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PR Pro Highlight: Chris Wailes
June 21, 2021
PR veteran shares thoughts on industry
Chris Wailes, is a PR name you should know! An icon in the industry, Chris has over 30 years of experience supporting companies and clients (and famous ones at that… Billy Joel, the Dali Lama, President Clinton just to name a few) in their never-ending quest for PR glory! While we may jest about PR glory, Chris’ work is no joke. He has been integral in major PR campaigns that have most likely made its way to your TV set or doorstep sometime throughout the years. His knowledge of the industry is unmatched (as is his knowledge of the nation’s food scene) and his expertise is highly sought after. We are happy to share a few of his words of wisdom on PR and life in general. See below for Chris’ thoughts on PR value, favorite food spots and much more.
Can you give us a quick rundown of who you are?
Arrived in Houston in 2008 after a 20+ year media relations career in New York and DC, including time as VP and Senior Media Strategist for the Consumer Technology Practice at Weber Shandwick in Washington.
My first 10 years in the 713 were with Pierpont Communications as the agency’s VP, National Media Relations. At the invitation of a former client, I joined oilfield services company Weatherford International as their Director, Global Media Engagement. The position centered on proactive earned media coverage across 14 global geo-zones, working with oil and gas trade and international business to deliver the narrative of Weatherford’s in-the-field “real results” and notable contract wins for drilling and production milestones. The results were named the MarCom 2019 Global Media Relations Campaign of the Year.
How did you get started as a public relations counsellor, specializing in media relations?
One of my great summer jobs was interning in the newsroom of ABC affiliate WFAA-TV, Channel 8 in Dallas. Truth be told, I was allowed the opportunity to do things no college student had the experience to do (sitting on the assignment desk, writing news copy, even running a camera for the Saturday morning kids’ show, Peppermint Place with Mr. Peppermint).
WFAA led to an interview with CNN in New York (which asked me one of the strangest questions I’ve ever been asked: “Tell me why you should work here…and use the word ‘hippopotamus’”). I didn’t get the position, but it did get me to New York where I landed at HWH Public Relations and had a four-year master class in the “care and feeding” of members of the media, from the local cub reporters just out of school at NY 1 cable news to the grizzled old timers on the business desk of the NY Times and the late-great Business Week magazine.
How do you explain the value of public relations?
Public Relations manages the perceptions and motivates the behavior of the stakeholders who will determine your organization’s success or failure. In a world where you dedicate years to building a voice, a mission, a vision and ultimately a brand, the court of public opinion can destroy it in minutes. Public relations counsellors amplify messages and accelerate change across platforms — driving results where earned media, digital and social media converge to protect your brand and create think, feel or do actions by your most important internal and external audiences.
Most memorable client and most memorable PR campaign?
I have to go back to HWH where, for two years, I provided media relations counsel to one of the music industry’s greatest singer/song writers, Billy Joel. Billy was in a very public, and very ugly, lawsuit against his former brother-in-law that put a light on the urgency for recording artists to take control of their business affairs, as well as their music. The perks were remarkable, including a birthday party for his attorney that became a private concert late in evening, with me and the other 20 people who stayed past closing time.
What about spending time outside the 9 to 5 world?
Got to step away from the intense concentration and attention to detail it takes to successfully manage earned media campaigns and the reporters who shape – and often reshape – the narrative you’re trying to tell. For me that means evening runs – especially on the three-mile loop around Rice University and the Texas Medical Center, probably my “happy place” in Houston. The other happy place is a mom-and-daughter restaurant in Houston’s Chinatown called One Dragon – easily the best Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) outside New York or San Francisco.