PRFest 2019 round-up

PRFest has grown up as this year has demonstrated

There was a definite sense of maturity at PRFest this year. Four years into developing and delivering the festival, the discussions were wholeheartedly encouraging and definitely the type of conversations we need to have more frequently.

The theme this year was ‘earning trust through integrity’. When I was recording the PRCA podcast after the event, with Izzy and Harry, one of my questions was around why was integrity important. My answer was that our own professional brand and reputation was built on our integrity. Without integrity, we lack morals and ethics. Without those, we cannot advise our businesses, clients and organisations on the best approach in public relations. Integrity is everything. How do we show this? Through our actions. By being held accountable.

Everyone knows I am super encouraging of professional development and this is where PRFest comes in. Through the learning and discussion opportunities, we can help each other develop professionally. We’re not all experts in everything, and by hearing from other experienced and respected professionals, we can learn and grow.

Strategy, strategy and more strategy

As I host the event too, I always sum up a session and how it relates back to the theme of the event. Nearly every time I summed up a speaker or workshop, it all related back to strategy. In the opening slides, see below, I set the scene with key industry data. This data was surprising – basically, it shows senior professionals think that they think strategically, but in fact, it shows that their skills and everyday activities, are far more tactical. We discussed the issue at the PRCA Leaders’ Lunch the day before the festival, and it came down to evaluation. Some say clients won’t pay for research and evaluation. Some say organisations don’t allow the time to be spent on it. Well, think again people, because without strong research and evaluation, you won’t develop an informed strategy, set relevant and meaningful goals, plus you won’t be able to demonstrate ROI, which is exactly what these organisations need to see, to clearly demonstrate the value of what we do.

When Boards start to understand our value, we then earn trust and through that, we earn a seat at the table.

Back to basics – be nice and recognise talent and hard times

A very refreshing session by Dr Amanda Holdsworth demonstrated through her research, that getting back to basics and appreciating people, will encourage a motivated workforce and foster good company culture. Stay tuned for a guest blog on Friday from Laura Campbell, one of the PRFest PR students, who will go into more detail. Basically, we can encourage the culture but we also need to be good at spotting the warning signs. Is someone burning out, is their personal life suffering because they are in the office too late, does someone feel under appreciated?

Inclusion vs Exclusion

Sara Hawthorn delivered a very timely and relevant workshop about transforming the industry. Instead of asking who we should be including, we should be asking who we are excluding through our actions and words. Are we creating an environment where people feel safe and secure enough to talk about personal things such as disabilities or mental health? Or, do we have environment where we are immediately excluding them? For example, at PRFest, I had a hearing loop fitted for the two days, for Sara. I knew she would need one, so asked the venue to source it. If I hadn’t had the loop installed, then Sara would have immediately been excluded as she wouldn’t have been able to hear the speakers. The venue has now had a quote for a permanent loop to be installed and will be able to add the sign to the website and windows, so anyone hard of hearing visiting, will be able to know immediately.

I’ve asked Sara to write a guest blog for PRFest which talks about the outcomes and actions from the workshop. Watch this space!

Life and talent outside of London

How often do we reference the London bubble? Often! I was interested in Sally Keith’s research which was conducted with students at Newcastle, Sunderland and Sheffield degree programmes. To an extent, a lot of the results weren’t a surprise e.g. we know London has a barrier because it’s so expensive to live there. But what was interesting, was the idea that 60% of home students were self funding their higher education. Sadly 50% of student internships weren’t paid. Salary was the most important factor for students applying for jobs.

We ended up discussion the opportunities and salaries outwith London, as well as the brands and agencies located elsewhere. Does the 24/7 nature of London life appeal to the younger generation? Are they making decisions based on finance and longer-term opportunities?

The north of England isn’t typical. The London bubble applies to everywhere outside the M25…

The next generation

The PRCA’s NextGen committee were interviewed by Harry and Izzy from PRCA. The discussion was around the data in the PRCA census. The next generation of practitioners, are not necessarily the younger generation. Two of the PRFest students were mature students. Life skills and previous experience can go along way though – think of all the transferrable skills you can talk about?

The biggest thing I took away was that the next generation are opinionated and have concerns which they aren’t necessarily equipped to share. I suggested that the NextGen Scotland committee work with PRCA to develop helpful training which will assist the next generation in know how and when to talk to the senior leadership teams about their concerns, ideas and suggestions. By allowing this conversation to be more professional and not seen as a moan or complaint, speaking the language of leaders, the next generation can be heard and have a positive impact on the future of organisations and indeed our industry.

Meaningful discussion

I’ve always set out for PRFest to be a safe place to have tough discussions. Us Scots aren’t always the best at putting up our hands to disagree and state an alternative point. I have however, found that PRFest has grown into a place for the breadth of our public relations and communication industry, to come together, from across the UK and beyond, offering different perspectives, challenging the norm and offering solutions.

We’re changing from a critical community into one which offers new ways of thinking and practicing. We’ve matured…

Senior practitioners learning tactics which they won’t necessarily deliver

I’m pretty sure when people saw ‘learn about digital advertising’ on the programme, they assumed that they would never have to know about digital advertising as they won’t personally deliver it. But what about knowing it for another reason. Senior practitioners are the ones who have the conversations with clients, who set the strategy and who charge for time and resource. So why wouldn’t you need to know about digital advertising?

I made the point that I did a trial campaign with digital ad agency Attacat, who were presenting the workshop, for the purpose of the event. I know how to set up Facebook ads and I know how to write the messages, ad the images/video etc and monitor the real-time results. However, when I carried out the trial, I had no idea or indeed the time, to set up the pixels, tie in with Google Analytics to demonstrate traffic as a result or indeed the knowledge of adding emails to the LinkedIn ad account.

Senior practitioners often think they don’t need to know because they won’t be delivering but it’s rather arrogant of them. If they are the strategists and in control of the invoicing, then you have to understand what you’re asking your teams to do and what you advise clients.

Then we talked about re-marketing. The more we talk about these types of tactics the more obvious it is that the lines are more than blurred with marketing and advertising. But equally, the more obvious the opportunity for public relations becomes, as we integrate more than ever.

So, what’s the verdict?

We’ve matured. We’re ready for more. We’re all equals no matter what stage in our careers we are at. PRFest must now evolve and use what it has learned from four years of speakers and attendees. If you’d like to feed into the development of PRFest 2020, drop me a line. Similarly, I’d urge you to consider topics you could speak about next year, or if you’re a student, think of the opportunity to come along and meet industry leaders who could potentially be your next boss.

If you came along this year, THANK YOU! Please do take five minutes or so to complete the feedback survey. It’s important 🙂

Thanks for stopping by and reading the summary of the event. Obviously I’ve not been able to include every session but I think the highlights have been picked out for ease. Next time, consider coming along, so you don’t miss out!