Futurecomms15: No need to re-write the book, just get on with it

Katie Marlow recently went to Futurecomms15 and as she works with CIPR Inside to help us communicate what we do, we asked her to share her thoughts on futurecomms. Over to Katie:

Thursday 18 June saw the second Futurecomms event, take place in London at the Crystal. It was a bright day. Glimmering in the summer sun, the Crystal overlooks the docks, with cable cars gliding overhead between the Emirates Royal Docks and Emirates Greenwich Peninsular.

It was going to be a good day. I’ve not been to Futurecomms before, so I felt excited to see what the day would bring, who I would meet there and most importantly what I would learn. I always enjoy my time away from the day job. Invariably it provides space for creativity and clarity and I always learn something. Futurecomms15 was supported by CIPR and by attending I was eligible for 10 CPD points, another hit for me. Although it was not a day dedicated to internal comms, I hoped to learn something to take back to an internal comms setting. It was billed to be a forward looking event. But as we settled in for the morning’s sessions, we first took some steps back… Back to the 90s discussing trust, content and who owns what…

The event brought a real mixed bag of emotions out in the audience, just check out the blog post links at the end of this one or check out #FC15 on twitter. It was always going to be a controversial conference with Robert Phillips speaking about the thinking behind his book ‘Trust me PR is dead’. But the controversy started before the ex EMEA President of Edleman and author took to the stage. Robert Rose, Chief strategy officer for Content Marketing Institute was the first speaker and he told us PR is ‘not in the business of truth’…

  Obviously , Robert’s statement met with a lot of opposition, after all good comms is about the truth. And Dan Slee‘s tweet later in the day sums up the sentiment in the room nicely.

What’s more there seemed to be a pre-occupation with content being a strategy that’s new to PR.

Two things: one, content is a part of the toolkit for any comms campaign and it’s not a strategy in and of itself; and two, we’ve all been doing ‘content’ for years.

The morning moved on with two panel discussions, the first on ‘PR and Content the great divide’, and a second on ‘The Death of SEO & the Rise of the Brand Story’.

So the things I learned from these speakers and the subsequent debates:

Quit talking about ownership, ‘customers’ don’t care who owns what, they just want results.

There’s still some confusion over what PR really does in some organisations. Some people still seem to view PR as just media relations or spin. And I personally find this to be one of my biggest bug bears for my profession. PR stands for Public Relations, not Press Relations. And PRs have been doing content for years, for all kinds of ‘publics’. Content to support community engagement, content for leaflets, content for websites, content to communicate with employees, content for sales… I could go on. We select the channels we need to deliver the comms to the people we need to reach with honest, interesting, relevant and engaging content. Sometimes media relations is a part of that. What’s more we also listen a lot too.

So while the Futurecomms audience comprised people who really do give a stuff about their profession, I couldn’t help wondering that for people to keep having the debate about who does what, there must be either still some confusion about what PR is, or that there are still PR people who are not working across numerous channels, or perhaps we just like to talk more than do. Either way, more action less talk will help Public Relations and communications get more recognition for all the good work it does, help shake off the reputation of spin that it’s had for decades and put the who owns what debate to bed. And I think that this is also true for internal comms. The more we do the ‘right’ work aligned to corporate strategies and make a difference, the more recognition we’ll get and with that a seat at the boardroom table to help direct business activities.

Stop talking about trust, just be trustworthy.

I’m reading Robert Philips’ book at the moment, and in honesty I can’t disagree with a lot of what he says about PR, public leadership and citizenship. He’s right, businesses should be doing what they say they do and behaving more like citizens with a responsibility to their people and the planet. Businesses can no longer get away with just self-interest and spin, and it’s our job as PRs or communicators to push the businesses we work with to be truthful and transparent. But in his book he doesn’t seem to acknowledge the good work that is already being done, and some of the ‘PR’ described appears old school, and as Rachel Miller pointed out when she questioned him during the Q&As for his session.

I’ve seen from the work of the many internal communicators that CIPR Inside interacts with that there’s a very professional approach being taken to communications. People are pushing back to their businesses and saying no to gloss, and they are working hard to make sure the values on the wall reflect what’s in the hearts and minds of the people. Real engagement, listening and responsive approaches to employees wants, needs and desires are being carried out in many organisations. I wonder if he should have called the book: ‘Trust me Spin is dead’ then it would have been a more accurate title (but perhaps not so controversial). I’m sure for every comms team making a difference in progressive orgs there are dozens more just sticking to what they know and perpetuating the status quo. I hope the book encourages more businesses to take a leadership approach, and that comms professionals push their leaders to be more honest and transparent. It would certainly help internal communication cut through in businesses and then the communicators would be able to get on with delivering what they’re qualified to do.

Internal communication needs to be a part of crisis preparation

Before lunch we moved on and heard from Chris Webb who was Head of News at Scotland Yard at the time of the 7/7 bombings and was appointed the Strategic Communication Lead on behalf of all the blue light services to manage the media and communication response. His talk was sobering after a morning of self-reflection – it put life and our earlier musings into perspective.

