Christina Sandkühler, EMEA, head of corporate communications at LaSalle Investment Management, on the value of creativity in PR, why there should be appreciation of the power of comms at board level and why she once had to organise the ‘world’s greatest dice roll’, up a mountain, in Greenland.
Which media outlet can’t you start your day without?
In the morning it’s really all about bite size chunks for me. I have an established routine which involves; listening to the Today programme while getting ready, checking The Economist‘s Espresso App and FT bulletins, and then using Twitter to catch up on wider news while on the train. As I am German, Spiegel Online is also a must and I use the weekends and evenings to read more in-depth analysis on specific topics that have sparked my interest.
What is your favourite thing about working in comms?
Some people have a tendency to underestimate the importance and relevance of good communications, especially the devastating effect poorly executed communications can have on a business’ reputation. The satisfaction when a communication strategy has been implemented correctly, seeing first hand its positive effect on the business and acknowledgement from the board, is one of the most satisfying aspects of my job. At the same time, as a comms professional you are, and need to be, always on the pulse of the business and not many other positions can claim that.
You’ve worked both in-house and in agencies; what do you prefer and why?
I couldn’t say I preferred one over the other. I very much enjoy the strategic nature of my in-house role at LaSalle, giving me the opportunity to genuinely shape the firm’s external and internal communications approach on an international level. When in-house you really feel part of the team, rather than being an external consultant, and are viewed as a trusted advisor to senior management.
However, I thoroughly enjoyed the variety agency-side offers as well as the business development aspect of it. I am a firm believer that working in an agency for a prolonged period of time is the best preparation for any in-house role. In a way, it is a baptism of fire – if someone is used to fast-paced agency life they are very likely to be able to adapt quickly to a busy in-house press office.
What three qualities do you ask from your agencies?
The agencies I work with demonstrate a clear understanding of the sector we specialise in. This is fundamental to gain respect as a comms consultant. You need to demonstrate that you understand your clients objectives and how you can support them, but that you also understand their challenges.
Nothing frustrates people more than their agency not understanding their concerns when communicating certain issues and also not understanding the implications it could have on the business if executed poorly. Getting under the skin of a topic is really where an agency can showcase its qualities, as well as ensuring coverage achieved actually benefits the client’s business rather than just chasing the quick win.
Creativity is very important – there is far too much same-same in the industry. Tried and tested is safe, but will not make you stand out in an already crowded marketplace. Most importantly, I value professionals who know how to handle an issue and a potential or actual crisis. So much in our sector is about keeping news out of the media and not just getting coverage at any price. I believe this is where the quality of an agency truly shines – giving you the right advice, not necessarily the easy advice.
What is the strangest thing you’ve done in the name of PR?
Before I entered the investment PR world, I started my career in Berlin working on the consumer and business communications for a variety of online sports betting and poker companies in Germany. For one of these clients, we threw two enormous steel dice tied to the bottom of a helicopter, down a snowy mountain in Greenland, the ‘world’s greatest dice roll’, allowing people to bet on the result. (It was 1-1 by the way – Snake Eyes!) I doubt I will be doing a similar campaign for LaSalle any time soon.
If you weren’t in PR, what would you’ be doing?
I would have most probably worked in the German Foreign Service as a diplomat or I would have become an archaeologist.
What’s the most common misunderstanding that people have about your job?
That communications is solely about press releases and liaising with the media. Communications and reputation management is a strategic business tool that is vital to any company’s success and a big part of the role is strategy development.
If you could change one thing in the industry, what would that be?
I would like communications professionals and agencies to be less tactical and not just look at the quantities of outputs. Communications is not a tick box exercise that can be measured by the number of media mentions you achieve, and definitely not by outdated tools like AVE. If we want to make sure that communications are elevated to the board room and taken seriously, we need to demonstrate how it is adding lasting value, is crucial to the achievement of corporate goals, and succeeds in protecting and enhancing reputation. Communications need to be strategic, measured, smart and at the heart of everything a business does.
What do you do to take off your business head?
As for many people in comms, switching off completely tends to be quite a challenge – that’s the nature of the game – but going for a long run or getting friends together for dinner is the best way to clear my head. Whenever I can I also try to jump on a plane and go on a proper mini adventure, exploring new countries and cultures.
Which three people, living or dead, would make up your ideal dinner party?
An evening with Peter Ustinov, Gertrude Bell and Richard Francis Burton, as well as lots of good whiskey, wine, cigars and cheese.
Have you performed any stranger-than-fiction stunts in the name of PR? If so, email firstname.lastname@example.org to take part in a ’60 seconds with’ feature.