Becoming digital

A digital perspective

I’m approaching the twelve month mark here as the digital strategist at Weber Shandwick.  Andres Lopez-Varela one of our senior consultants, has been pinnacle in educating, executing, and leading integrated digital projects working with clients like Symantec, Red Bull,  and Pfizer to name but a few. For me personally, it’s been quite a journey from the head of social media into the world’s largest PR firm. Andres too is on a journey, he shares his digital perspective with us today.  Follow him @hackjack also a reminder we have a position open as a digital account manager.

Andres Lopez-Varela

When people ask me what I do for a living it’s not as easy to answer this question as it used to be. I used to say to them “I’m in PR, I have some tech and entertainment clients and it’s great”. Nowadays I have to think about what I want to say in response to that – I’m one of those ‘digital-traditional-types’, if we’re talking about labels.

It’s been quite an interesting journey which, to be honest, has taught me as much about my professional skillset as it has the discipline of communications. Audience insights, conversation analysis, creative strategy, workplace leadership and channel planning. These are all skills that I’ve found myself stocking up on as part of a broader toolkit of communications skills over the past couple of years because of my transition from traditional to digital communications. In fact, it’s actually turned out to be a real schooling in broader practices and, as a result, I’ve actually become more of a communications practitioner as opposed to just a digital person.

Digital communications has opened my mind up to a whole new way of thinking about how we communicate with audiences and how we develop insights about these audiences in our day to day work. Although I sometimes jokingly tell my mates that my work is ‘talking to the internet’, it’s actually quite comforting to see how the shift in this communications channel (to pick one of many words), has been reflected in my change of focus from traditional PR practitioner to digital stormtrooper. It’s a total ‘victory for Gen Y moment’ and it gives me some comfort, even on a tough day at the office.

This shift has also helped me focus my creative skills as much as my digital ones. It’s immediately apparent when you open up your mind to developing ideas that are channel or platform agnostic, that you are suddenly able to draw out the truly ‘best ideas’ with far greater ease than if you were thinking specifically about, say, a radio, TV or online campaign. The first and most important step for developing a digital strategy, in my opinion, is developing the creative idea based on an understanding of how your target audience is communicating online.

Thinking like this has, for me, converted ideas development from a fluffy cloud of concepts into a process that informs and drives everything to the point that PR practitioners can now truly make their results tangible and accountable. No more number of clips or fudged advertising value, but real impact on business outcomes and audience perceptions. This is the real metric for communications and being able to take this from the digital realm and integrate it with traditional PR creates the most real justification for the existence of the discipline of Public Relations. Ever.

So, really, when somebody asks me what I do for a living, the answer may not be so simple. But, what I do know for sure is that when I go to work and commune with the internet, I feel as if what I’m doing has some purpose in this big, messy, electronic world.

A particular thanks to Jye Smith who has been one of the greatest teachers and mentors in this area for me. He’s blown my mind open to always consider new possibilities when communicating with people and how to really make an impact on the brands and businesses we’re working with.

- Andres


Jye Smith is currently Senior Vice President, Head of Strategy & Operations, Asia Pacific at Weber Shandwick. Ranked in B&Ts 30 Under 30, Jye a regular keynote speaker and workshop facilitator who specialises in digital and social media strategist.

There are 3 comments for this article
  1. Jo at 3:03 pm

    A really interesting post. My fav bit was when you mentioned “real impact on business outcomes”. Moving from agency to in-house I’ve discovered that PR’s grasp on its impact on a business’ bottom lines is flimsy and insufficient. If we want to make PR more relevant, powerful and accepted we need to have a better understanding on its impact on business outcomes.

  2. Phill Ohren at 10:21 pm

    Great story Andres – Thanks for bringing it to us Jye.

    I’m originally from a digital background, organic search – currently an Account Manager. Over the last 2/3 years I’ve focused on working towards broadening my career with ultimate goal being strategy across online channels. While I feel I’m well on my way, one of my biggest challenges to-date has been; Adopting traditional communication methods & principles that previously felt almost alien to me. When I look at what your journey I feel as though mine is mirrored to a certain extent – which gives me reassurance that I can continue to adopt offline & integrate into my career in digital.

    For the time being, I’m going to continue working on the following 3things: Listening – To all who talk to me, thinking outside the box & leverage any channel I can to get the results I want.

  3. Pingback: Mumbrella’s media feud with a meatsuit-hating PR - mUmBRELLA