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What the Flack? Kris Naidl on Rolling with Change
Advertising Agency
Chicago, USA
Executive vice president and managing director of Laughlin Constable Public Relations on establishing thought leaders, navigating a crisis and collaboration

Kris Naidl, APR, is the executive vice president and managing director of Laughlin Constable Public Relations (LCPR). She is Accredited in Public Relations (APR) and specialises in strategic communications, media relations, publicity, crisis communications and public affairs. LCPR is the full-service PR agency that operates within the integrated personal experiences agency of Laughlin Constable.

LBB> Tell us about your current role and what you do?

Kris> I am fortunate to head up Laughlin Constable Public Relations, where we provide full-service public relations and public affairs services within our integrated personal brand experiences agency Laughlin Constable.

LBB> And how did you get to where you are today?

Kris> I worked in media, state government and non-profit community relations before catching the agency bug. In the mid-1990s, I was the first employee at a new Midwest start up agency that flourished and grew to become one of the top independent PR agencies in the nation. After 18 years there, Laughlin Constable acquired that firm in 2012 and the rest is history. 

LBB> What does your average day look like? 

Kris> No such thing in PR and that is what I love about it – the variety, breaking news, quick turn opportunities, newsjacking and more. But most days start at the crack of dawn catching up on the overnight news happenings and getting a handle on the news of the day. Often that sets off some quick responses, outreach to clients or actions for the team to jump on. We are a hybrid office, but most days I head into one of our two offices or am off site to meet with a client. Some days may be a media training session, others are filled with meetings and account check-ins. If we have a media event or market activation, I will stop by those as well.

LBB> For your organisation, what is the key function of PR and comms? Is it about company culture? Attracting clients? Empowering talent? Something else?

Kris> Laughlin Constable Public Relations is a full-service public relations firm that operates as a part of the overarching agency. We service most of Laughlin Constable clients’ PR needs and also represent dozens of clients that turn to us specifically for our PR and public affairs expertise. Those PR clients range from some of the largest consultancies and pharmaceutical companies in the world to national CPG and entertainment brands and financial institutions to regional clients celebrating an anniversary, adding locations, addressing legislation or facing a crisis communications situation.

LBB> PR has always been about finding the story / finding the angle. What is your process for staying ahead of the content curve and serving up something fresh and engaging? 

Kris> Listen, read, watch and be ultra curious. I think a good PR person is always absorbing news, trends, conversations and thinking “how could that relate to my client” and then knowing how to move fast. I like to hire very curious people with great resourcefulness and often with media experience because they have a nose for news and know how to make it.

LBB> Historically Advertising folk have a very different relationship with the media, especially the press, than PR folk. Advertising is about buying ad space and being able to dictate how and where something is presented - that’s a degree of control you can barely dream of in PR. Does that tension still exist, and if so how do you navigate that tension?  

Kris> I don’t consider it tension but instead a great opportunity to educate how we as PR practitioners  need to work very differently with the media and also how those two approaches, while different, can best serve the brand or our clients.  

LBB> And what other common misconception do you advertising/production people have about comms and PR?

Kris> One thing that I sense often is that PR just stands for “press release” and that is much too simplistic a view. Public relations and public affairs pros have a big toolbox of strategies to weave together to impact opinion, raise awareness, protect or improve reputation, establish thought leaders, navigate a crisis and more.

LBB> To what extent do you feel 'the work speaks for itself'? To what stage of growth can a business rely on this mantra to gain more clients? 

Kris> Reporting media – whether ad trade or gen pop – are stretched thin, far and wide, with more and more content creation demands on them, so taking a “sit back and wait strategy” is not one I would bet on as a business. Yes, some creative or strategy work is going to get attention because of controversy, celebrities or buzz worthiness, but most campaigns can and should consider PR – in the broadest sense – as part of their strategy whether that is earned media, influencers, strategic partnerships and more.

LBB> When it comes to getting coverage/PR for a creative campaign in the consumer press, how should creative teams go about working with their agency’s comms and PR experts?  

Kris> I think the best advice is to collaborate early on and consider what the story could be related to that campaign and what news elements are needed to really make it stand out. Even some amazing work, be that strategy, creative or media, may not be newsworthy from an earned media standpoint, but with an element added through the eyes of PR, such as timing, a partnership or a role for the public, it more likely will be.

LBB> When a business is faced with very bad news, what’s the key to getting through it? 

Kris> I think there are several guidelines and strategies to consider, including:

* Apologise if an apology is need and don’t do it halfway

* Tell it first, tell it all, and tell it fast

* If you don’t serve as a source of information, others certainly will

* Lawyers have important views to consider but there are two courts that can be at play around bad news - the court of law and the court of public opinion. Don’t ignore the latter.

* Bad things happen at and to good companies and brands. It is how the situation is handled that people will remember, not that it happened. 

LBB> Generally speaking, how do you approach the hack/flack relationship? 

Kris> I really despise the terms. I have always tried to see the relationship as both sides needing one another and while sometimes the two have different goals, if you start from a place of respect, know the rules of engagement and are always honest, there can be great success.

LBB> How does doing comms/PR/marketing for the advertising/production [as appropriate] world differ from any other industry you’ve worked in? 

Kris> Day in and day out at our agency we do both – PR for dozens of brands and organisations and also PR for our agency and its work – and every client and industry is a little different. Law and engineering clients are different than medical or education clients and CPG brands differ from financial and professional services like advertising. But the beauty of doing PR in the agency world is exactly that – the variety. 

LBB> What are the most useful tools in the arsenal of a PR / comms professional working in advertising / creative industries right now?

Kris> The PR toolbox is big and finding just the right tool or tools for the job is the key to success. One cannot just rely on the ol’ hammer and wrench for every job, and improvising, combining tools, or crafting a new tool is what keeps it fresh and successful.

LBB> In your opinion, how has the role of a PR / Comms professional evolved during your career span? Have things changed greatly or do core tasks / principles remain the same? 

Kris> I have been in the business for many years, and I have seen many changes. I think many of the same principles of good PR have remained the same – always be honest, your reputation is the only thing you can count on, be a source of information, and value relationships. The biggest changes have been in the media's increased reliance on content sources, explosion of delivery channels and methods, and the non-stop news cycle of today. 

LBB> What frustrates you about the way the media and PR have changed over the years? 

Kris> Certainly, there has been change but you have to roll with it and adjust. I am not frustrated by the changes, but rather feel challenged and inspired to be creative, develop or try new tools and find winning solutions. 

LBB> And what excites you?

Kris> Professional opportunities to work with smart clients who appreciate creativity, have passion for their product and industry, and value what PR can bring to the table, is exciting for me and our team. 

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