Tweet on the Street: The PR Week NEXT Conference

Posted by: in Communication Strategy, Public Relations Practice, Thinking Creatively on November 30, 2011

I recently had the opportunity to attend my second PR Week NEXT conference, an annual event for PR pros to learn from their peers and industry visionaries, debate hot topics and of course — network. I first attended this conference back in 2009 when the discussion centered on the way social media was rapidly changing the way we communicate, especially a relatively new concept gaining industry traction at that time: Twitter.

Much has changed over the past two years, so I was excited to participate in this year’s NEXT conference in NYC. It was a jam-packed and fun two days, and this year – like 2009 – the medium of choice to share learnings throughout the meeting was Twitter. So in the spirit of this 140-character age, here were my main takeways, in tweet form:

  • Twitter Insight #1: “S. Colamarino, VP Corp Comm @JNJComm: It used to be a 30 sec. TV spot and a PR campaign; 2day there is so much white space between the 2 to fill  #prweeknext”
    Much discussion at the NEXT conference was about how the communications paradigm, and the role of PR within it, is rapidly shifting. The sheer amount of “white space” through which we can reach audiences presents an exciting and often unnerving opportunity. As expert communicators, we must acknowledge and participate in this white space through masterful content development and syndication. During a panel featuring Edelman Digital’s Elizabeth Lee, J&J’s Sarah Colamarino and Unilver’s Christine Cea, we discussed the complex role that PR plays in the communications mix, and the importance of integrated, surround-sound campaigns. Yet even with all this change, one of PR’s greatest opportunities has long remained the same: tracking the bigger picture in real-time, and being nimble and brave enough to shift direction when needed.

  • Twitter Insight #2: “Elevate authenticity thru messaging, voice, content, participation and purpose  #prweeknext”
    The concept that I found most interesting, and the one that was explored throughout the conference, was “authenticity.” Sure, this term has become a bit of a buzzy cliché in our industry but the conference discussion explored it in a more meaningful way. By spotlighting companies and brands like Unilever and Avon, who demonstrate their commitment to authenticity through the successful “Dove Campaign for Real Beauty” and “Speak Out About Domestic Violence” campaigns, the conference focused on authenticity in action which only happens when companies are true to who they really are. In the cases of Unilever and Avon, this is achieved by being loyal to their core audience of women and focusing on issues that matter to them, so these programs come across as credible and logical – hence, authentic. 

  • Twitter Insight #3: “A brand is a promise & a great brand is a promise kept. We need to be promise-keeping as well as promise-making  #prweeknext”
    Another great topic at the NEXT conference was about corporate social responsibility. CSR is not a new concept, but one that is easily misunderstood, misrepresented and definitely under-funded.  CSR is wonderful when executed with purpose, integrity and commitment, but this is where some (often well-intentioned) companies miss the mark. During one panel, Panera Bread’s Linn Parrish showcased Panera’s commitment to CSR through a successful program tightly aligned with its core values and products: “Panera Cares,” non-profit community cafes where people take what they need and donate their fair share. Once again, it all comes back to being authentic. When executed correctly and supported from the top down, CSR can elevate a company’s reputation among constituents and do a staggering amount of good for the community at large.
  • And Finally, Twitter Insight #4: “Don’t ask me ‘how can I help?’ but TELL me how you will help. Be specific,” suggests Kathy of @Discover #prweeknext”
    During a discussion on c-suite management, we heard from Discover Financial Service’s Kathy Beiser, who encouraged us to think critically about the value we bring to our clients. Beiser advised, “Don’t ask HOW you can help, TELL me how you will help.” It may seem like obvious advice, but it rang true, and applies to all industries. Think about it — how often have you called your client trying to be helpful and offering a vague but well-intentioned, “If there is anything we can do to help, let us know?” So the next time your client is in a difficult situation, devise a few specific, well thought-out suggestions and offer those up instead. The positive difference in response, and new opportunities it could present, may surprise you.
With all this in mind, my biggest takeaway from the NEXT conference goes back to a simple principle, which has withstood the test of time. Successful brands do what they say, and say what they mean. PR plays a critical role in conveying these intentions and achievements to audiences, and we can now share and manage this information in more targeted and meaningful ways than ever before. By listening to audiences and engaging with them based on those observations, we will always win.

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