The reinvention of PR – ten thoughts

#eaconf“The reinvention of PR” was the intriguing title of the first regional conference from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) East Anglia group. Held in Cambridge (UK) on 27 March 2014, it brought together high calibre speakers with PR professionals from a wide range of agencies and organisations. Here are ten points from the afternoon:

1. Walking the walk The CIPR has made a pledge that it will be prioritising regions and becoming less London centric. This was driven home by Institute president Stephen Waddington giving the keynote speech plus chief executive Alastair McCapra attending and taking part in the panel session. Great to see.

2. PR, whatever the channel, is about relationships Stephen Waddington’s keynote speech outlined ten areas of reinvention for PR.  A point that particularly resonated was: “#5 Brands need a human voice: Social networks are based on relationships between people … copy should be conversational and not mangled by corporate approval process.”

3. Are you using and interpreting all of the data available to you? If not, why not? Anna Salter from Kantar Media Intelligence stated that there is an increasing blur between paid, earned and owned media and data. Customers are consuming and generating content about you all the time: data + insight = knowledge.

4. What are the issues your stakeholders have with your company/services. What are you doing to solve them? Guy Middleton, head of corporate communications from Three spoke about becoming a target for the press and consumer body  Which? after an industry-wide price increase. After navigating the issue, Three looked to bring consumer issues into the business, leading to a scrapping of 0800/0845 charges and a positive reaction from Which?  

5. Tell your organisation’s story clearly and powerfully Paul Mylrea, University of Cambridge director of communications did just that, rolling off impressive facts and figures from over 800 years of the University’s history – including 90 Nobel Prize winners. As for any organisation, training specialists to communicate in ‘human’ is always a challenge, especially in the social-media age. A 26-strong comms team works on a worldwide stage – yet the University only employed its first press officer in 1990.

6. In-house is the word A panel discussion suggested that PR is making a move back in-house, and it’s not just fuelled by budget constraints. In-house teams can supply an authenticity of voice and understand the nuances of the organisation and its publics that an external contractor may find difficult to emulate. External agencies are still a great choice for specific projects, but in-house is back in fashion.

7. PR needs to be involved in strategic decision making, not just communicating it Andy Smith, head of media from Santander talked about the ongoing erosion of trust in institutions and businesses, emphasising the need for PR practitioners to be executors rather than just order-takers, and to be an ethical voice. He also pointed out that social media does not have a natural home in the traditional organisational set-up, and while communications has influence over parts, there are more stakeholders to consider.

8. It’s a good time to be in PR Summing the event up, CIPR CEX Alastair McCapra painted a positive picture of the PR industry as a whole, urging delegates to welcome the blurring of boundaries across the marketing mix and the opportunities that new technologies and social media have opened up, treating it as an opportunity to get on top, not be left at the bottom.

9. Where was all the tweeting? There was good flagging of the #eaconf hashtag, great wifi – plus the chairman monitored the feed throughout for comments – but only a quarter of delegates were tweeting. The balance between listening, tweeting and notetaking can be hard to get right, but I expected socmed activity to be higher, especially as it’s a great way to connect. This is a handy ‘How to tweet at conferences’ guide from @commsgodigital 

10. To conference or unconference? This was the first traditional ‘sit and listen then ask questions’ conference I’d been to for a while. It was interesting, and the calibre of speakers was fantastic, but I wanted to come away with a few more learning points than I did. That’s not the fault of the conference, but more of my expectations as shaped by unconferences – see more about the concept here. I think a mix of both is a good way forward, organised keynotes/presentations plus unconference breakout sessions – a best of both for everyone.

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