Logos Conversation Series: An Interview with Kristin Johnson
In the spirit of advising, sharing and reaching a global community, Logos opened its doors to a conversation with Kristin Johnson and Logos colleague Iris Wenting Xue, to talk about public relations, teaching, and the pursuit of learning.
You have worked in both large PR firms and a boutique consulting group. How would you compare the experiences?
My experience at PR firms and my experience at Logos are completely different. PR firms – while all unique in culture – have a certain structure and organization that feels consistent firm to firm. In PR firms, I knew that I’d work on a team, generally have two to three clients, and work with those clients on a consistent basis to achieve a stated public relations objective. Primarily, my client was in a communication role, such as a Director of Communication, or a Marketing Communication Manager.
At Logos, I work independent and on teams, for any number of clients (though never competing) for both limited and long-term engagements to address larger business objectives using communication strategy. Additionally, I spend quite a bit of my day reading, researching, and developing new models and approaches for helping clients identify, reach, and maintain their business goals. My clients are sometimes in a communication role, but more often they are experts in their ‘non-communication’ roles who need to be effective communicators in order to fulfill their leadership function. C-suite and senior executives, attorneys, doctors, non-profit and NGO leaders are all examples of clients.
I will say that at both PR firms and in my consulting work, I’ve had the great privilege of working with clients who welcome me into their world and trust me as an advisor and partner to help them solve critical business challenges.
You are simultaneously a senior advisor at Logos Consulting Group and an instructor at NYU. What is the relationship between these two identities?
My work at Logos Consulting Group and Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership, as well as my work at NYU, all focus on building executive communication and leadership skills.
At Logos, on the consulting side, I often help clients identify communication gaps that expose business vulnerabilities. For example, a client wanted to know if his/her company was prepared to address a crisis stemming from social media discussions. My team and I cooked up a realistic scenario of escalating proportion, based on the client’s business, and then put the client and client’s team through a realistic simulation. The outcome of the simulation revealed where the team’s response was weak, and allowed us to provide recommendations for improved preparedness.
On the Institute side of Logos, I work with senior level professionals from all industries to strengthen the effectiveness of their communication in preparation for high stakes presentations, such as media interviews or keynote addresses. I have a strong background in healthcare communication so one example is that I often work with medical researchers to simplify complex concepts for the lay community. There is a temptation for technical experts to be…well, technical. So my clients come to me to help them convey their messages to their audience simply, yet without sacrificing the significance of the scientific contribution.
At NYU, my students have varied work and industry experience, so I try to tailor each semester to class needs just as I tailor my coaching for my clients’ needs. In fact, I tell my students that I will treat them as my clients. However, unlike my Logos clients, I ask my students to treat me as if I were their client.
For any advising or coaching I do – be it clients or students – it’s important to define the objective of the project and establish expectations at the onset. If those two criteria are met, it will be a successful engagement.
There are lots of books about PR and about consulting, but you want to write a book about PR consulting. How did that come to mind?
I teach a class at NYU called, “PR Consulting.” It’s a course in the School of Professional Studies, as part of the elective options in the master’s program in public relations and corporate communication. I had the liberty to design the course when I started teaching in the Fall of 2014, and immediately looked to see what material existed on the topic. I was astonished to learn that while there are many books on management consulting, and many books on public relations, there is not one book that provides theory or practical structure for public relations consulting. When I think of PR consulting, I see it as a marriage between a public relations practice and all that entails, along with the art of effective client service and management. Based on student feedback the past few semesters, and feedback from others who I’ve counseled on starting a PR consultancy, I’m convinced there is appetite for a book that expands on this topic.
You were recently a student yourself. I know you earned your CFA certificate. With a communication background, was that difficult?
Well to back up, the Claritas® Investment certificate is a non-credit certification awarded by the CFA Institute. The CFA Institute is the same body that governs and administers the Chartered Financial Analyst® designation, which is one of the most rigorous certification programs for investment managers worldwide.
I am not an investment manager, nor do I aspire to be one! However, many of my clients are leaders in the financial community. I didn’t have more than an advanced lay understanding of the investment industry when I joined Logos, so I set out to know it well. The Claritas program provides a comprehensive foundational understanding of the global investment industry. It involves about 100 hours of independent study on everything from economics to investment instruments. There is a two-hour, pass/fail, proctored exam at the end of the studies.
I passed! The exam part was a bit nerve-wracking, but the actual studying was fascinating. It provided me with a behind-the-scenes peek at the systems and structures that keep world markets moving. It was an excellent overview and allowed me to better appreciate not only my financial sector clients’ work, but also business drivers in general from the financial perspective. The more perspective and knowledge I have, the better equipped I am to advise clients.
Congratulations on your 2015 NYC Marathon achievement! Did you bring any of your business skills to the race? Do you have any more races planned?
Thank you! It was my first marathon! I am a bit shy about the finish, since I didn’t achieve the time I wanted. During my 18-mile training run, about six weeks before the marathon, I injured my IT band. As a result, I was in PT twice a week leading up to the run. I was concerned I may not be able participate at all, but opted to complete the race with the expectation that I’d need to stop and stretch every mile.
What kept me going was a little gift that I left for myself at the finish line…another chance. New York Road Runners, which hosts the marathon, has a marathon qualifying program where runners who run nine qualifying races and volunteer for a race are eligible to run in the following year’s marathon. It’s called the “9+1” program. I arranged for the 2015 marathon to be my ninth qualifying race for the 2016 marathon, so I knew that no matter how well I did, crossing the finish line would guarantee me an opportunity to run in the next marathon…this year! I would say that goal setting, with a clear strategy for achieving the goal, is how my consulting work translated into my training. In advance of this November’s marathon, I’m running the Brooklyn half marathon in May, Napa to Sonoma half marathon in July, and of course some smaller qualifying races to secure my 9+1 for the 2017 NYC Marathon. The irony is that while I absolutely love the discipline of training, the camaraderie of races, and the joy of surpassing my limits, I don’t necessarily love the act of running. I have yet to regret a run, however, so I think I’ll keep going.
I think that’s a good note to end on. Thank you for your time.
Thank you! It’s usually my clients who are in the interviewee seat, so this was fun.