Q & A With Jennifer Risi, Founder and President of The Sway Effect.

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The Sway Effect is a network of independent marketing and communications agencies. At the heart of its work, The Sway Effect is focused on “swaying” opinion and influencing outcomes on behalf of clients while putting diversity, equity and inclusion at the center of everything.

The Sway Effect partners with its clients – which sit across various industries from healthcare and technology, to nonprofits and retail – to serve as an extension of their internal teams.

Following is a Q&A we conducted recently with Jennifer Risi, Founder and President of The Sway Effect. 

How did you get started in PR?

As a student at Barnard College at Columbia University, I set out to be a psychology major. I thought that I would be a therapist since I like people and I felt like I had an understanding of people’s emotional makeup. But one fateful day, I got a call to interview with a very large, global PR agency.  Not only did I not who the agency was, but I didn’t have the slightest idea of what a career in communications entailed. I took the chance to interview with the agency and got a job as an account coordinator. Within a few short months, I was hooked. It was then that I knew I was meant to be part of the PR industry. 

How did you move up from your first role in PR to Ogilvy’s Worldwide Chief Communications Officer to your role now?

Most of my career was spent moving up the ranks at large multinational agencies. I was curious, collaborative, humble, authentic, and most of all, I worked hard. But sometimes, working hard in the PR industry is not enough to move you ahead.

I found early on in my career that two things were helping my success. First off, I was lucky to have sponsors – the people that say nice things about you when you are not in the room; the people that are your advocates on the inside. Secondly, I realized that I needed to promote the hard work I was doing myself. I did a lot of self-promotion and made sure to also advocate for myself. 

By doing this, I was able to move up the ranks. The work was truly fun and challenging at these agencies. But at a certain point I had an urge to create a company that was aligned to my vision of putting diversity and inclusion into action. I wanted to create an agency that brands were excited to partner with. I wanted to shake up the PR industry with a new way of working. Out of this The Sway Effect was born.

How did you set to differentiate The Sway Effect from all the other PR agencies in our industry?

Reflecting feedback gathered from clients, peers and next generation talent, I set out create a new agency model. The Sway Effect was founded as a network of independent marketing and communciations agencies that gives brands access to the best and brightest talent anywhere in the industry and enables that talent to become an extension of a brand’s in-house team. 

With The Sway Effect, the cost, process, and hassle from working with a traditional agency is gone, and all that is left is great work. By building an agency that is nimble and committed to diversity and inclusion in both skill and talent – and, above all, accountable – I have been able to fully integrate my teams into clients’ strategic and daily operations.  

At the heart of our work, we are focused on “swaying” opinion and influencing outcomes on behalf of our clients while putting diversity, equity and inclusion at the center of everything that we do.

You started your agency in the summer of 2019 and a few months later the COVID-19 pandemic hit. So many PR agencies have faced challenges during this time. How has The Sway Effect faired?

Many people across the globe have experienced so much loss during this time. It certainly has been a challenging time for so many on a personal level. And on the business side, many industries, including PR, have struggled. 

From my point of view, I’ve never seen our team come together as we have during this time. We are coming up with creative ways to get the job done, and I would have to say the team has never been more dedicated – we are doing some of the best work that I have seen in my 20 years in the industry.

Now more than ever, clients want access to talent to serve as extensions of their teams without the cost and added bureaucracy. Agencies today need to be agile, adaptable, and always one step ahead of what a client might need. This new business landscape has created an opportunity for The Sway Effect to thrive. 

Many holding companies tout the success of their network. How is The Sway Effect’s network different?  
Our network of agencies and leaders span across the U.S., the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe. We are breaking down barriers by creating an environment that brings subject matter experts together to execute seamless, broad-reaching campaigns on behalf of brands across channels, across industries, and from anywhere in the world.

Inter-agency partnership is just where the collaborative process for The Sway Effect network begins. Most clients don’t have the patience or time to deal with the layers of processes that come from working with big agencies. 

Who are the agencies in your network?

We’ve assembled a global network of boutique agencies to bring a diverse mix of top-level talents to address client needs. At our launch, our founding partners were bSMART, GoDo Discovery Co., Good Scout, Markson IdeaCraft, Reilly Partners and Rogue Sunday.  From there, we have expanded our expertise and grown our international footprint, adding new partners, such as 357 Communications, Agean PR, Bonin Ventures, Cheryl Overton Communications, DLC Group, and our partners in Latin America, including Founders and Ontologie. 

Many PR practitioners are feeling challenged as the media industry continues to consolidate and more than ever opportunities become “pay for play.” How does your agency work through this? 

In essence, we are a high-level communications shop, providing top-to-top strategic counsel and strategy to CEOs and Heads of State the world over. We specialize in “UBER media,” the media other media listen to. We have the unique ability to serve as the bridge between what our clients want to say and what the media wants to cover.

But we are a lot more than our media relations skills – we are a full-service network that can provide answers to whatever a brand’s challenge may be. We offer capabilities in PR and influence, brand marketing, creative, social impact, research & measurement, and DEI programming. We’ve also recently expanded to include a data & analytics offering via creative machine learnings and digital communications.

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