Yesterday I attended Future Comms 15, hosted by MyNewsDesk, looking at the future for PR and communications. I was eager and intrigued to see where the thought leaders in my profession thought the industry was going. I’m always keen to learn and expand my own perspective.
It was the first time I’ve been able to make one of these significantly billed industry conferences. What fascinated me about the event was that not only were we listening to the point of view of speakers and panellists such as Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Officer for the Content Marketing Institute, Robert Phillips author of Trust Me, PR Is Dead (Unbound, 2015) and Sarah Pinch, president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), but Twitter was alight with delegates using the Twitter hashtag #FC15 to review and share what was being said, either showing support or questioning the discussion. A truly interactive conference if you were following the feed and periscope videos. It was great to be getting the opinions of so many more experts than just those sat at the front.
Unfortunately the opening keynote speaker Robert Rose, who was presenting ‘The Brand Storytelling Opportunity for PR’ lost the room when he remarked ‘we are not in the business of truth but what ought to be the truth’, which sparked controversy in the room, reflected almost immediately on Twitter. This took us back to 20 years ago to a debate the industry had when it was experiencing dark days of mistrust and scepticism, and why associations such as the CIPR have worked hard with PR professionals to focus on ethics, professional practices and leadership.
I was also frustrated by the comment as, for me and I’m sure many others in the profession, I am an advocate for truth, transparency and integrity within my organisation and for my clients. We should be so far beyond this debate that it’s not even an issue to be brought up.
It was reassuring that comments on Twitter from those in the room included:
Fundamentally disagree with Robert Rose's view that we are in the business of what should be the truth rather than the truth #FC15
#fc15 truth, trust & transparency should be written over the door of every PR department
However, Rose did make some worthy points within his presentation:
- Relationships have evolved – digital has changed business’ relationships with customers, customers’ expectations have changed and loyalty is now achieved through experience and we must remember we’re all public figures these days. Everybody is the ‘press’.
- It’s important to think about the function of any content before thinking about the form it’s going to take.
- When it comes to content marketing it's not what you sell but what you stand for.
Much of the morning was spent discussing the concept of content and storytelling, but as Sarah Pinch, president of the CIPR, argued - PR has always been about creating content, it’s not new. It was feeling like a very slow build up to what everyone was waiting for – some real insight into what PR’s future looks like.
What is important to reiterate at this point though, is that content, as a tool for PR, must be high quality, relevant to the needs of your customers and more valuable than anything else already out there – we shouldn’t be filling the internet with even more garbage!
It was a relief to move on to look at the relationship between PR and SEO with a panel that discussed ‘The Death of SEO & the Rise of the Brand Story’. The take home message was that actually SEO is live and well. It has however moved on to be more natural and focused on authentic storytelling, as well as relevant and focused on the needs of customers.
What did receive unanimous agreement was need to be move towards greater collaboration between PR and SEO - to drive the brand story and engagement through strategically placed, targeted, high quality and purposeful content.
We were reminded of the value of our business when Chris Webb, former Head of News for the Metropolitan Police, showed us how his team handled the communications during the 7/7 London bombings to protect the public. He pointed out that this was before the age of social media and that now during a major incident people will be circulating what is happening through social media in real-time. So an organisation must be pragmatic and review its crisis management strategy at least every six months. Its approach during an incident should be timely and transparent communication. Where possible the communications team should have the authority to put out factually correct updates and not have to run every single one past any bureaucratic hierarchical process to get them signed off beforehand – this just won’t work today with how instant news is.
Zoe Clapp, Communications Director of UKTV talked us through a UKTV case study - #Chocobatch. I can’t say I got fed up of looking at a 6ft replica of Benedict Cumberbatch in chocolate, and it was a great example of the value of researching your audience and understanding what ticks their boxes. Particularly noteworthy though was one of Zoe’s first points - the UKTV Communications Team sits at the top level advising on business strategy – often not the case in many other organisations unfortunately.
Another panel discussed ‘Why Communicators Must Embrace the PESO Model ‘ – PESO stands for ‘paid, earned, shared, owned’. My initial thought was how is this a model? I would argue that these four should actually be viewed as strategic approaches to how you get your communication out to your audience.
An interesting point made by Danny Whatmough, Head of Social, EMEA Weber Shandwick was how PR appears to be reluctant to go down the paid for route of adwords, Facebook and LinkedIn boosts etc. I don’t think this is the case across the board, I think some PRs have embraced it as they understand the need to look at ‘paid for’ to get in front of online audiences. Again there was the valid argument for greater collaboration amongst communications professions (marketing, SEO, PR, digital) for truly integrated campaigns covering PESO.
It was great to be reminded of the psychology of people’s behaviour and how this is fundamental to communication activity by Stephen Follows of Catsnake Film, who uses this to create an emotional pull (call to action) in the films he creates to encourage the audience to do something.
This supports the notion of storytelling through your content to bring your audience with you through the emotion pull you have created.
Lastly, David Schneider, comedian and social media consultant provided tips for Twitter content – ride the hashtags, originality, engagement and topicality.
The conference was rounded up by Stephen Waddington, Chief Engagement Officer at Ketchum, who finished on these key points below - read the full summary here.
- The customer doesn’t care about blurring disciplines
- Recognise the evolution of public relations
- Listening, data
- Communities, hacking
- New skills: search, paid and earned
- Speed, agile workflow
- Sometimes silly shit just works but planning helps
Here are some other interesting reads from those who attended Future Comms15:
A tetchy Future Comms moves on from the past – eventually – Rob Smith, CIPR
My take on Future Comms 15 - Sarah Pinch, President of CIPR
7 insights on the future of PR from Future Comms 15 - Stephen Wadds, Chief Engagement Officer KetchumPR
PAID: A MUST, NOT A MAYBE FOR PR - Danny Whatmough, Head of Social, EMEA Weber Shandwick
PESO - Please Evolve Soon OK? - John Brown, Director, Head of Engagement at HotwirePR