This year I was lucky enough to be able to purchase a ticket for The Midlands PR Conference: The Business of Communications. The conference was held at the beautiful and spacious Birmingham City University on the 3rd April 2019 and as this is my first experience of attending a CIPR conference I wanted to share my experiences and also hopefully persuade some of you who didn't attend to buy a ticket for next year!
The Curzon Building, Birmingham City University. Photo provided by Mr Ladd Media.
The morning session.
Photos provided by Mr Ladd Media.
First up to speak was Jonny Dymond; BBC PM and Royal Reporter.
Jonny started with posing a question over whether leading as a country is a good or bad thing before saying he believed that although Britain's time as a leader may be waning currently that we should have confidence in the values we do have as a country and we should portray these values in order to lead in a more selfless way. He continued to talk about the current view of Britain regarding that-which-should-not-be-named along with how countries should be resilient and look to change the nature of leadership.
Jonny also talked about living in a world of global accountability and a world where new players within media have enabled different narratives to come forward and be heard. A world where news can be instantaneous from anyone, anywhere thanks to technological advances giving greater accessibility and decreasing costs.
Next up was Sheila Taylor MBE from the NWG Network.
Sheila's talk regarding the role communications can play in tackling child abuse started with talking about the extent of CSE. She spoke about everyone having a duty to show the world that every child can be at risk no matter their ethnicity or background as well as talking about needing to change people's attitudes along with the way we talk about CSE. For example, we should be ensuring we consider our language carefully avoiding mentioning CSE victims in a way that associates them with blame such as reporting them as being sexually active. Sheila also spoke about her work with parliament and some of the campaigns she runs to create awareness such as working in conjunction with high profile premier league footballers.
Morning Breakout Session - Kerry Sheehan; AI in PR Vice Chair.
There were some fantastic choices for the morning breakout including Richard Bagnall's talk on demonstrating our value in an ever more complex world, crisis management by Liz Goddard and Andy Hitchcock and Kevin Ruck's talk on internal comms and organisational engagement. As I'm currently doing my dissertation on AI in PR and being a huge AI enthusiast however, there was no other option for me than to attend Kerry's talk on the AI tools and trends evolving PR practice!
Kerry talked about how AI can enable us to connect with new audiences, tell better stories and build loyalties using smart and transparent communications. She talked abut how AI pushes communications professionals to step up regarding ethics and add value to their strategies.
Ethics is YOUR job - Kerry Sheehan
Kerry spoke about how data has been around for decades and how AI provides better and faster analysis before talking us through some of the incredible uses of AI in PR which can be discovered by taking a look through the CIPR's AI in PR tool classification database which can be found here! I'm extremely excited to start making my way through this list and have a play around with some of the tools and features!
The afternoon session.
Photos provided by Mr Ladd Media.
After a great lunch of networking and some excellent chats about the potential applications of AI in PR we all filtered back in to the main hall for the second half of the day!
First talk after lunch was the exuberant John Brown - Founder of Don't Cry Wolf
John gave an exceptional talk titled 'Influencing the board - don't be left out of the room'. After having lunch and a busy morning an energetic and entertaining talk was just what we all needed! John spoke about the need for brands to stand for something and be driven by a purpose other than to make profit using Nike's Colin Kaepernick campaign as an excellent example along with one of his favourite brands; Patagonia! He talked about growth fallacy, impact metrics and the social progress index along with a good look at the importance of organisational culture and internal communications.
Never before has communications had such a broad and important impact across an organisation - John Brown
John then moved on to talk about pitching to a board using his model, the 'nipple of influence' which got a great reception! The model looked at structuring your pitch around the pathway of inspire > inform > engage > action and finished with a three step list of advice!
Next came the second breakout session of the day and again there were some excellent choices; The business of public sector communications - how communications can add value by Richard Haynes and Cultivating your employer brand and engaging with the next generation of talent by Rob Markwell! Again due to my love of all things technological I went for the following session!
Tech trends: digital evolution influencing the business of communications by Ringo Moss - Managing Partner - Strategy at McCann
Ringo started by emphasising that organisations should be thinking on the wider effects of technology, not just releasing content, software and products without thinking of the potential implications of doing so.
