6 things we learned at PRSummit
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

6 things we learned at PRSummit

Arun Sudhaman

Last week’s Global PR Summit in Miami proved to be a fairly fertile meeting of minds, with plenty of ideas and thinking that should (and hopefully will) set the agenda for the future of the public relations industry. For those of you that didn’t attend, and even those of you that did, you can catch up with all of the news and views on the event website, or check out the highlights video. Also worth having a look at is this beautiful interactive infographic that Lewis Pulse put together, highlighting the social media conversation in a very visual, storytelling format. Meanwhile, I’ve picked out six things below that I think represent some of the key learnings from the event. There were, of course, many more — but these were, I suspect, some of the more important talking points from the event.  1. PR people need to be less like Democrats And they need to be more like Republicans, in the manner of advertising folk. Bear with me here. Three of the four highest-rated sessions dealt with how communicators can change behaviour by better understanding why people make the decisions that they do. And the best way to do this is to make a stronger emotional case rather than relying on concrete facts, something that was discussed at length during a session led by Chris Graves and featuring author David McRaney and academic Melanie Greene. This, in turn, prompted Paul Holmes to frame the dichotomy along the lines of the Democrat-Republican battle over Obamacare. Democrats, like PR people, trust that a fact-based argument (the millions of people that will be covered) will win the day. Republicans, like advertising agencies, see more success by building a more emotionally resonant story, often using the experiences of one person to dramatize the system’s failings. The moral of this story? Narrative trumps facts, something that has significant implications for public relations practice and the creative storyelling it deploys 2. Sir Martin Sorrell does not want to buy IPG…just yet The valuations are too high but, in five years time, who knows? That was just one of the observations the WPP chief executive made during his entertaining hour-long conversation with Cohn & Wolfe CEO Donna Imperato and the full house. Other highlights included Sorrell’s belief that the PR industry lacks confidence, and his claim that Omnicom’s PR operations are both bigger and better than those of Publicis Groupe. Once again, the Sage of Soho appeared to have stolen the show. 3. Realtime requires risk Realtime is about as buzzy as buzzwords get but, in the eyes of Douglas Rushkoff, that should not underplay its significance. Rushkoff’s speech was a dizzying tour of the technological shifts that have dramatically reshaped how people behave. Because of that, believes Rushkoff, the conventional idea of a brand is dead, requiring more ‘immediate relevance’, where companies focus on ‘enabling things to happen’ rather than ‘taking credit for them’. Above all, it means that companies must become much more comfortable with risk, a topic that was discussed in detail by senior marketers from P&G, Novo Nordisk and Kimberly-Clark. 4. Social responsibility is changing fast ‘Do no harm’ is no longer enough, as a panel that featured the UN Foundation’s Aaron Sherinian, FedEx’s Cindy Conner and Patagonia’s Vincent Stanley discussed. Instead, research from Cone shows that consumers increasingly expect companies to actively ‘do good’, a mindset that requires particular sensitivity to local issues. ‘It is now about being a fund raiser, and a friend raiser, and a hellraiser,’ said Sherinian. Making friends might be the most difficult of those three actions, a fact that was brought home repeatedly during the conference, but never more so than during the GolinHarris panel on food activism, which saw senior executives from Cargill and Danish Crown discuss how they must get better at talking to their critics. Ultimately, as Temasek’s Stephen Forshaw pointed out, the goal must be to make your company ‘more human’. ‘In doing so, you’re sending a signal to the market that you’re a good company.’ 5. Independents seek independents Or, more specifically, they’d prefer to be bought by them. That was one of the main findings from a survey conducted by Davis & Gilbert/Holmes Report for the Independent PR Forum. More results will be revealed soon, but the topline results demonstrate that independence is fast becoming a long-term choice for PR firms, rather than a stepping stone to public acquisition and earn-out. A panel of independent PR firm heads — including Peter Finn and Scott Allison — underscored the fact that their firms are becoming increasingly acquisitive. Coupled with the rise of private equity, the trend suggests alternative routes for independent firms that want to expand their global footprint. 6. In terms of the work, there are no 'emerging markets' In financial terms, a divide certainly persists between more mature PR markets and less developed ones. But when looking at the quality of work, it is indisputable that the best PR campaigns from the so-called emerging markets can easily sit alongside programs from their more celebrated Western counterparts. The SABRE Showcase, which drew a lively crowd despite taking place the morning after the night before, illustrated this point through several engaging campaign videos. Perhaps the best example was the superb ‘Pulse of Interpipe’  campaign from Ukraine, but there were also strong contenders from Sinopec and Lenovo in China and, of course, a typically smart piece of work from Prime in Sweden.
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