“The PR industry in the digital age is lacking the tools required to accurately demonstrate tangible value” CEO Q&A: James McCann, ClearStory International

CEO Q&A | Wed 31 Jul | Author – Business & Finance

In our latest CEO Q&A, James McCann, Founder of ClearStory International, speaks to Business & Finance about building a new type of PR company for the digital age.

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

Growth and quality of service continue to be our primary focus at ClearStory International, as we build our client book, team and capabilities. 

We recently completed a successful trade mission to Southeast Asia, securing a number of fast growing tech clients making us a truly global business with clients across North America, Europe, Middle East and Southeast Asia. 

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

Sourcing talent is very difficult right now in what is a full employment economy. The PR industry is small comparative to others and as an early stage agency expecting fast growth, it could potentially be an issue for us in the next two years. 

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

I think it’s important to stay ambitious as a company and allow your team to take an active part in driving that ambition. It can come from encouraging personal and professional development in your team or allowing them the room to be proactive in making suggestions and problem solving. 

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry?

PR is typically the first budget to get slashed in an economic downturn so I’m sure domestically, Brexit will be a concern to some. In the tech PR space, a further slowdown in early stage investment rounds is a cause for concern so we’ll be watching the big venture capital players across Europe, the US and China for signs of any trouble.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Like all industries, tech is fuelling demand for new approaches and data-driven results from clients. We’ve already begun investing in our own in-house tech solutions this year.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

Good PR writing skills are proving difficult to find as more people come into the industry from outside the traditional channels. 

Q.  How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

Diversification. Our strategy is based on geographic and sector diversity to avoid future shocks that might occur and drag down the Irish economy or any other single market or sector. 

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

Brexit has the potential to damage our traction in the UK market but we don’t anticipate any immediate shocks or impact to our growth plans. We are prioritising other markets ahead of the UK at the moment but we continue to engage and grow our client offering there.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

We’re motivated to help the underdogs – the early stage companies who believe that their products and services are truly making a difference. We always define our success by how well we help them punch above their weight in the news.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Trust yourself and know when it’s time to jump and take the risk. Two years ago, I launched ClearStory with my last paycheck. We’ve been bootstrapped ever since and its grown to a team of 10. You need an enormous amount of self belief to make good decisions, to stay calm and continue to take those calculated risks. 

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

We’re being bold as a young bootstrapped agency and it’s brought us to some interesting places enabling us to land big clients and coverage in big publications from right here in Dublin. Proving our growth model works has definitely been a highlight.

Q. What’s next for your company?

We’ll be continuing to hire in 2019 and 2020 following the recruitment of a Chief Operations Officer earlier this year. We’re also rolling out a number of new services ahead of 2020 which we expect will fuel growth further across Europe and Southeast Asia.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

We want to ensure a presence in each major international tech hub by the end of next year – London, Berlin, Singapore and New York. That, coupled with the successful roll out of our events and full service arm of the business, will be great markers of success.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

Right now, I believe the PR industry in the digital age is lacking the tools required to accurately demonstrate tangible value but it’s improving. We’ve experimented with a few but in our mind the battle to demonstrate value continues.

We want to ensure a presence in each major international tech hub by the end of next year – London, Berlin, Singapore and New York.