Described as a brand developer and marketer who loves ideas, Karan Chadda founded Evolving Influence in 2014 to develop marketing frameworks, analytics and content that help build stronger businesses. As the director of Evolving Influence, Karan has worked across digital and traditional channels, helping brand personalities and implement systems that foster strong relationships. In this PR spotlight, Karan chats to us about why he thinks agency overheads are too costly, why he’s hoping to see more creativity in the B2B industry, why he think there is too much talk of strategy in PR, and why agencies need to change the way they engage with audiences on social media.
Can you introduce yourself and speak a little about your professional background? My route into the industry wasn’t particularly straightforward. I interned at an international development charity editing its website, writing blogs and publishing newsletters. Then I worked in recruitment, finding staff for MPs, Peers, Clarence House and lobbying firms. I carried on editing the charity website on the side.
I moved to a sales and marketing role at Populus, a reputation research consultancy, then moved to Racepoint Global in a European marketing role and then moved to Hanover Communications focusing on the agency’s brand and marketing. Essentially, it’s a path from sales to marketing and communications. I think the sales bit is particularly important. It gave me a real insight into relationship building and trust at a very early stage in a somewhat unforgiving environment.
Why did you decide to set up Evolving Influence? There were three reasons. The first was that I think project-based work is the most interesting and it’s the future. Clients increasingly have internal capacity to do the day to day, but support on big projects and capacity building.
Secondly, I think agency overheads are too costly and clients’ needs are incredibly varied. To me, the best way to address that is to build a strong network of partners, bringing in the right skills for every project. No mark ups, no kickbacks. Instead, it’s better to charge for proper project management that manages costs and timelines. It means we can deliver animations or websites without having that resource as a permanent overhead. Importantly, it also gets away from the idea that things like websites are generic goods. Different types of website require different designers and a different approach.
Finally, I love pitching work, I love meeting people and I’ve always wanted to work for myself, so it was always going to happen at some point.
What do you most like about being the director at Evolving Influence? And what are the challenges? The best bit is working with senior management and business owners to make their businesses materially stronger. At the senior level, decisions are fast and feedback is direct.
In terms of challenges, I think the biggest one is keeping up-to-speed with technology. I often joke with friends at larger agencies that Facebook will pop into their offices for a lunchtime pizza and talk through its ad platform. I’ll get the same information by poring over that platform after the working day is done. It’s lucky that I’m technology-obsessed so it’s an enjoyable evening for me.
What key trends do you think we will see in relation to how brands create content in 2017?
I think the biggest change this year will be in brands beginning to realise they don’t have to do everything. They’re going to be more discerning, they’re going to question the data (a little) more and they’re going to ask more of their suppliers.
Hopefully, 2017 will see the death of FOMO. On the B2B front, I’m hoping to see more creativity. It’s always been the poor cousin of the industry but there’s huge potential to do some really eye-brow raising and business building work.
What strategies should PRs apply to create effective campaigns? My tip would be to use the word strategy a lot less. There’s too much talk of strategy in PR. Media strategies, digital strategies, how many strategies does a campaign need? All you need is a solid insight, a good idea, a client’s trust and bold implementation.
Evolving Influence works across digital and traditional channels, helping to develop brand personalities and implement systems that foster stronger relationships. Could you explain how you go about doing this? We start out, no doubt like every other agency, looking at where the client’s business is going and what their objective is. We also try to see what’s preventing them from achieving that. Then our aim is to help them reach their objective faster than they otherwise would.
At the outset, there’s normally a chunk of research involved. We pore over any data we can, conduct interviews, really get to know the business. Then we work with senior leadership to build lasting solutions. That might be a new brand, it could be refining branding and collateral, it could be improving social media processes and internal capacity, or it could be helping to devise and run a campaign.
We focus on relationships because most of our clients are consultancies of one form or another and really marketing for consultancies is all about building relationships.
As you know strong relationships are at the heart of PR. So, what can PRs do in 2017 to build stronger relationships with their clients? Nothing beats meeting in person. I see my clients as often as I can and show genuine interest in their business. Not just the comms or marketing bit, but all of it. Sometimes, particularly at the start of a project, I work in their offices to get to know their team and understand the atmosphere.
Really, the question should be seen as how to build stronger relationships with people. The answer is simple, show an interest and be interesting.
Demonstrating the impact and value of your public relations with automated charts and graphs, strategic analysis and insights are highly important. Can you speak on the importance of services like Vuelio that help PRs to examine their analytics and demonstrate ROI? I think the most useful thing about automating reports is that they build consistency into reporting. With data, the trends are the interesting bit, much more so than a single month-on-month. This all assumes your reporting is tailored to your campaign objectives. The only caveat that I’d make is that you really need to understand how your data is compiled, that’s an upfront investment in time that you cannot afford to skip.
What advice what you give to PR agencies who want to boost their social media presence this year? Know what you want to achieve, be interesting and go beyond your business.
Too often, agency social media accounts are just a string self-promotional tweets which have been retweeted by everyone at the agency their immediate family. Look at what you stand for as a firm. Pick an idea and build it.
I’ve run a data poetry project, called Poetry by Numbers, we produced some great work and in the process, I met some really cool people. I set it up because I work with data a lot, because the language around data is terrible and because it was a solid creative idea that I liked.
Similarly, Stephen Waddington and I recently set up a business book club called Read.Think.Discuss. where we and others read and review business books. It came about because we’re interested in the future of the communications business and wanted a forum where we could think about it and discuss it. We’ll be holding some events with authors later this year.
Have a useful idea or a theme and run with it.
What’s next for you? Will you be working on any exciting projects? For us 2017 is a year of sector expansion. We’ve been working on building an understanding of the accountancy and legal sectors and we’ll be sharing research and building a presence in those sectors. I believe they are two sectors long overdue fresh creative ideas.