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One On One With Justin Creally, High Road Communications

justin_creallyHere is the third interview in the One On One series, and this time I chat with Justin Creally, President of High Road Communications.

DF – How did you get into PR?
JC – Probably like a lot of people, I fell into it. Communications, persuasion and marketing were of great interest to me. I started to learn more about PR when I was in journalism school at University, which is when I recognized I wanted to be on the PR side versus the media side of the equation. I excelled at writing during my formal education and after University I talked to some friends who had taken PR at college, so I enrolled in Humber’s PR program. Having friends in the industry was great because they were able to shed light on what it was like to really work in PR and paint a compelling picture for me.

DF – What is involved in your role on a daily basis?

JC – As president of High Road Communications I oversee the daily operations of the company and also work to chart out the future strategic plans for the company. At the same time, I am involved in several accounts and participate more broadly in client planning and client innovation sessions. We place a lot of importance on culture at High Road, so I make sure that I work closely with other members of High Road’s senior leadership team to ensure that we protect the High Road culture while also steering the evolution of the company’s offerings and areas of expertise.

DF – What are the biggest change (s) to the PR industry in 2009?

JC – 2009 continues to see the consolidation and shrinking of traditional media outlets and channels, so the PR industry has been reacting to that in a big way this year. We are lucky that our heritage is in technology and digital lifestyle, so we have been working with companies targeting consumers and B2B clients online for quite some time. We handled some of the earliest ecommerce and online communities, so we’ve got a deep and rich heritage in using digital media to communicate.

DF – What are some of the challenges you see the PR industry facing today?
JC – I think the economy is the number one challenge facing the PR industry today. Across the industry, marketing dollars are shrinking and that has an impact. At High Road, we stay focused on bringing our clients creative and innovative thinking, and even if they don’t all win budget support, we want to keep demonstrating to our clients our creative vision for what is possible from a PR and social media perspective.

DF – Back in April 2009, it was written on the High Road blog that “Drop All Clients Not Participating in Social and Digital Media” – How serious are you about this new policy?
JC – We are serious about it. It is a wake-up call for PR pros and marketers everywhere. In the last few years people recognized the need for a web site for your product and service. However, today we know people don’t want to necessarily visit the “corporate” sites; they want to learn about brands and products from existing communities and online destinations. If you don’t have a plan in place to make this happen you are in trouble.

DF – Do new clients also have to adopt to this policy?
JC – When we go in to pitch new clients they know what they are getting because we always bring them social and digital media ideas. If they don’t take that area of marketing seriously, we won’t sign them on as new clients.

DF – Are you on Twitter or Facebook?
JC – Yes, I’m on both Twitter and Facebook, but admittedly very much in a follow mode vs. broadcast mode. I spent a chunk of time each day looking at social media opportunities for our clients as well as what the top brands and fastest movers in social media are up to from a digital marketing perspective. There is no shortage of sources of info to tell you what is working or what isn’t working. The key is to drill in deeper and really understand the strategy and ROI for the social media and digital programs.

DF – Over the years High Road Communications has had a strong technology client base, was this done strategically? What do you attribute this to?
JC – Yes, we have had a strong technology and digital lifestyle client base. It was how the business evolved due to our early focus on technology as a key differentiator from other agencies. The great thing is that our client base has often been early adopters of online and social media programs, so we have leveraged that experience over the years to again differentiate ourselves as one of the leading agencies in social media.

DF – What impact are you seeing the current economic climate having on the PR industry?
JC – It is making many companies more risk adverse: no one wants to be seen as taking a gamble with scarce marketing dollars right now. That said, there are brands who have made the conscious effort to take dollars away from traditional advertising and are funneling those into PR, social media, and increased levels of sponsorship. The true trail blazers continue to dedicate dollars to experiment and try new things–the sort of things others only do in good times. At High Road, we keep bringing creative ideas to the table, keep looking for ways to integrate into larger marketing programs, and keep looking for ways to help our clients achieve more with fewer marketing dollars.

DF – Newspapers and other tradition media have been going through a major shift, what impact does this have on the PR industry?
JC – This hasn’t changed: Figure out where your audience is getting its information and how they are forming opinions about your company and your products and be a part of that conversation. Traditional media has always been a bit of a catch-all short cut for marketers. The shift they are experiencing now and the shrinking audience numbers is forcing PR people to be smarter and more targeted. At High Road, this has led to the development of more fully integrated programs: traditional media relations, a direct-to-consumer event, an online buzz campaign, sponsorship, promotions and contesting, etc. The bottom line is that if the impact of traditional media weakens, PR people will need to be more innovative in order to reach the audience that matters to them.

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