Chris discussed the way the day of the 7 July 2005 unfolded from start to finish, how the comms was managed meticulously and the way the relationship with the different departments and the media helped them provide thorough and accurate reporting of the day’s events.

But how would such a situation be managed now? With the immediate news cycle, social media everywhere, and a smartphone in every pocket, we’d have no control over the images shared and the flow of news… He didn’t have the answers, but it was clear, we all need to consider how the changing media landscape and social media in particular affects the way we communicate and how we prepare for a crisis.

From an internal comms point of view, this surely means that internal communicators need to be in the emergency response team, at the very heart of the crisis. The last thing any organisation wants is for its employees to discover something has happened through external media or social media. Internal communication needs to be swift, factual and central to the crisis communications management.

A little creativity can go a long way

After lunch we heard from Zoe Clapp, and her work at UKTV. Her case study was about the launch of UKTV drama, and she and the team made something that wasn’t particularly newsy or very exciting, exciting and appealing the press. The answer was Chocobatch, the outcome from their survey with 2,000 women found Benedict Cumberbatch to be the sexiest man on TV. The UKTV team went one step further to add extra mileage to the survey results, they commissioned a life-sized chocolate sculpture of Benedict Cumberbatch. The results were phenomenal. And while this case study was purely external and heavily focussed on earned media and reaching online audiences, the creativity the team used is something we can draw upon in internal campaigns. To get your message heard and get people engaging with the story, get creative, have some fun, break the mould and be memorable.

So we’d gone from simmering tension, anger and annoyance, to humbling humility and then onto fun and frivolity. What next?

How Hollywood action movies hold the key to sharable content

Stephen Follows, from Catsnake was up next and he shared some brilliant insights into storytelling, mixing psychology and communication. With ‘How Hollywood action movies hold the key to sharable content’.

His delivery and content was powerful. Stephen is a superb speaker and clearly an awesome storyteller. He reminded us that we all love stories and that they are essentially fun vessels for vital survival information. We enjoy stories, they make us feel connected and involved, and they inspire action. Getting people to share stories online, involves two stories, the story in the content and the story of the person you want to share your content. Heroes act selflessly and will sacrifice everything for something bigger than they are. We all want to be heroes. And storytellers need heroes to share their stories. When you’re creating your story and creating a hero to share your story, consider:

The world – The environment and the rules in which we operate

The need – What is lacking and how it is harming the world

The problem – What is it we need to deal with

The challenge – If only someone would help

The map – the call to action, what you need to do if you’re the hero

Check out a couple of Stephen’s films here to see how he’s brought storytelling to life.

Is the internet making us more stupider?

Then as the day drew to an end, David Schneider actor, writer and comedian (from Alan Partridge, The Day Today and more) took to the stage and asked ‘is the internet making us more stupider’. Well if some of the screen shots he shared with us from twitter and facebook land are anything to go by, yes, yes the internet is making us more stupider. However, perhaps the internet itself isn’t making us stupid, but rather it’s just allowing many of the stupid things that we do to be shown to the world in super-fast, super sharp focus.

And this demonstrates why organisations need communication professionals to guide them, be their strategic advisors, show leadrs that it’s ok to be more human, give them the insights to show how good communication makes a difference and help them to behave with integrity and not stupidly or just in their own self interest.

Having David speak at the end of the day was inspired. And while the mynewdesk team may not have anticipated the intensity of the sentiment in the room they had in the morning, David and his ability to poke fun at the world made sure we all left smiling and uplifted.

There are loads of posts about the event here, each with its own perspective.

Further reading on Futurecomms15:

7 insights on the future of PR from Future Comms 15 – Stephen Waddington
PESO: Please Evolve Soon OK? – John Brown
Paid: A Must not a Maybe for PR – Danny Whatmough
A tetchy Future Comms moves on from the past – eventually – Rob Smith
Conclusions from FutureComms – Sarah Pinch
FutureComms15 felt like dipping in to a bag of allsorts – Alissia Knight

Futurecomms15 – you can’t handle the truth – Paul Sutton

Future comms 15 checklist – Stephen Waddington

Future comms 15 – Rachel Miller

Future comms 15 a look back at the future of comms – My newsdesk

FC15 call to action, let the journey begin – Neville Hobson

Future comms 15 – PRs stockdale paradox – Jonathan Bean

Future comms 15 – the take outs – Sarah Hall

Future comms 15 – the death of seo and the rise of the brand story – Sarah Hall

Future comms 15 – using social media in crisis comms – Sarah Hall

Further reading Robert Phillips book and reviews:

Stephen Waddington’s review

Dan Slee’s review

Shel Holtz review

 

 

Image credits: Twitter users @brownbare, @AllthingsIC and Featured image S. Zolkin, Splashbase.co

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