Intellectual Leadership: The Weber Shandwick Roundtable
Charting the future of public relations
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Intellectual Leadership: The Weber Shandwick Roundtable

In 2000, Weber Shandwick Worldwide’s NY office launched a groundbreaking marketing initiative with the aim of promoting the firm through intellectual leadership—as well as promoting the practice of public relations as an ideas-based, substantive industry.

Paul Holmes


 

In 2000, Weber Shandwick Worldwide’s NY office launched a groundbreaking marketing initiative with the aim of promoting the firm through intellectual leadership—as well as promoting the practice of public relations as an ideas-based, substantive industry. The “Weber Shandwick Roundtable” features discussions about the most pressing issues of the day with some of the most prominent figures in business, government, international affairs and academia. 


 

By inviting to each quarterly event clients, potential clients, and “movers and shakers” from New York’s business, cultural, and media opinion leaders, Weber Shandwick has seen a boon in business, and has, importantly, elevated the profession in the eyes of the world’s most elite audiences.


 

The highest ideal of public relations is to improve the quality and substance of public discourse-over a policy, a product, a person, or an idea. Public relations, unlike any other discipline, can distinguish these interests amid the information age’s incessant competition for the attention and support of people. Maligned by some as capricious or vapid, public relations in fact provides an important public service.


 

Weber Shandwick’s aim is to achieve the highest potential for itself and for the industry by contributing ideas to its clients and to the world.  To be a thinker’s PR firm that will attract quality clients and employees, fill a void in the market, and enjoy a unique status in a more-respected industry.


 

The “Weber Shandwick Roundtable” has done just that. Our roster of guest speakers in the 2000 series is a “Who’s Who” of global leaders and thinkers: United States Trade Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky addressed 200 business leaders at the Waldorf Astoria on normalized trade with China; Blackstone Group Chairman, NY Federal Reserve Bank Chairman, and former US Commerce Secretary Peter G. Peterson discussed the Social Security crisis before a packed room at the Harvard Club; and Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon addressed a group of top VIPs and journalists at Weber Shandwick’s NY offices. The series continues on March 13, 2001 when Pulitzer Prize winning historian and JFK advisor Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. will discuss his memoirs at a Harvard Club dinner event.


 

Weber Shandwick Worldwide is also a corporate member of The Council on Foreign Relations, the nation’s premier international affairs organization. Council members include CEOs, major media figures, and nearly all cabinet-level officials, past and present, responsible for international matters.  WSW invites clients and prospective clients to many of the nearly 70 targeted Council programs yearly around the country, and leverages the Council’s power to convene the world’s leaders and thinkers to create unmatched networking opportunities for our executives.


 

CHALLENGES:         


 

In developing our marketing initiative, we focused on two key challenges to effectively marketing a PR agency. First is that beyond trade publicity, it is difficult to differentiate PR brands among broad audiences. Agencies help make news; rarely are they the story itself. PR advertising, to our minds, presents a mixed message about the value of public relations. As Marshall McCluhan said, “The message is the medium.”


 

Second, as clients are becoming more sophisticated about intellectual leadership and its relationship to bottom line competitive advantage, so must public relations professionals.  But there is a challenge in demonstrating such leadership in an industry as dynamic and service-oriented as public relations. Establishing intellectual leadership requires breaking fixed impressions about the industry, namely, that it is non-substantive.


 

RESEARCH :


 

In 2000, Weber Shandwick’s new business/marketing department contracted with New York’s University’s Stern Consulting Group to determine the perception of the agency and the industry in the NY market and determined that:


 

1. Overall, public relations is not considered a “substantive” industry among clients and media

2. Clients are increasingly cognizant that demonstrating intellectual leadership provides competitive advantage in the marketplace.

3. Weber Shandwick could establish a unique identity and competitive advantage by tapping into and adding to NY’s considerable intellectual resources


 

STRATEGIC APPROACH:


 

The Stern Consulting Group’s research findings informed our strategic approach to marketing.  Weber Shandwick noted the gap between the increased demands among clients for intellectual leadership credentials and the void in this area among PR firms.


 

Weber Shandwick has aspired to become identified with and lead NY’s intellectual establishment by developing top-flight, original programming, particularly in areas with distinct communications overtones.  For example, when we organized a panel of biotechnology CEOs at the Economic Strategy Institute’ 2000 Global Forum in Washington, DC, a Weber Shandwick executive served as moderator, and kept the panel focused on the distinct communications challenges facing the industry in the court of world opinion.


 

CAMPAIGN EXECUTION:


 

The “Weber Shandwick Roundtable” was developed and is led by Weber Shandwick SVP Mike Holtzman. Holtzman, a former top communications advisor in the Clinton Administration, executes Roundtable programming on a quarterly basis, tapping a rolodex of contacts and an instinct for timely, compelling topics.


 

Each event is managed as if it were a client’s event. We issue press releases to key media, and leverage national celebrity columnists to generate buzz for the firm and the event. We “personalize” the event for clients by having their agency contacts extend them invitations.  Furthermore, a dozen seats are held for prospective clients and VIPs invited by our top executives. Finally, a Weber Shandwick executive typically serves as Master of Ceremonies, and each event is well-branded (Pete Peterson’s book launch featured Weber Shandwick bookmarks).


 

Weber Shandwick minimizes its marketing budget by leveraging the firm’s existing relationships with major speaking venues and, when appropriate, co-sponsoring events.


 

SUMMARY OF RESULTS/BUSINESS RESULTS


The perceptual shift toward the agency and the industry is tangible-new clients are coming to Weber Shandwick specifically for our ability to grasp the big issues and trends, and our understanding of the communications challenges and opportunities that underlie them.  From major universities and foundations to think tanks and visionary CEOs-our intellectual leadership in the marketing realm is bearing fruit on our business ledger.

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