Interview with James McCann, CEO of Clearstory International

Rebecca Lee

PR News & Insights

We are delighted to be featured in the ‘Who’s Who of Public Relations’ in this month’s Business Plus Magazine, which includes a great interview with our MD James McCann!

What impact did pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions have on the PR sector generally and your own consultancy in particular through 2020?

In the run up to the first lockdown there was a great degree of uncertainty around how clients would respond to the challenge and how we, as a team, would need to adapt. The first four weeks were by far the most difficult with some clients in the travel tech and events space struggling to find their feet as the lockdowns took hold across Europe and Southeast Asia. Many others reassessed budgets and campaign priorities required faster turnaround from our team working remotely. The technology sector as a whole, however, did hold up well and we noticed a sharp rebound by Q.3 as existing clients pivoted their business models and new prospects (particularly in Southeast Asia) came onboard.


One of the most fascinating aspects of the period was the ability to almost look through time. The sudden impact of lockdown and restrictions first came into effect in Southeast Asia and so the conversations we were having with clients on that side of the world were almost polar opposite to those in Europe and North America where there was still some denial about what was about to happen.


The lockdown period did pose other challenges in that editorial across the world was focused on COVID-19 and its impact. This in turn required some campaigns to be either postponed, reshaped or reangled. This eased as the year went on but, due to the new strain of the virus and different waves worldwide, the need for COVID-19, vaccine and Brexit-related content remains prevalent.

How did your firm cope with the transition to remote working? How has it worked out? Is remote working here to stay?

Fortunately, from having clients across the globe we were used to hosting meetings over zoom and hangouts. We started planning in early February as the first lockdowns were announced in Southeast Asia and then turned fully remote the week before lockdown.


It has worked incredibly well throughout the period increasing productivity and providing insights into the future of work but there are some real challenges in terms of collaboration and creativity. We reshaped how we brainstorm, host team meetings and presentations but there is no substitute for face-to-face contact in some cases.


That said, from our perspective, remote working is the way of the future and we will likely practice a hybrid approach once the pandemic is over. We will maintain an office and give staff the option to work from home or the office with some mandatory days when it comes to collaboration events.

Though many business sectors have seen their trade severely impacted, others aren’t so badly affected, and there has been abundant innovation across the economy as firms seek new channels to reach consumers and customers. Is this broadly reflected across your client mix?

We have seen amazing innovations from our clients across all sectors throughout the pandemic. We have seen event technology firms pivot to become healthtech providers, virtual conferencing providers and retail management systems. We have also seen the emergence of a new generation of startups and innovation-led companies emerge from simple concepts to become critical infrastructure in tackling the pandemic in the space of months or even weeks.


From coughing detectors used to identify the outbreak of disease, to temperature wristband monitors, real time blood testing from home kits and mental wellbeing apps, the level of innovation in the healthtech sector alone has been incredible.

Live events are locked down, but has the growth in virtual events presented any opportunities for your consultancy?

The events sector has been hit hard by the impact of COVID-19, lockdowns and restrictions on travel. All of our event clients had to pivot this year from physical to virtual events, with the majority normally attracting more than 15,000+ attendees in their physical format.


Whereas attendees might attend for the networking and social element, journalists come for content and while there has been a surge in virtual events, newsworthiness is often the largest challenge that needs to be overcome as competition for media space becomes greater. That is where we have focused our expertise. We have worked with several large scale virtual events this year to focus on building their news appeal to attract top tier journalists.

What’s your sense of client attitudes going into 2021? Are businesses still hunkering down or are they prepared to invest now in their communications?

We sense our clients remain bullish on investing in reputation building and market awareness in 2021. Many are raising further funds for expansion, with public relations remaining a core component of their strategies.

What is the USP of your consultancy that should make a client choose your firm over another?

We specialise in market awareness and reputation building services specifically for early stage technology companies in Ireland and across the world. Our client base and journalist network spans North America, Europe and Southeast Asia giving us a unique ability to campaign cross-continentally.

Are there certain types of organisations, businesses or brand sectors where your agency has a particular focus?

We specialise in working with seed or series A stage technology companies who are seeking to build their reputation and awareness of their products/services in their domestic market or internationally.

Rebecca Lee

Strategic Director for ClearStory International, Freelance Broadcaster & Journalist of 18 years An established media and communications specialist and marketing graduate of UCD Smurfit Business School, Rebecca manages editorial both general and strategic at ClearStory International. Rebecca provides expert direction for client campaigns across the globe as well as managing PR for major tech conferences including Unbound, Techsauce Global Summit and others. Rebecca has written for many leading newspapers in Ireland and the UK such as The Irish Independent, The Sun, The Sunday World, The Mail on Sunday, The Sunday Business Post and The Irish Daily Star.

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