“Even a pandemic opens up opportunities for business”
26 October 2020
Founded in 1970, with the idea to explain complicated matters in a simple way, SCC patron Kreab is a global public relations and communications partnership, advising corporations and other organisations on issues of strategic importance in business, finance and politics. “At Kreab, we work at the intersect between public affairs, financial communications and corporate communications generally,” Chris Philipsborn, Managing Partner at Kreab London explains. The Link caught up with Chris to discuss communications in a volatile world, and how the ongoing pandemic can present both challenges and opportunities for businesses going forward.
In 1976, Kreab launched its operations in London and has over the years built up a global presence with close to 500 team members in about 25 offices around the world. “In London, we do a fair bit of public affairs. Obviously, we give Brexit advice to a number of clients, which has been an interesting and ongoing challenge. We have public affairs clients across the energy sector, the financial sector and elsewhere.” The London branch also houses a global media hub with a number of senior journalists, and apart from financial communications, Kreab provides services in reputation and crisis management, which is Chris’s area of expertise.
Before joining Kreab, Chris worked in a variety of positions within journalism, public affairs and communications. “During my time at the London School of Economics, I worked
for Margaret Thatcher’s former Parliamentary Private Secretary. I subsequently worked for a small number of MPs and peers.” After finishing his studies, Chris decided to get trained as a journalist. “Eventually, I covered Parliament for a group of regional UK papers and the lobby.” He later went to Latin America where he wrote for the Financial Times and The Economist, and broadcast for the BBC World Service. “After two years I decided to come back to the UK and get a pension scheme for my sins, and I ended up being a lobbyist for a non-governmental organisation.”
…to public affairs
This was the start of Chris’s career in public affairs and communications. He spent seven years with British Telecom, based mostly in Brussels, with the latest position as Head of European Corporate Affairs. He subsequently served as a director on three management boards, including Europe’s largest nuclear site, a foreign policy think tank and the UK’s then-largest welfare to work provider. He met Gunilla Banér, who for many years was the Managing Partner of Kreab in London, when they both attended the Ad Hoc Council, a membership group Chris now chairs. “She asked me to join Kreab and I’ve been with the company now for seven and a half years.” Gunilla very sadly passed three years ago, which is when Chris took over the position as Managing Partner.
Working closely with principals
What sets Kreab apart from the competition is its ability to give strategic advice at top level. “Many companies say this but with us it’s a reality,“ Chris says. “We tend to work closely with the principals in any given situation. That is particularly the case when we work across crisis and reputation management because that usually is highly confidential. Often, we will work with a CEO and one or two board members, and sometimes the rest of the organisation won’t even know that we’ve been hired, because the matters are extremely sensitive.”
Many of the projects Kreab is requested to carry out are very targeted, especially within public affairs. “We have clients in the financial sector for instance, who wants to know the likelihood of government taking a particular decision. Other clients will want to know how to work with regional and local government as well as the national government. And with global clients, we will often team up with our offices elsewhere to give them all the ground intel across the globe, wherever they need it.”
Prepared for the unexpected
That the world is changing at an increasingly rapid pace has indeed become evident during the last couple of months, which has resulted in the need for businesses to prepare for the unexpected. “We pride ourselves in being able to deliver the right team for the job and to meet the client’s expectations accordingly. We have in-house expertise across Kreab, whether t’s sustainability, Brexit, or we’re dealing with the continuing debacle over the pandemic,” Chris says and continues: “Does the world change quickly? Obviously, it does. We have seen that in action with the pandemic. Before the pandemic, we’ve had three years of Brexit in the UK. That is a story that changes every week, if not every day, and much of it is driven by politics. And politics change, politics are highly volatile.”
Long-term impact of the pandemic
Chris believes that the ongoing pandemic will have a long-term impact on businesses on multiple levels. “I’m looking at all kinds of issues for clients. What kind of offices will we be requiring in the future? How much office space will we be needing, and how many of our people will be working from home?” He says that many multisite corporates inevitably will be looking at saving on overheads as people obviously can work from home. “But the next question some multisite corporates will be asking is, if our people can be working from home in the UK, France or Germany, can they work for half the salary or for lesser overheads in Cyprus or in Eastern Europe for instance?”
Internal communications made easier
“The pandemic is also having a really interesting impact on internal communications across companies of all sizes – small, medium, large, and across multisite corporates,” Chris says and explains that a lot of companies, especially medium and large, struggle with how senior managers communicate directly with their workforce, which often has been an issue when he has advised companies on internal communications. “Surprisingly, the pandemic has made some of it easier. The Zoom and Teams calls that we are having really show the way for senior managers to communicate with large numbers of people in one go. I think that technology will reach the stage, if it hasn’t already, when a CEO can speak, if not face to face, but at least be seen on a laptop or even a phone with a very large numbers of employees. I think that’s a very exciting advance in terms of internal communications.”
New opportunities for business
Although the pandemic has shaken business and society to its core, Chris is confident that something good can come out of it and that businesses need to seize the new opportunities that arise. “The consultancy world can be quite fickle, but the first half of this year has been a record year for us. A lot of it is related to the pandemic and the issues companies are struggling to deal with. How do they communicate with their employees and how do they communicate about the pandemic? How do they set things up post-pandemic and how do they reach into some of the new opportunities? Because even a pandemic opens up opportunities for business.”