Ringo then looked at the three key trends to be aware of currently; 'we forgot about China', 'There's a problem with big tech' and 'humanising tech'. As part of the first key trend we looked at the terrifying reality of the Alipay software app used in China. This app amongst other things has eradicated the need for both cash and bank cards for the majority of China however ominously behind the scenes collects infinite data on the population including using your credit score to make decisions! Which although sounds similar to the UK, includes criteria such as compliance, behaviour, social connections and amount of times someone has been identified on CCTV systems in order to make decisions surrounding their finances! A scary thought indeed!
After Ringo had terrified us all at the though of Alipay, he quickly moved on to talking about the second trend; There's a problem with big tech! During this section he talked us through fake news - disinformation and the fabric of society along with the physical and emotion impact technology has on us! Including the fact there is now a medical condition called 'selfie wrist'!
Like cigarettes in the early days we didn't understand how addictive tech is, how it has health effects on our bodies, emotions and psyches - Brian Solis (Author)
Finally Ringo moved on to the last key trend; Humanising Tech. Ringo talked us through the importance of taking an ethical stance regarding tech, designing tech for human emotion rather than just engagement and the importance of employing diversity in algorithm development to reduce bias!
As by this point we were all in fear of technology and on the verge of deleting all our apps and throwing our phone in the bin on the way out, Ringo finished up with some reasons to be cheerful about tech! Looking at improving the climate and energy through tech implementation along with the importance of education and collaboration!
If you're still with me at this point can I first say congratulations on making it this far! We are now approaching the final moments of this years CIPR Midlands Conference!
Again, we all congregated back in the main lecture hall for the last time or the panel debate on how to maximise the effectiveness of consultancy. On the panel were Andy Hitchcock, Emma Leech, John Brown, Jane Ainsworth and Vicki Davies.
The panel debated many different points but the two themes that stood out for me were:
So let's start with the 'perfect' relationship! The panel overall were agreed on the fact that there is a huge need for honesty and transparency on both sides with John Brown adding that a good relationship should be able to have healthy conflict and be able to challenge each other. Vicki Davies; the head of internal communications at Highways England; added that agencies shouldn't discount the capabilities of an in-house communications team. That agencies should consider that they may not be hired as a result of a lack of skill within the client organisation but that it could be due to lack of client resources, flexibility and organisational changes. Jane Ainsworth from WPR agency suggested that the more a client invests; time and research for example; the better the relationship will be. She also added that clients should be more honest with their feedback to save time and other resources as well as creating a more harmonious environment. Emma Leech - CIPR President and Director of Marketing at Loughborough University added that relationships are better on both sides if agencies have done their due diligence beforehand to understand the marketplace they're pitching for and also added that they should be able to challenge, explore and inspire a client.
Andy Hitchcock - from Coherent Communications, then moved the conversation onto agency recruitment. John spoke about the importance of recruiting to find the best fit for the agency rather than recruiting for employees to fit with certain clients. He also spoke about how employees should stand for something; an echo of his earlier talk; before finishing with saying that recruitment should be diverse! Jane suggested that while she doesn't recruit specifically to match with clients there is an element of matchmaking when it comes to selecting employees to work with clients. She also stated that she looks for potential employees to have passion, curiosity and positivity. The panel then moved on to debate about changes regarding employees and Emma stated that it's difficult to build an effective client-agency relationship when agencies pitch with a certain team which then changes after the contract commences. Vicki then mentioned that actually when the agency is a good fit for the client it doesn't necessarily become a huge problem if individuals within the team change occasionally.
After the panel that was the day concluded!
This was the first time I have attended a CIPR conference, as a student I felt that events such as these were intimidating for someone who is only on the verge of a career within PR/Comms and I'm extremely happy to say I was completely wrong! From start to finish everyone I met was welcoming and kind. Everyone I met offered me words of advice or encouragement and were more than happy to share their experiences with me. It was truly a great experience all the way through. The talks were interesting, thought provoking and relevant and I'm so excited to attend next year!
For anybody who is unsure about attending for whatever reason, I'd say to put those reasons to one side and go! For anyone who is worried about going and not fitting in or worried about going by themselves, I am confident that you will leave feeling the same way I did! Full of inspiration, glad to admit your perceptions were wrong and going home with full of ideas!
I also wanted to take this opportunity to thank Rachel Roberts - Co-Chair of the Midlands PR Conference and Founder & CEO of Spottydog Communications. Without whom I wouldn't have attended the event! Thank you for making it possible for me to have such an amazing experience!