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The PR World is Changing, So How Do We Keep Up?

PRSA St. Louis Board Member Erica Kirsch recently experienced two full days of inspiring and knowledgeable speakers from all over the country at PRSA Midwest District Conference.

I had the opportunity to get involved with the PRSA Midwest District Conference this year as a PRSA board member, a conference sponsor and a conference attendee. After seeing the months of work that went into the conference, it was finally here! I experienced two full days of inspiring and knowledgeable speakers from all over the country, and meeting and forming relationships with communications professionals from all over the Midwest.

Day 1

The morning began with the opening keynote by Tom Wilson, Monsanto Global Communication & Corporate Marketing Vice President, where we learned the importance of engaging with audiences beyond your customers. He explained that consumers want to know producers care about doing what’s right. Key takeaways include:

  • It’s important to be principle driven – know what’s important to you and stick to it.
  • To create impactful messages, you must be transparent, entertaining and simple.
  • Build your story, tell your story and engage around your story.

After that, David Grossman, Founder/CEO of The Grossman Group, challenged us to think like a CEO. He explained that if you want to develop and grow in your career, it’s important to be purposeful. Do you know what you’re uniquely qualified to do for your company? Do something every day to help your personal career, even if it’s small. Talk about your contributions to the organization’s success. Not only is it important to show your value, but it’s also important to make your team members feel valued. It’s truly a superpower to make everyone feel valued. To help your team develop, be sure to give regular feedback. Feedback should contain their strengths, but also a couple of things they should work on. To make people feel valued, it’s also important to connect versus transact. When you connect with your team members, you’re building relationships; when you’re transacting, you’re only having conversations when you need something.

Michelle Anderson, Director of Ogilvy Chicago, explained how the world of PR has changed. With advertising, marketing, PR and many other types of communications agencies, PR professionals can start to lose their seat at the table. To make sure PR has a voice, we have to change the way we work and really move to an integrated approach. We have to bring everything together and help bridge the gaps for our clients. We have to produce business results, and the biggest drivers of growth are digital and social. We need to be able to take a problem or situation and really create change. We need to take our PR foundation and integrate truly creative and meaningful content and scale social, digital and paid, to be able to create that change. See a few of her examples of campaigns that did this well: Beyond Dark, Huggies and BP.

Jeff Davis, FleishmanHillard ContentWorks Strategy Director taught us the long and short of content. Public relations (earned and influencers) and digital (web and social) are two pillars that go great together – they both need each other badly. Over time, public relations has decreased and social media has moved up in search terms on Google. But through all of it, content has remained constant. Research now shows that goldfish have longer attention spans than we do. You really have to grab consumers’ attention quickly with truly meaningful and creative content. Jeff’s top tips for content include:

  • The idea, from an insight, comes first
  • Be a storyteller
  • Strong writing - clear, concise, clever
  • Be visual
  • Curate your channels
  • Add value
  • Engage!
  • Win over the filters
  • Measure what matters
  • Paid/earned/shared/owned - all matter now
  • Integrate the newsroom
  • Respect and repurpose - it's radioactive

Day 2

On day two, I started my day with an opening keynote by Mark McClennan, 2016 PRSA National Chair and MSL Group SVP of Social Media Services. He walked us through the changes in the PR industry, and 10 trends that will shape our industry this year and beyond. Conversations are now running on a 24-hour cycle because of digital and social media, and consumers expect companies to interact and respond almost instantaneously. ICYMI (in case you missed it) will be huge. Consumers don’t want to miss anything. Paid social is essential. Facebook organic reach is now only 2%, and the Twitter half-life is only four minutes. This will be the year of measurement and analytics. It will be important for us to show the C-suite our impact and measurable results. Overall, the channels for communication are changing, but the strategy remains the same.

My first breakout session for the day was with FleishmanHillard and AT&T as they gave us tips and tricks on writing an award entry that rocks. The two-pager is the key to getting it past the first round. It must contain killer results (and not just PR results, but results that show an actual change,) sexy research and a moment that causes the judges to think “WHAT?! There’s no way.” It must read like a compelling story, have a gripping opening, have short and snappy copy, and bulleted paragraphs. Just like a story, it should have some sort of conflict or tension, interesting characters and a resolution. The results should all lead back to your measurable objectives. And of course, don’t forget about the supporting materials. These should be formatted like a combination of a PowerPoint deck and a children’s book. But most importantly, it all has to start with a meaningful and impactful campaign/program.

Next, I learned all about the top 10 most common mistakes communicators make from Kate Bushnell, President of The Grossman Group. Drive-bys are common in our world – when a leader or client comes down the hall or gives you a call, and drops a big assignment on you. In this situation, it’s important to remember they’re our partner in this, so give the leader homework that will help you be successful – something they can work on while you’re doing your part. Jumping too fast is also something that happens quite often in the world of communications. The best thing you can do to help with this is set expectations up front. Talk with your team or clients so they understand the time you need to do quality work. Be sure you are adding value to everything you do. Reflect at the end of the day – Did I earn my paycheck? Did I help someone earn theirs? Also, don’t get lost in the tactics. Focus on the outcomes first, and then make sure your output is aligned. Lastly, be sure to insert strategy in everything you do.

Our last keynote was from Ron Watermon, VP of Communications for the St. Louis Cardinals. He began with their focus on brand journalism. Brand journalism is telling your story first – like a news story shot and pieced together, but from your own perspective. The most important place to showcase this is on your website, so people are really able to get to know you. He also talked about brand engagement – being able to tell your story in a creative, fun, entertaining and engaging way. The main way to do this is through video – and today, it’s simple. People shoot, edit and create video content every day on their phones, so get them involved! Technology allows people to do truly powerful things for your brand and really helps us connect with people.

Key takeaways when engaging with consumers via video:

  • A video-based engagement effort should be about the community.
  • It should be fun, and it should be entertaining.
  • Creative videos will grab consumers’ attention and help push your brand through the noise.

I heard more about integrating the power of PR with Mary Palu, Executive Vice President of Connections Strategy at Bailey Laureman. She emphasized that no discipline can stand alone. Consumers don’t filter the type of communication, so we need to eliminate that, too. Integrate your PR efforts with all of the communications teams and agencies. Through all brand communications, it’s important to get to know your consumer, map their journey, identify the messages that are impactful to them, select the relevant channels and collaborate on the activation.

My final session of the conference was with Mananya Komorowski, Vice President of Social@Ogilvy. She explained the evolution of influencer relations and building authentic relationships – beyond just blogs. Influencers are extremely valuable because they are making a connection with the community and help make our content look more authentic. To build an authentic relationship it’s important to be involved in their lives. You must have real, true passions to be successful in influencer relations.

It was inspiring and rejuvenating to learn from some of the best in the PR industry, and meet and collaborate with communicators from all over the Midwest. Of everything we learned at the conference, most importantly we need to remember to integrate PR into all areas of communication, and we need to keep up with the changing world. We need to be brave and creative in all areas of communication to be able to truly reach consumers through the chaos and noise of all the information around them. And while everything is changing, we need to remember to incorporate strategy in all that we do.

This article by Erica Kirsch first appeared on The Vandiver Group blog and is cross-posted here with permission.

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