Guest post: PR student helper, Jane

Along with three other volunteers, I was given the opportunity to attend PRFest 2019 in exchange for some very light event duties. The arrangement swayed strongly in my favour. With international and local speakers talking on a range of subjects from Artificial Intelligent to performing a real time crisis simulation, #PRFest lined up my preliminary formal learning and proceeded to belt it for a six.

Although some of the content was aimed at more experienced PR Practitioners, I was able to gain an incredible insight into why PR practitioners do what they do, what the future of PR is set to look like and even the human side of business and how we should be looking after and retain our talent.

Day one:

The morning proceeded with an opening from Laura Sutherland, the PRFest founder, followed by a talk by Kerry Sheehan on futuristic PR tools that we will expect to see more of along with the increasing role Artificial Intelligence will play in this profession. I didn’t get the opportunity to sit in on this talk but got the run down from the other volunteers and people that attended.

Following this was by far my most favourite part of PRFest, the live crisis simulation. Presented by Tamara Littleton, the simulation was designed to mimic a PR crisis in real time with professional feedback to help engage our strategic mind to best manage a crisis rather than reacted out of emotion. Tamara explains that like any crisis we may find our self in, emotions naturally take over and we make decision based on how we feel at the time rather than calmly and rationally with the best long-term outcome. The room was divided into team and we were given a brief on who the company was, who were the initial people involved and what was action led to the crisis. In this instance an executive from a tech company was accused of sexual harassment by a junior staff member. The member blogged about her experience which went viral and was the catalyst to other woman working in tech coming forward to talk about their experiences. As the crisis gathered momentum our teams were required to develop a strategy and react according as journalists made contact, articles or semi truths were released into the news and rumours circled around the tech companies’ employees. At the end of the exercise, each team was graded on their actions and given a score between -10 and +10. The biggest lesson I took away from the exercise is to be aware that although a lot of buzz and work is going on behind the scenes, it is important to remember the public will not be privy to that and it is important to keep them informed as to not lose trust or raise suspicion.

Andy Barr followed with a fantastic talk about good SEO practices and how we should spot and address negative SEO. This talk really highlighted the ethics surrounding SEO. He discussed the fine line behind what is legal and what is ethical regarding SEO and how although it is temping to fight fire with fire regarding dirty tactics to get your website seen, it is important to hold the PR industry to a higher standard. Although there maybe no legal implications with some tactics used to improve SEO there are still some very serious reputations for those who are less than fair in their practices included google making you disappear from their search engine.  Again, some aspects were a little above my firm understanding, however Andy delivered a completely engaging talk leaving me with a lot of food for thought.

The day concluded with some open discussion between speakers and attendees and some closing remarks from Laura.

Day one was a hit and left me in high anticipation for day two.

Day two:

Some new faces entered the festival as those who booked for day two arrived.

We were welcomed by Laura and discussed three things that would like to take home from the day.

Speakers from PRCA Nextgen discussed what is going on with the next generation entering in the PR profession and what challenges they are facing. Statistics show that the PR practitioners are mainly female with 56% being under the age of 34 and surprisingly almost a third of practitioners being diagnosed with a mental health issue. Some other important statistics were revealed but perhaps raised some the most memorable was that 52% of PR interns do not get paid. This raised some mixed opinions around the room including the confusion on how paying an intern could impact on their student loan. This topic particularly resonated with myself as I am not the typical early 20’s student living of a student loan or the bank of mum and dad but, rather a mature age student during raising a young family in a foreign country. The speakers also touched on the lack of awareness of school kids regarding the PR industry and what can be done to raise awareness, so children have a better understanding of what type of career choices are available to them.

Before lunch Anne-Marie Lacey and Deb Sharrat delivered a workshop on influencer ethics. Part of the workshop included scenarios that contained some tricky decisions and highlighted just how important it is to disclose your motivation for posting for example being paid to mention a product.

Sally Keith gave a talk on the danger of creating PR through a London lens and how we need to seek professionals from outside the bubble of London creating diversity for current practitioners as well as graduates going into the industry.

Dr Amanda Holdsworth joined us from Detroit, America, and gave another fantastic talk on energising and empowering teams. I really enjoyed this talk as it reminds us that we are not just our jobs but people who sometimes need flexibility and understanding in order to reach our highest potential. This talk was followed up appropriately by Sara Hawthorn who talked about building inclusive teams from a diverse community and recognising that we all have something to contribute and the tools managers can use to enact real change in their team and harness the potential diversity brings.

Closing the afternoon with a space for open discussion followed by closing remarks from Laura wrapped up #PRFest for 2019.

Final thoughts

Overall from a student perspective I have to say I was blown away, not only from the fantastic content, but by the speakers and the attendees willingness to give us their time and advice during the breaks. Steve Millar from PRCA (event sponsor) took the time to acknowledge the PR students and was interested in our plans and was forth coming with advice and encouragement, a friendly guy. And last but in no way least, Laura Sutherland, who gave us this wonderful opportunity, topped the whole experience off with her high energy, great sense of humour and friendly, open disposition.

If #PRFest is a taste of what’s to come in the PR industry than count me in.