Richard Griffiths, outgoing director of European comms at ebay’s StubHub and founder of RGC Partners, on how his move from journalism into comms felt like “coming home”, the heightened profile of PR, and getting clients to address uncomfortable truths.
What is the most important thing you learned as a business reporter at the BBC, and how has that impacted your career in PR?
The ability to quickly synthesise an issue and then get the key points across so that everyone can understand them. Being a good listener is a good skill in PR. But it’s also important to have a point of view.
Why did you make the leap from journalism to PR?
One of my personality flaws is that I’m easily bored and need constant challenge. PR seemed a good next step. I was offered a job at KPMG supporting on some of their crisis issues (collapse of Little Chef, sale of a stake in Leeds United to Ken Bates). But a job then came up with Ketchum which involved building a team and a lot of international work. I jumped at it and felt like I’d come home as soon as I arrived. I stayed for six years before setting up my own independent consultancy [RGC Partners] working with clients such as Alcatel Lucent, Airbus, Gusbourne Estate, Kind Consumer and StubHub.
What has been the most drastic change in the PR sector since you moved into the industry?
PR now crosses so much of what a company does but the way we deploy it is different. In larger organisations it crosses paid, owned, earned and social media though successful deployment relies on a clear understanding of what the business needs and working well with different partners, internal and external. It’s a communications mix that we’re all still getting to grips with and that is part of the interesting challenge.
Do you think PR has gathered in significance over the last few years, and if so, what is driving that change?
Yes, and part of that is down to dwindling budgets in news and growing recognition in big companies, in particular, that reputation matters more than ever. The fact that the former Newsnight Editor Peter Barron now runs Google’s EMEA communications team and is invited onto The Andrew Marr Show to talk tax speaks volumes. In my day as a journalist, a head of PR was not considered the kind of serious executive you would bother interviewing. That’s changing.
What piece of work from your career are you most proud of?
Mass global coverage for pandas arriving in Edinburgh for FedEx! More seriously, some of the most satisfying moments are those that have to remain confidential but I get the most satisfaction working with clients who adjust business practices based on your advice. That’s when I’d say working in PR is more fun than being a journalist.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would that be?
That PR is always just spin. It’s more often about persuading clients to address uncomfortable truths.
What is the most common misconception your friends/peers make about your job?
That’s it all about lunch at the Wolseley and drunken evenings at Soho House. If only.
If you weren’t in PR, what would you be doing – bar journalism, of course?
Something involving food and wine … and somewhere warm.
What is a typical weekend for you?
Reading the weekend papers and catching up with family and friends with plenty of red wine combined with walking our fat black Labrador on Clapham Common. Hot yoga features somewhere too. I do that several times a week and it’s good for solving communications challenges!
What book would you take to a desert island?
All the books I have at home I have bought and am yet to read. I’ll read anything but currently love anything by the Portuguese author Eca de Queiroz, whose novels I pick up and can then never put down.
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