Guest post: PR student helper, Fraser

PRFest 2019 – two days of tuning into trust, integrity and diversity

The fourth annual festival of public relations (PRFest) on the 13thand 14thof June, showed a strong adherence to integrity, trust and diversity along with the current view of the PR and communication industry. This allowed for open and insightful discussions on a variety of different subjects, meaning a lot of new approaches to put into practice!


Integrity plays a vital role within public relations practice. Without integrity in practice, the system could arguably be unsustainable as brands and their status are determined by ensuring integrity is central. No integrity could mean no investments. Speakers Anne-Marie Lacey and Deb Sharratt described the ways in which influencers can use and misuse integrity in order to sell products through social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat. Honesty can be challenged regularly online with celebrity influencers promoting products for brands online, issues arise when the influencer is not forthright with stating that what they are showing on social media is an advert. 69% of brands agree as they would refuse to work with an influencer who doesn’t comply with guidelines (Influencer Marketing 2020 survey). Yet, research by Buzzoole shows that the use of the hashtag ‘AD’ on Instagram growing by 42% in 2018. Emphasising the scale of influencers being employed by brands for ROI purposes as a very profitable market. The question is- as an influencer and brand- how honest are and can we be to sell products?


Furthermore, the ‘On the Stool’ conversation between our PRFest founder, Laura Sutherland, and Lisa Imlach of Skyscanner, emphasised the importance of promoting a global brand with integrity and strong values to ensure that customers keep returning to your company time and again- this could be why they are considered a market leader. This led us onto Dr. Amanda Holdsworth’s engaging discussion about an organisation’s commitment to work, company culture, employee engagement and relationship management. Strong adherence to integrity can help avoid the damaging effects of employee ‘burnout’. Dr. Holdsworth reinforced that ‘Empathy, trust and appreciation go a long way’ and the senior management have to lead by example to ensure that these PR Fest approved qualities can make a sustainable difference. So that, in Holdsworth’s view, disengaged employees cannot snowball negativity across the company.

Who are we excluding?

Diversity in the public relations and communications industry is a definite hot topic at the moment, considering that UK PR and Communication industry is valued at £14.9bn in a recent PRCA census survey. Sara Hawthorn, introduced a critical point when it comes to diversity in the workplace, it is not a question of inclusivity but exclusivity- who and how are we excluding? Through our team discussions on the topic, there were a number of different approaches to take to tackle this problem. The main approach is to consider that something that is not thought of an obstacle for someone would be an impossible challenge for someone else and implementing procedures to deal with this- open dialogues with all employees can put in the groundwork in early to alleviate this.

The future

PRCA’s NextGen committee hosted by PRCA’s Harry Gardener (and made up of Paul Surgenor, Isobel Arrowsmith and Sarah Mooney), introduced us to some statistics that demonstrated what the challenges for the next generation of practitioners will face once they get into industry, e.g.13.6% pay gap, mental illness is shockingly at 37% for under 34s. Definitely useful to myself and other PR students to find out in detail where the industry is heading at the moment and the factors that are influencing it. Sally Keith expanded on this idea by examining PR through a London lens- do practitioners still need to go to London to find work? Well, her research shows that there is not a need to leave the North with 50% of MA students staying where they studied in the North East of England. Showing there is definitely a thriving industry outside the M25!

PR tech skills

Artificial Intelligence, in the view of Kerry Sheehan, ‘helps PR professionals make sense of massive qualities of data and to surface insights that matter’ that means credibility of the product to customers, and ultimately simplification and automation of tasks. Karna, Persado One, Harver and Amy would let this happen- watch this space!

Tim Barlow and Flora Bui explained the ways in which digital advertising campaigns can be approached to ensure re-marketing. By knowing your audience thoroughly and effective digital targeted marketing can amply and link sales- important for ROI. Tamara Littleton led a live crisis simulation as we worked in groups to respond – an incredibly valuable tool to preparing for the immediacy of crises.

Final thoughts

Overall, 2019’s PRFest will be remembered for opening up dialogues on using trust, integrity and diversity in PR. These discussions are substantial in their influence of taking a different view on us as practitioners and how we conduct our practice. What points to consider depends on the person, but the real test is to see if we are still talking about these topics at 2020’s festival. As a PR student, it is inspiring to see the level at which practitioners are operating and the influence that they can have on society.