The Arthur W. Page Society is a professional association for senior public relations and corporate communications executives. Each year, they have an annual conference in which the members, sponsors and new members get together to network with one another, share case studies and present learnings to help strengthen the management policy role of chief public relations officers in the industry. This year’s meeting took place at the Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia from September 21 through September 23. We (Anke & Lauren) were selected to be volunteers at the conference this year and help orchestrate the meeting. We are excited to share with you some of the key insights and learnings from our extraordinary experience in Philly.
As all communications experts know, interaction, integration and engagement are key for success in anything one pursues. That’s why this year, the Page Society Annual Conference adopted LiveCube as an interactive social platform to help increase audience participation and attendee interaction. Housing all vital conference information on the app and enabling attendees to ask questions, comment on sessions and post pictures of the event on the LiveCube dashboard gave this year’s conference a much needed digital footprint that was smart, cutting edge and a major success. We were not surprised to hear that this new addition to the conference was suggested by non-other than W2O Group. Page members enjoyed the app and all its capabilities, and it was fascinating for us to be able to see the interaction between CCOs on various sessions.
The evolving role of the CCO
Although the role of the CCO has seen a substantial increase in responsibility over the last few decades, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to move communications into an even more mission-critical role. Communications has to focus on (re-)building itself from the core to enhance existing roles, such as building corporate reputation and employee engagement, and move into new areas, such as customer service and product development. Leveraging data-driven insights and taking risk with new ideas, needs to ring in a new era where marketing and communications work hand in hand and complement each other.
The Arthur W. Page Society serves as an example of how the role of (Chief) Communication Officer has evolved over the last few decades and it brings together the best and brightest of the communications profession. The society started with Arthur W. Page, who was the first public relations executive to hold the position of officer and member of the Board of Directors of a major public corporation, and has grown to over 500 members, most of whom have a seat at the executive table. At the conference, there were many case studies presented. We chose two that resonated with us to exemplify the great work being done by other communications professionals.
If you ask Alana Burns, Vice President, Signature Cause Campaign at the American Lung Association (ALA), a color can say more than a thousand words. These days just about every color in the rainbow is claimed by one advocacy group or another, exemplified by the ribbons worn by its supporters, so choosing a color to promote a cause as important as lung cancer can be a daunting task. Working with some of the best creative minds on the planet, the ALA, wanted to identify a color that represented both the cause and the target audience, women. Turquoise has traditionally been hailed as a bringer of good fortune or a talisman. According to Alana, the color turquoise is the perfect depiction of the “breath of fresh air” that the ALA is hoping to promote by raising awareness about lung cancer and it appeals to females, who are generally the chief medical officers of their families.
In a day and age where “just PR” isn’t enough to reach, and more importantly engage, consumers, the idea of authentic advocacy holds more relevance than ever before. An organic partnership with CVS (that just happened to announce their “tobacco-free” policy and rebranding as CVS Health at the same time the ALA “Lung Force” campaign launched) helped give this cause a voice.
Maggie FitzPatrick, Chief Communications Officer at Johnson & Johnson, knows about corporate compassion. As one of the major leaders in cutting edge medical products, her company knows corporate character matters. Maggie shared examples of how Johnson & Johnson is leveraging partnerships and a heritage of transparency to drive trust, engagement and advocacy. Johnson & Johnson uses the idea of “care” to create impact for those that value the brand. She delved into Johnson & Johnson’s belief in doing well by doing good with examples like Operation Smile and their 12-year commitment to its nursing campaign. It was a powerful session that demonstrated the importance and the impact caring, courage, connection and creativity can have on society.
The ‘So What’
You may say, “All of this sounds great, but so what?” Here are our key takeaways from a long weekend in Philadelphia at the Arthur W. Page Society Annual Conference:
We need to feel uncomfortable: Asking the hard questions and constantly challenging what has been known and tried, will make us invaluable to the CEOs whom we so often struggle to convince of the need for strategic communications.
Employees are the key to long term, sustainable advocacy: Building advocacy from the core by first engaging employees and then encouraging organic growth stemming from passions and commitment to the cause or company is the key to long term success.
With more power comes more responsibility: Over the past few decades, the role of the CCO has expanded immensely. With that comes a responsibility to solve today’s complex problems, inspired by a communications-focused approach.
The era of communications AND marketing is over: The solution to every problem is not a new advertising campaign. Communications needs to lead the charge in solving today’s large scale problems and work hand in hand with marketing to move from image-driven campaigns to a more holistic approach of building and stewarding relationships.
Overall, we had such an amazing experience at this year’s Page Society Annual Conference. The lessons we learned and insights we gained are invaluable and we are excited to see how communications will evolve in the future. Thinking ahead, we hope to one day be able to contribute our learnings and ideas to the dialog and help continue to grow the role of the CCO.