Q&A with Hugh Braithwaite, Founder of Braithwaite Communications
Today, an interview with PR and Crisis Communications expert, Hugh Braithwaite. Over twenty years ago, in 1997, Hugh Braithwaite founded Braithwaite Communications, a PR and Communications agency in Philadelphia. In 2020, Braithwaite Communications offers services including Public Relations and Crisis, Content Marketing, Internal Communications, Branding and Graphic Design, Digital and Social Media Marketing, and has just been named one of Forbes top 200 agencies in the U.S.
Where did your journey with Public Relations begin?
I was eager to move to New York and join a big firm there, which I did, leading national launches for Pharma products and conducting media training across the country. So, I was knee deep in PR very early on. Funny thing is, PR then was paper driven. I distinctly remember hand-stuffing press kits and rushing down to the late FedEx collection point, then waiting a day or two to make a follow up call to give the reporter time to open the mail. The formats and pace have changed, but the fundamentals are stronger than ever. The best campaigns are still story-based. And although media has redefined and refreshed the way we consume information, PR is now more relevant than ever: faster, smarter, more connected and more measured.
How does COVID-19 compare to the other crises you’ve seen over the years?
This was by far the biggest impact to the way we live and work. Unlike other large national crises, COVID-19 triggered immediate and universal impacts across all sectors – PR, media relations, digital ads, internal comms, ads, events and webinars. Similar to 9/11, we saw a huge surge in our crisis management work. Companies of all sizes were asking us to help build communications plans and programs and to prepare them for all kinds of negative scenarios. While some clients pulled back, the uptick in crisis and employee engagement work has exploded. I think something like COVID-19 is helping to train a whole new crop of CEOs on how vulnerable business can be.
Has Crisis Communication, specifically for legal teams, always been a passion of yours?
Yes. We often joke that we split our time keeping half our clients in the news, and the other half out of the news. Crisis work is the same skill set, but moves at hyper speed with much higher stakes. Our crisis work has always been a significant focus for our agency, but it’s taken on new urgency in recent years. I’ve seen it play out countless times over the years – when a crisis hits, a brand’s first response is to go silent. More and more legal teams are realizing that “no comment” has no place in a modern crisis communications strategy. It’s some of the most challenging and rewarding work we do. I’m proud to share our latest eBook,Crisis Management for Legal Teams – Managing the Brand in Tough Times. It’s a new playbook built on the hundreds of crises we’ve help brands navigate over the years.
Have you engaged your professional knowledge or skills through any other outlets?
Yes, in two primary ways. First academically. Since 2002 I have had the pleasure of being a guest lecturer at theWharton School of the University of Pennsylvania teaching crisis communications, public relations and corporate storytelling. This year, as you can imagine, the students were hyper focused on discussing new strategies and content marketing techniques to help brands overcome the impact of COVID-19. I also found myself deploying best practices in PR, content and marketing in my personal life, helping friends and family members overcome their own mini issues. When lives are disrupted in any way, good communications becomes a primary focus.
Braithwaite Communications has a strong storytelling influence, where does that originate from for you?
For me, storytelling comes from a very personal place — my family kitchen table. Growing up in a loud Irish family, all five kids and both parents were master storytellers. Similar to the content marketing and PR field, in my family you had to earn your spot to tell your story. There was no pay to play. If your story wasn’t funny, surprising, compelling or well timed, you would lose the floor and their attention. Today, those are the exact same attributes of good media. Whether we’re talking to Wawa or Merck, we tell all our clients that paid media is the price brands pay when they lack a good story.