PR Face2Face:
Harris Diamond, CEO of Weber Shandwick

Full disclosure - I started my career at Shandwick International (through mergers it became Weber Shandwick) and worked at Weber Shandwick from February 2006 to October 2007 and where I formed some viewpoints on the industry.

Harris Diamond is chief executive officer of Weber Shandwick Worldwide, the world's leading public relations firm. He became CEO of Weber Shandwick in 2001, when Interpublic acquired his prior company, BSMG Worldwide. Weber Shandwick, which was selected as "Agency of the Year 2005" by both PRWeek and the Holmes Report, offers a full spectrum of communications services - corporate consulting, public relations, investor/financial relations, marketing communications, public affairs, government relations, attitudinal research and advocacy advertising.

Mr. Diamond also serves as CEO of the Constituency Management Group of the Interpublic Group of Companies (NYSE: IPG). The group includes IPGs companies in the areas of public relations, public affairs, entertainment and sports marketing and corporate/brand identity. The group's companies provide services on six continents, in more than 60 major cities and have approximately 5,000 employees.

PRWeek selected Mr. Diamond as "PR Professional of the Year, 2000" and one of the "100 most influential PR people in the 20th century". He was also named "1999 CEO All Star" by Reputation Management Magazine.

Regarded as one of the industry's leading experts in corporate and industry positioning, Mr. Diamond has counseled Fortune 500 companies that were undergoing profound changes or facing intense public scrutiny. While specializing in crisis and change management, he also provides ongoing strategic communications counsel to an array of clients, including several industry and trade associations.

Mr. Diamond is a director of Caremark RX (NYSE:CMX), a leading prescription benefits manager. He is also a board member of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Chairman of the Council of Public Relations Firms, the U.S. trade association for public relations agencies. He is also a trustee of the Arthur W. Page Society. Previously, he served as a political campaign consultant, working on U.S. gubernatorial and senatorial campaigns and advising foreign governments and political parties. He has held senior positions in the public sector, including confidential assistant to the district attorney for Brooklyn, New York. Mr. Diamond holds both MBA and JD degrees, and is a member of the New York State Bar. He frequently speaks on management of corporate reputation and crises at industry and company forums.

Harris Diamond, CEO, Weber Shandwick Worldwide Posted by Hello

How did you get your start in PR?

Like a lot of people, it was more accidental than planned.

I was a political consultant working on a lot of different campaigns, and a corporate leader asked for assistance on issues they were facing, and the next thing you know I was doing corporate communications. So, I started working in the business.

Weber Shandwick was recently named PRWeek's Agency of the Year for 2005 [Opens to PDF] - what do you credit for that success?

A terrific staff, very good clients. More than anything else, it's about our people, their willingness to go the extra mile for our clients.

We also were named by Paul Holmes as Agency of the Year, and won the same accolades from Advertising Age - it's a trifecta for us. It's just recognition of where we are today. However the truth is that the next day you have to start all over again. We are honored by it, but we recognize that everyday we need to sing for our supper, prove our worth for our clients.

Which campaign - either political or PR - do you have the most pride in and see as your greatest success?

The great thing about being in my job is that I can't answer that question. I am proud of all our campaigns, proud of all the work being done for our clients.

You are part of the executive board for IPG and the CEO of Constituency Management Group for IPG. What place does PR and Weber Shandwick have in an advertising conglomerate?

It's pretty sizable. If you look at PR overall, we are important as an overall percentage of the business and the clients we have at IPG.

What advice would you give a student entering into PR right now?

It's not different today than it was in the past. The best background is to have an understanding of how people communicate and how they receive information. Public relations is about how to influence the agenda setters. We use intermediary tactics to reach a diverse audience.

Whether it is TV, traditional media, bloggers - what is going to make your information stand out is the execution and the way you reach the audience. At the end of the day, you have to have an understanding of how to influence. You have to have an understanding of how to get attention.

The offices we have are diverse. The broadest background possible is the best for public relations. We have lawyers, journalists, nutritionists, high tech - because it takes all types to run a PR firm and to run accounts. That's the great thing about our business, that there's room for all types.

