With the advent of social media, today, anyone can be a journalist - Jennifer Risi, Ogilvy

Risi, Worldwide Chief Communications Officer, Ogilvy on the importance of being proactive and reactive in a ‘forever on’ digital world

e4m by Naziya Alvi Rahman
Updated: Jun 26, 2018 8:59 AM

She is quick and articulate and perhaps that is the reason why Jennifer Risi heads the communication for world’s leading creative agency, Ogilvy as their Worldwide Chief Communications Officer, Managing Director - Media Influence. With the ad giant having rebranded itself after 70 years with new visual identity, logo and organisational design, we speak to Risi about the reasons behind it and also explore her challenges of being a communications head in a ‘forever on’ digital world.


What was the need for Ogilvy’s re-founding and how did clients respond to it?

The response has been amazing. We rebranded and re-founded the company to get to what David Ogilvy had created over 70 years ago: entrepreneurial spirit, bold action and creating an environment that is very collaborative. Our re-founding was simply done for two reasons: firstly, for our clients and secondly, for our employees. The feedback has been great, and because there is so much disruption in the industry right now, we had to do this to help set our company up for the next 70 years.

Why was the ‘Mather’ dropped from the name during the re-founding?

Because we are just Ogilvy now. Ogilvy became a holding company within a holding company. We are part of WPP (our holding company), but Ogilvy had become a holding company almost by itself because there were more than a 100 brands under Ogilvy, such as Ogilvy and Mather, Ogilvy Public Relations and OgilvyOne. We are keeping some of the specialty brands, but most of our business is now going to be Ogilvy. We need to make it simpler for our clients to work with us, because it is what they are demanding. Our strategy to take the company forward is: simplify, unify and clarify. Simplify our name - Ogilvy, clarify our purpose, which is to make brands matter and unify our people to better serve our clients.

The Executive Chairman and Creative Director of Ogilvy South Asia, Piyush Pandey, is receiving the Lion of St. Mark award this year...

Piyush and our leaders in India are amazing, and it shows the level of creativity of our network. It is our creativity and differentiator which makes Ogilvy, Ogilvy. Piyush is one of those great examples of creative talent which has helped bring our company to where it is and helped build our business in India. What makes us so different in such a competitive world today is this creativity and differentiator, and this will help build our future. Which is why, as part of our rebranding we are focussed on being a creative network that Makes Brands Matter.

You have been a part of the industry for 20 years, how has it changed over the years?

I’ve seen that the level of skill which is needed to navigate this market is very different. Historically, our business was built on advertising. Now you need diversified skills based on technology and disruption which have changed the market. I come from a Communications and PR background; Communications and PR is more important than ever. Communications, PR, customer engagement, social media engagement, influencer work, experiential work, advertising, digital transformation; all these different tactics and strategies are needed now to build brands today. There is no one size fits all, there is no one way of working which is going to drive a business, you need all of it. We need to partner together. We can have our skills, but a key part of our business model moving forward is partnership, because we want to work with the consultancies which are coming into the business. We want to work with the companies that do things that we don’t, because we don’t know everything. Ogilvy is known as a creative network that make brands matter. Our creativity is our differentiator, but we don’t have everything under the hood, and that’s fine. We must partner with the brands which are going to help us best serve our clients.

In this ‘forever on’ world of digital communication, how has the job of being in the communication industry become more challenging?

It is 24x7. In some way it has always been 24x7, but with the advent of social media means anybody can be a journalist. Anybody with a phone anywhere can make a new story, because there are stories which start in the Wall Street Journal and goes to someone’s personal Twitter handle, to a story which starts on someone’s personal Facebook page and can get on CNN. A story can happen anywhere now, and everything is news, so everywhere, someone who has a phone can be creating a new story. That is what has made it challenging, but also opportunistic, because we now have more opportunities to share stories than ever before. We just have to realise that there are more channels and it is not just about any one group of people now who are communicating; anyone can be a journalist. That is what makes it different and exciting.

How do you tackle this on a daily basis?

I look at my job as reactive and proactive. I think many people in communications roles are reactive, and you have to be, to manage and down-play crisis issues or manage issues that may come up for a brand. But I also believe you must be proactive. You must be able to navigate and find your own story; the best communications professional today is someone who is going to define their own story before someone else defines it for them, as well as be reactive to make sure that the news you want to be out there, is there and the news you don’t want to be out there, is not. Sometimes people might say I’m a control freak, but people who have my type of job are control freaks, because it is our job to manage the press of our brand, so we must make sure that all the things which are in the press is what we want to see.

If you’re not proactive enough, or not watching the news and social channels close enough, you’ll miss something. If you miss something, it could be in a matter of seconds, because something is happening all the time. Years ago, if there were stories breaking in a newspaper, you would wait to have the story break overnight and then you’d have the day to manage it. Now, with social media, we just have an added layer of complication, because it can spread even quicker, good, or bad.

What advice would you give young professionals who are coming into the industry?

You have to really love this job. This is not a job, it’s a career. People who manage communications for brands have to really love it. You must have a passion and a desire to learn, be a team member and must go the extra mile, but the rewards are great if you help to successfully launch and manage a brand. One of the proudest moments I’ve had is being a part of the rebranding of an iconic 70-year-old company like Ogilvy. Lauren Crampsie, Ogilvy CMO came up with the new logo with our senior leaders and my job was to communicate that story, and that was a big job to do. We all felt that we wanted to do it right for this brand which we believed in.

(Transcription credit: Sudha Joshi)

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