As the chief engagement officer at Hotwire PR, John Brown oversees innovation and digital communications, helping his clients to creatively engage their audiences by providing creative counsel ranging from start-ups to publicly traded businesses. Reflecting on his professional background, John says that he has always been fascinated by communications and has spent most of his career working in the industry. In this spotlight interview, John Brown talks to us about the challenges of living in the age of immediacy, the pressure it puts on brands to respond quickly to customers, the importance of pushing boundaries, and how virtual reality and analytics will impact PR in 2017.
Can you introduce yourself and speak a little about your professional background? Communications has always fascinated me. How brands communicate with people and how people communicate with each other is a source of constant learning, it’s what prompted me to get into comms.
I’ve been working in the industry for the best part of a decade now. Always agency side but embedded into clients from Virgin Media Business through to Intel Security, De La Rue and Wellcome Trust.
I should say though, my communications skills have been most tested since my son turned two. My wife and I are still trying to work out the best way to get him to stop terrorising the cat.
What do you most like about being the Head of Engagement at Hotwire? And what are the challenges? I have to say, I have a pretty bloody wonderful role at Hotwire. I’d say it’s the best bits of the industry. Creative thinking, developing comms strategies and sniffing out shiny innovations to make the whole thing a better experience. That’s my day-to-day job and it’s a great job to have. Of course, it does have its challenges, primarily around there being enough time in the day.
We live in the age of immediacy and as audiences demand a better communications experience, brands are having to react quicker than before.
Also, understanding the difference between data and insight throws up a challenge. A lot of people think they have insight. They don’t. They barely have information. Most of the time, they just have data, so working people through that can be quite a challenge.
Since Hotwire was founded it has been one of the fastest growing communications agencies in the world, why do you think this is? Simple, our culture. Whenever we expand and grow we take the whole Hotwire family with us. Sure, it’s a global agency with offices from Sydney to San Francisco, but it’s an agency that lives and dies by its people and its culture and so we’ve ensured that every step of the way we’ve maintained a tight family like feel to the business.
That’s helped us to evolve and expand quickly and effectively whilst maintaining the quality and experience that originally made the agency great.
How do you help clients improve their digital communications and engage their audiences? Help them to first understand their audience. That’s half the battle right there. A lot of the work we do starts by ripping up misconceptions around the client’s audience and then working with them to rebuild the customer personas and desired experiences. From there, we identify the channels the client needs to be on and the content they need to be producing. Once you have a clear view of which digital channels a client’s customers are on, the rest falls into place.
Hotwire has been described as not being afraid to do things differently to shake up the way communications is delivered. How does this impact and influence the work you do as the Head of Engagement at Hotwire? We want every client we work with and every member of Hotwire to feel as though they are ‘up to something’. It’s that sense of pushing boundaries and challenging the norm that we love. Now, that must be balanced out with a sense of clear purpose and direction to be effective.
A creative idea which is not rooted in insight or a clear purpose is a bit like breaking wind at a dinner party, people will notice but you won’t be thanked for it. So, we look to challenge the client to think differently and challenge ourselves to bring our ideas and strategies back to business outcomes.
What are some of the best campaigns you’ve worked on and why? We recently worked with Dundee University to answer some interesting questions: How are teenagers using social media? And how does a university make use of its channels to engage with them? That proved interesting as it shattered some stereotypes and astonished us with what platforms, content and individuals the audience was engaging with.
Our recent work with Travelex has also been incredibly exciting, with the likes of our Luxury for Less campaign involving everything from some serious development work through to a great creative concept. I am delighted to say that the team is up for an award for this work.
As the Head of Engagement at Hotwire, how can PRs improve engagement with their campaigns in 2017? They can get more comfortable with business outcomes and more intelligent about audience identification and research.
I think we’re the best storytellers and creatives in the marketing industry. We just need to get boardroom ready and that will come through having the guts to put the business at the heart of our campaigns and the fortitude to stop ‘responding’ to briefs and start consulting.
What are the latest digital trends that you think will have the biggest impact on the PR industry this year? Artificial Intelligence – we’re going to automate the mundane tasks so we can focus on the high-value high impact work.
VR – We’ll be able to allow people to experience our campaigns from anywhere in the world
Analytics – We’ll need analytics to provide us with the insights to inspire us and the proof to get us paid
You work with lots of high profile brands. What has been your strategy when it comes to building successful and sustainable business relationships? Total and utter honesty.
It’s simple, but it’s disarming and, unfortunately in this post-factual era, rare. By starting a business relationship with all cards on the table you’re able to move forward swiftly and without fear.
What’s been your proudest achievement at Hotwire PR? Building and working with an outstanding team of people who constantly put me in my place and challenge me.
What’s next for you? Will you be working on any exciting projects in 2017? I’m having another baby in May so navigating Ikea furniture instructions will be a challenge.
Professionally, it’s all about building propositions around the clients we have, focused on the innovation that’s taking place in the market and moulding careers around the people at Hotwire. Also, building a bloody great big chair for comms professionals to sit in at the boardroom table.