I have just spent the day at CommsCon, a leading conference and awards in the Australian public relations and communications industry. I spoke in a session on crisis communications and reputation management. I am a juror for the awards and honoured to be involved.
CommsCon covered everything… media trends, agency management, stakeholder relations, social media, best practise, yadda, yadda. It was a great day listening to great people telling great stories. In a world of very expensive conferences, this is good value for money for new and seasoned (I didn’t say old) practitioners. I think the communications and PR industry in Australia is alive and well, indeed flourishing.
I like conferences. They’re an opportunity to measure your own professional thinking against that of others in the industry. I think it is important to get to at least two conferences a year. Humbly, I say that I feel pretty content with where my thinking is at. My personal interest in the internet and consumer technology serves my professional life well. That said, this old radio DJ could learn a few new tricks. That’s why I came.
With social media, it is very easy to be overwhelmed by today’s operating environment. “OMG, the industry has changed so much, I am so out of touch, I don’t know anything anymore, the sky is falling in, I am heading for the hills….”. What claptrap. Communications, public relations and marketing (they’re all the one thing today, right?) is all about story telling. That bit hasn’t changed. We still assemble words around a message and use a variety of means to get it in front of people. Correct?
What has changed is the way we get it in front of people and the number of different places we have available to get that message across. When I say message, I mean “buy this” or “do this”. To be honest, little else has changed. The fundamentals remain the same – get the product or policy right; get the message right; choose the right channels; choose the timing, etc. it is basic stuff.
These days people talk about content, content and content. That’s not new either. In the old days, like ten years ago, we called it copy, photos and videos. The issue today is where this content ends up. Is it in paid media, earned media, shared media or owned media? It is the POSE model. The biggest question facing communicators today is, what’s the mix across POSE?
As I said, the fundamentals of marketing, communications and public relations haven’t changed. Think about it. In the beginning (deep voice, thunder clap, pounding of a timpani) there was leaflets, then newspapers, then drawings, then photos, then outdoor, then cinema, then radio, then TV, then the internet, then smart phones and, in pretty much parallel with the latter, social media. This is evolution not revolution. You could take one message and tell it via all of these means.
What has changed is the number of places we have to tell our stories. Again, in the old days, an Australian capital city use to have two newspapers, ten radio stations and five TV stations. Some people today don’t ‘consume’ information through any of these means. Some people ‘live’ on the web. The choices are practically endless. The biggest trend in technology is miniaturisation. Think about it… record players, then CD players, then iPods the size of your palm to iPods half the size of a matchbox. Is that not what we are going through in communications? Miniaturisation? Miniaturisation in consumption devices and providers. I think so.
A panel discussion today by journalists on current trends brought this thought home to me. I listened to @stephharmon from www.junkee.com about original pop culture journalism. It is growing and hugely popular. I looked at the site. It was a whole new world me. I have no interest in it but, obviously, a lot of people do. Good on her! On the same panel, @brucerguthrie from www.thenewdaily.com.au said communicators need to understand the ‘DNA’ of sites that communicators are pitching stories to. It’s a basic but timely reminder. That’s what has changed. Before, you could ‘bung a press release out’ and leave it at that. Today, as a communicator, you have to work really hard, harder than ever before, to find out where the target market is ‘today’ (as they move quickly) and what the secret code or DNA is of the site so you can get through the door and get the message to the consumer. That’s the challenge for today’s communicators. Not only do we have to be great story tellers, we have to be great detectives as well.
Consumers love miniaturisation in their technology or consumption devices. They love miniaturisation in their sources of information. This miniaturisation, conversely, results in a bigger task for today’s communicators. It is also a great opportunity for the profession.