IPG quickly merged many firms - Benjamin, BSMG, Weber Group, FRB - to form Weber Shandwick. How did Weber Shandwick merge all the conflicting corporate cultures into one agency mindset?

I became CEO in 2001 - responsible for BSMG and Weber Shandwick - and within those main groups we had a lot of different companies. The fundamental belief was to put clients first, understand the clients' ultimate objectives.

Weber Shandwick is a firm whose philosophy is based on the theory that success for the client will translate into success for the firm.

It is important to recognize that our one goal, one outcome, is client success. Also I like to believe that our individual offices and individual practice areas culturally are all slightly diverse. People in China are different from people in LA, and we celebrate those differences. It's about understanding and reaching the target audiences. It takes different people to reach different constituents, and that is what is good about diverse backgrounds.

But, there is one overall uniform theme for all the offices: we define success as achieving the clients' goals.

I recently spoke to many members of Weber Shandwick and everyone brought up their legacies. I'm from Miller/Shandwick, or I'm from Benjamin, or I'm from Shandwick. How do you get people to think of themselves as just from Weber Shandwick, and what affect do these legacy claims have for new hires into the agency?

We have just been honored by the trifecta - Holmes Report, Advertising Age and PRWeek. We have a very high retention rate and very senior staff. We celebrate our differences. It takes a lot of ingredients to make a good pot of soup.

Blogging has become a big issue in PR, with many firms launching practices and blogs themselves. Recent examples include the Hass MS&L Blogworks practice and blog, Richard Edelman's blog, Bite PR's blog. What are Weber Shandwick's plans for the blogosphere, or practices? Does anyone blog at the agency, and since it is getting more press, are you getting requests from clients?

We do work, and have worked with clients, on how to address issues within the blogs. We have education campaigns, and now have RSS feeds on all our clients, on all the data we put out for our agency and our clients.

e don't announce individual practices as they are just part of our internal strengths. We are a large firm that has practice groups for every specific need a client might have. We have lots of intellectual capital to apply to clients' issues.

We do a tremendous amount of education concerning blogs, on what is appropriate and inappropriate, how to utilize blogs, how to help clients with blogs. Today it's driven more in the US than overseas. Over time, we believe this will change.

The most important thing is that we focus on what our clients need.

As PR has been under fire as of late, what do you see as the biggest issues for PR in 2005 and beyond? What about the return of the dot-com mentality in the Bay Area?

I'm chair of the Council of PR Firms, and I wouldn't say public relations is under fire. There have been one or two issues that have been raised. The Annenberg Study that has just been released shows that the relationship with the C-level suite for public relations is better than it has ever been.

As a business, public relations is in very good shape, it is continuing to grow, and we will see more opportunities.

There are issues, but these are no different than other issues that have come up. I don't buy into it that there are more problems today than before. There are always spin doctor issues, issues about how PR works - it's only natural. It's similar with advertising and other marketing practices. Public relations is in the best shape it's been in since 2001.

As for the Bay Area, our business is very good right now - we have just won BEA as a client, we have Cisco as a client. We see the tech segment as growing. It's a good business and continues to come back. Not seeing the froth we saw in 1999, 2000, though.

Any final words or advice for the readers?

I am a believer and proponent of the industry.

Blogs show how the world is changing, that while the vehicles we use today to communicate are important, new communication tools are fundamental to gain new ground on how information is getting out there, how it is disbursed to the public.

It is incumbent for PR firms to recognize that the rules are changing, they are not fixed. As an agency, we are looking at that.

Product reviews? Employee communications? We all see change coming down the pike, and as an industry we have to be equipped to give advice and counsel on the answers. It's a fast moving field.

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  1. Great interview! From a student perspective, it was intriguing to see what it takes to make a PR firm excel. Mr. Diamond stressed the importance of a diverse background in order to satisfy your client with a successful campaign. Definitely good advice to remember.

  2. Great interview, Jeremy. I used to work for this guy as an low underling. (Saw him in the halls.) There is not doubt he is obviously one of the smartest communications professionals alive.


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