[NEWS] Sunwest Communications’ CEO never really cared for PR firms.June 23, 2021
Then he bought one.
Crayton Webb said some of the leadership team that had been at Sunwest Communications for decades were nervous when he bought the local public relations and affairs firm in 2017. But through his leadership, the firm has grown amid the challenges of the pandemic while keeping a focus on creating a culture like a tight-knit family.
“If things aren’t good at home for your team, they can’t possibly be good at work,” Webb said. “Whether you’re working from home or in an office, things have got to be good and solid on the home front, so people need to feel like they’re being supported.”
With a long background in broadcast journalism, along with stints leading communications teams at organizations like the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and Mary Kay, as well as a role as the chief of staff for former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, Webb said he knew it was important to lead his team and guide Sunwest’s clients by example. He added that it was important to keep lines of communication open, even when that meant communicating that they were still looking into the answer to the question, and to be human by showing that he too was dealing with the challenges of balancing work and home life with four children.
“When we’re in crisis when you don’t know what the answer, is the inclination is to curl up in a ball in a corner and hope it will all go away. But hope isn’t a strategy, of course,” Webb said. “We were encouraging our clients, even if you don’t know the answer, even if you don’t know what’s going to happen next, you have to communicate with your people. Let them know that you’re on top of it, that you understand that it’s a nerve-wracking, difficult, trying, stressful time and that you are monitoring the situation.”
“It’s a challenge to make sure that the cultures come together and that we don’t miss a beat; that employees feel like they’re immediately part of the family and that the clients feel like there’s no change whatsoever,” Webb said. “If anything, there’s only an improvement.”
The new growth in size has also come with new growth in scope. Webb said the two areas of growth have been the most exciting. One is in corporate social responsibility and philanthropic services, helping clients from this, like doing capital campaigns for nonprofits to helping 501c3s with their initiatives. The other is in the area of government affairs and relations, helping clients “make relationships when times are good.”
“The greatest value a public relations firm can offer its clients is strategic advice and counsel. It’s looking around the next corner and learning from mistakes,” Webb said.
He shared some other thoughts in an interview.
How has public relations evolved in your years of being CEO?
The power of influencers, non-journalist journalists. These aren’t trained as journalists that are not what I would call a “capital J” journalist that works for a traditional media outlet, that was trained, that there are rules of engagement. The fact is that influencers, people who don’t have to follow those rules, have tremendous followings, and therefore tremendous influence, huge voice people listen and watch them very carefully. You can either harness that or resent it and push it away.
What is something people aren’t thinking about that will change your industry in the coming years?
We can’t forget is that traditional media is not dead. The business side of it is certainly challenged. There’s no question advertising in daily newspapers is difficult. But, as long as people are buying advertising for evening news casts, there will still be local news. So, how do we, as PR, people harness that opportunity to ensure that as storytellers, those local stories become national stories when you amplify them on social.
How important is a diverse equitable, and inclusive workforce to your company’s success, and how do you keep that going into the future?
A diverse, equitable and inclusive environment is critical to our success at Sunwest and every business and every company. And it has to be more than window dressing. It has to be more than optics. We are storytellers, and as storytellers, our story and the stories we pitch on behalf of our clients must represent all communities. So, how do you know if your story resonates with all communities if you aren’t listening first if you don’t have folks at the table telling diverse and inclusive backgrounds? It’s critical.