Name: Chris Lee
Company: Silvester & Finch
Job title: Founder/CEO
Did you go to university?
I went to Coventry University and the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain). I studied European Studies as I wanted to be a travel journalist – like many people, I’m sure.
In a way, I got there in a roundabout way; I spent two years as a tech journalist early on – an excellent grounding for any PR professional, which I will come back to later – and have run a couple of travel blogs over the years, one of which – football travel blog, Outside Write – is growing well.
PR never really came into my uni plans (this was the mid-late 1990s) and social media was really just chat rooms, so I kind of fell into PR.
The public Internet was less than a decade old when I entered PR.
What was your first job in PR?
To get into media after uni I took an office manager role at a boutique tech PR agency, moving up to account executive. That set me on the path as I made contacts in the tech press and jumped over to journalism while salaries were still comparable.
The public Internet was less than a decade old when I entered PR. There were very few online publications and clients were still posting or faxing press releases.
Many didn’t regard online as ‘coverage’. Imagine that now!
I see the movement toward integrated comms as a key pivot in my career.
How did you get from there to your current role?
I launched my own integrated communications, content copywriting and digital skills consultancy in January 2016, aimed at plugging the gaps that many agencies and in-house communications teams struggle with in this fast-evolving and fragmented media landscape.
The benefits of the UK PR industry is that it’s really entrepreneurial and in really good shape. There are always opportunities, always people looking to innovate.
I’ve been lucky to work with some great people over the years, like Stephen Waddington and Steve Earl at what was then Rainier PR (now Speed Communications). It was at Rainier where I migrated towards integrated comms, getting under the skin of SEO and social media as Twitter started emerging and Facebook broke out of universities and into the mainstream, bloggers were also gaining in stature.
I see the movement toward integrated comms as a key pivot in my career. We were really early compared to many PR agencies.
In recent years, I’ve alternated between freelancing and a couple of attractive agency roles, working on some major global brands’ digital campaigns, including Philips, Ubisoft and Hilton.
Until recently I led digital skills development across 20+ countries worldwide at Grayling. I spent three great years there and went to some amazing places before launching Silvester & Finch.
What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
Day-by-day it varies, so I’d say a typical week could include two or three days consulting and copywriting, one day training, and one day honing my training materials and marketing Silvester & Finch, be that blogging, meeting people face-to-face or doing interviews like this!
What do you like most about working in PR?
Variety. No two days are the same. It’s such an exciting time at the moment as so many elements that were once siloed are coming together; paid, earned, shared, owned media etc.
Also, the way Google’s algorithm works has put even more value on what PR could do best: gain diverse and authoritative inbound links and mentions, and creating great content.
PR agencies need to add SEO metrics to what they do, and a lot of impact is measurable.
What’s the hardest thing about working in PR?
PR is a highly pressured job, no doubt about it. That’s why if you’re starting out in your career, joining an agency with a really good culture is absolutely critical.
Going freelance does take confidence
Who is your PR inspiration?
Honestly, I don’t really have one! But I do have special respect for people I know on the circuit who built their own agencies up and are either still running them or have sold them, and the experienced freelancers that I trust. Going freelance does take confidence.
Other than that, I look more to SEO, advertising and wider marketing people, as they are areas our industry needs to learn from.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given?
My first boss said; “PR is just common sense, it’s about people”, and that is so true. The problem with common sense is that it’s not that common…
Which PR blogs, news sites and websites etc do you read?
Of the feeds in my NetVibes, my favourites are Econsultancy, for whom I’ve done some work, Moz and State of Digital is also great. Many agency blogs are really worth a follow, like We Are Social and Fresh Egg, for example.
What are your tips for aspiring PRs?
– Stay curious
– Build up your own online profile
– Network, network, network: You can never know too many people
– Look for a good culture with forward-thinking leaders: You can research your future employers on social media and Glassdoor
– Don’t do/say anything stupid online: what goes on social stays on Google…
– Think integrated: how reputation is managed and audiences informed over the whole journey – online/offline, search, social etc.