The first Global Public Relations Summit provoked plenty of interesting discussion from the industry’s leaders. Here are five themes that emerged at the event, which are likely to shape the future of the public relations profession.
The comments from numerous senior communicators – such as IBM’s Jon Iwata, Nissan’s Simon Sproule, and Everything Everywhere’s Stuart Jackson – revealed a notable reshaping of the communications role, spurred by such trends as realtime marketing; brand journalism (see below); the era of big data; corporate character and purpose; and the rise of political campaign techniques. These are exciting times for corporate communicators; those that succeed are likely to require a blend of deep industry expertise, along with enough breadth to genuinely prosper in a world where marketing, technology and communications are converging, changing the relationship between brand and reputation. And, as numerous sessions discussed, they must be able to articulate a credible point of view for their organizations – standing for nothing is no longer an option.
Understanding why people make the decisions they make is critical to the art of persuasion, and advances in neuroscience now mean that we have access to a wealth of knowledge about thought patterns and behaviour. Two sessions focused on this area at the Summit, one featuring by David Eagleman, and the other featuring three neuroscientists – Uri Hasson, Raymond Mar and Jason Reiffler. Many of the themes and findings they discussed were invigorating for a crowd that is probably a little too accustomed to talking about the latest social media advance. Applying these techniques to their work as public relations people is something that many in the industry will be hoping to accomplish. To help them in this endeavour, delegates were urged to remember the importance of empathy and storytelling, and focus on forging personal connections.
Can corporate communicators fill the void left by a shrinking media? This is a topic the Holmes Report first flagged a couple of years ago, and in the period since it has become a fully-fledged bandwagon. Many comms heads, including Sproule, Cisco’s John Earnhardt and Eloqua’s Jesse Noyes, point to the efforts of their companies to develop multifaceted content that, in the case of Nissan, often has nothing to do with cars. Leave it to a journalist then, in the shape of Silicon Valley Watcher editor Tom Foremski, to ask some timely questions about this trend.
Shortly before jetting home to the UK, Lord Chadlington delivered a highly-charged address at the first Grayling Lecture, throwing down the gauntlet to the PR profession in no uncertain terms. Chadlington believes that the industry is in danger of losing its moral compass, and wondered if “we are sometimes being used as a front?” Coming from the man that has done as much as anyone to shape the modern PR business, these are strong words indeed. The industry would be wise to pay heed.
The PR agency of the future, said GolinHarris CEO Fred Cook, needs to be a little less like Clark Kent and a little more like Superman. Neatly put, Cook encapsulated the need for change at public relations agencies, many of which are actively seeking to reset and reboot a business model that is rapidly ossifying. This is hardly a new topic, but as in-house roles evolve in line with the themes described above, it becomes imperative for PR firms to, at the very least, question whether they want to lead or get left behind. Particularly when P&G’s Marc Pritchard is challenging you to “take the leadership role the discipline deserves.”
What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the themes that most resonated with you from this year’s Summit.