Behind every successful PR campaign is a strategic mastermind, one who balances big-picture goals with the building blocks that make it happen. At Hodges, Greg Surber is that guy. Recently celebrating his eight-year anniversary with us, Greg has solidified his role as the resident research guru.
A self-proclaimed (and proud) introvert, Greg is most in his element reading through data and reports, helping clients connect the dots between their goals and some of the bigger trends and issues impacting their work.
A Roanoke native, Greg now lives in the West End with his wife, Stephanie, their two dogs, Butters and Teddy, and pretty soon a new baby will be joining the mix. When he’s not at work or teaching crisis communications at VCU, you can probably find him building something at home or listening to a record from his extensive vinyl collection.
We’re lucky to have him on the roster, so if you haven’t already, meet Greg Surber.
What do you need from a client in order to be successful?
I love this question. I would say it’s a vision from them in the sense of having goals they want to achieve. And it’s coupled with a second thing – I’m not sure if “realism” is the right word – but the fact that they not only have goals, but those goals are realistic, especially in the sense that they want PR to solve a PR problem, and not seeing PR as a means to solve a fundamental business problem.
So, having a client that understands what we can and can’t do is a critical baseline from where to begin. And the other part is collaboration. A company or client that’s willing to work with us regularly and intimately on things. The best clients are engaged, and not those that give us very little information, disappear for a few weeks, then come back and expect the world to have changed.
Tell me about the last time something didn’t go as planned with a client or a project. How did you handle it?
There’s one client that we currently work with that began with us proposing a content plan, and everyone was on board with it. And very early on, it was apparent that the level of work that they needed to do, or the content that we would need to be writing, was just beyond our technical acumen. That happens. They’re a very high-tech, in-depth, scientifically based organization. They’re all Ph.D.s writing to a Ph.D. audience. Casey and I work on the account and, you know… we aren’t Ph.Ds. Neither of us have a background in biology or anything remoted related. So, recognizing that things weren’t working out ahead of time and proposing a different strategy and trying something else out—we’ve done that several times, where we start a PR plan or a content plan and very early on sometimes you realize that you didn’t account for certain things, or it’s more work on the client’s side than they were expecting. And so, often, it’s just trying to stay ahead of that and ultimately finding the right balance that works for both sides.
What celebrity do people say you look like?
I don’t even know this guy’s name, but are you familiar with the movie “Cabin in the Woods?” I think it came out in 2012. But there’s this guy in the movie, and he plays a long-haired stoner type, and a few weeks after it came out, I kept having friends come up to me saying, “there’s this actor in this movie that looks exactly like you.” So, finally it was at the Byrd, and I went to go see it, and after the first few scenes he was in, I started thinking, “Damn, this kid does look exactly like me,” to the point where I left, and people were looking at me weird in the lobby like weren’t you just in this movie?
I don’t know the guy’s name [Fran Kranz], but depending on the angle and the photo you find, if I ever grow my hair out, I look exactly like that guy.
Where do you get your news?
All over the place. But particularly if there’s an issue that I’m really curious about, or something going on in Washington, I always like to see how different sides are covering it just because I think it’s really interesting to see how different media outlets characterize or frame a story. Obviously, some are catering to a more particular audience, so it’s interesting to note biases or different angles that they take on it. And, more and more, individual journalists kind of become the direct source vs. the outlet they work for, so I follow reporters on Twitter so I can see what they’re putting out and what they have to say about certain things.