work for BP. If any Next Fifteen agencies were approached to work with the company, would you advise them not too?
It’s a good question, as to whether or not we’d engage with one of the big oil companies. I think a lot would have to do with what the oil company was coming to us for. If they were coming to us just basically to manage big traditional big oil PR, then I think we’d be very unlikely to work with that company.
If they came to us to further their efforts in clean tech, then I think we’d be more likely to help them. We have a focus ourselves on sustainability. I think I’d have some ethical issues working with a big oil company, just trying to promote their traditional source of income.
Sean Garrett, formerly of Next Fifteen owned agency 463 Communications, is now running PR for Twitter. What would you say are his biggest PR challenges or opportunities?
His challenges are that he is managing a brand that has a profile as big as a company like Microsoft or Facebook or Google in lots of ways. Twitter is already a household name, and yet Twitter is still an incredibly small company — not even 200 people.
With those types of resources, that makes life awfully challenging. There is a tremendous amount of stuff coming at Twitter every day. Just managing the inflow of requests, suggestions and the rest of it is a task for very large team, and then trying to be proactive on top of it, it’s like he’s standing on top of a fire hose right now.
How do you remain proactive in a situation where there is an enormous amount coming at you that is amazing? They get invites to do all sorts of things, but they don’t have the resources to do a tiny fraction of the things coming to them. The reality is Twitter has become a very global brand. They are getting requests from all over the world. Managing that is another significant challenge. You don’t want to alienate markets by looking like you don’t care about them.
You recently wrote on your blog, “for many brands media isn’t necessarily the best route to influencing people’s perceptions.” What are some recent examples that stick out to you where this is true?
Virtually every youth brand no longer really relies on media. They will now consider communities like Facebook or Twitter or even more obscure communications over media, because the consumption of media by people age 24 and below is so drastically different than older generations. There is far greater return of Facebook communications than a piece even in one of the traditional lifestyle consumer publications.
We’re seeing with M Booth’s business, the consumer brands have definitely learned that lesson. They are focusing more and more efforts on digital.
Speaking of Next Fifteen’s most recent acquisition, M. Booth, are you still in acquisition mode? What types of agencies are you looking for?
We’re still very active. I don’t think you buy a business based on economic cycles. You buy a business for finding the right people, a cultural fit, and if you can make them more successful than if they stay on their own.
Looking at the global market, which regions are poised for growth, and which aren’t?
This is one of the things about globalization, there is this inherent belief that global equals flat, that all markets are equal. I think it’s very evident that global is very much the opposite. Global is incredibly volatile market now, with huge challenges for PR.
The BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) regions are still showing near to double digit GDP growth, where more mature Western markets will be lucky to do low single digit GDP growth. Our industry gets very tied to natural economic growth rates of what those markets are. We are going to see a very uneven PR market around the world. We are going to see continued rapid growth in China and India, and solid growth in the U.S.
Europe is still struggling, trying to figure out whether it’s in a recession or not in a recession. Clearly pain is being felt as governments have to cut back on spending.
Some of the U.K. agencies that have a big reliance on government spending are really struggling. The U.S. government at some point will begin to cut back on communications programs, it just seems logical. Those kind of things seem small and trivial, but you’d be surprised at how much revenue agencies get from government contracts. We don’t, thankfully.