C-Suite Conversation: An Interview with Heather Whaling, Founder of Geben

Article ImageHeather Whaling, who founded the PR firm Gebenat her dining room table in Columbus, Ohio,9 years ago, is a longtime proponent of public relations (PR) professionals acting as technologists. “The majority of PR happens in and around online now,” she says, pointing to how brands successfully leverage social media channels such as Snapchat and Facebook.

Not coincidentally, one of Geben’s guiding philosophies for how its 26 employees approach their work and interact with clients—aka House Rules—is “Embrace the Crazy.” Explains Whaling, “Since technology and content development are accelerated now, we want to remain nimble and flexible. We want to stay open to opportunities, even if they’re unplanned.”

Trends She’s Watching

“We are sitting on a gold mine of data and analytics to make decisions across organizations,” says Whaling. “Traditionally, communications metrics came up after the business plan was made, but that’s an outdated way to operate.” These days, thanks to improved metrics and analytics tools, says Whaling, “We can infuse communications data at the beginning of the planning process.” She gives the example of industry-level seasonality trends gleaned from social media data and adds, “As we say, ‘Instincts are good, but intelligence is better.’”

Whaling says her company keeps a close eye on trends in voice search. “We’re paying attention to how voice needs to be integrated in communications plans. These days, content marketing could be an Alexa skill, a podcast, or a video. How does that impact strategy?”

Challenges She Faces

That same gold mine of data and analytics creates the potential for what Whaling calls “analysis paralysis, especially for our clients without a data analyst on staff.” Geben launched an insights service last year to help clients better identify and focus on the data that truly impacts their business.

Another challenge is how to innovate workplace policies to help keep women in the PR industry. “The PR industry is 70% women, but only 30% work in leadership roles across the whole communications space,” points out Whaling, who is a commissioner on the Columbus Women’s Commission and serves on the Board of The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio. Geben’s “Design Your Day” house rule is a start, allowing employees in the company’s Columbus and Chicago offices to work when and where they’re most productive and to focus on delivering high-quality results instead of billable hours.

Dreaming Big

“The industry would be better if we took seriously the need to have a diversity of perspectives—talent, race, gender—in the room.”

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Heather Whaling, founder and president of Geben Communication, a public relations firm headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, sees technology as a critical component of effective PR.