At #PRFest in Edinburgh earlier this month (15-16 June) I announced the results of a pre-event survey.

The findings weren’t too much of a surprise, but it was good to see a slight change in thinking. The questions were around PR learning and priorities for the industry and received around 60 responses.

The first question was what was the no.1 priority each practitioner had this year for learning.

  1. Measurement & evaluation
  2. Social / digital
  3. Planning and insights
  4. Crisis comms
  5. SEO
  6. Business development
  7. Business management

I’m pleased to see measurement and evaluation still at the top. I know many who struggle with it and some still haven’t even considered using AMEC’s integrated evaluation framework.

PR learning and priorities for the industrySocial and digital will remain a priority as long as tech keeps developing and innovating. Practitioners have to keep up with the latest developments in order to make their jobs easier and more effective and in addition, as long as platforms keep changing algorithms and adding on new functionality, we’ll always be learning. We have to. It’s how we can offer the best advice to clients.

No.3 was a bit of a pleasant surprise to be there. I’m a bit geeky when it comes to data and analytics and I’ve talked for years about the need to do use data to inform strategy. Why wouldn’t you? That’s what I keep asking. Some one I spoke to recently about it, from a large agency, said they had recruited someone for planning and insights but they were finding it a tough sell to clients. I was thinking, how can it be a tough sell? It needs to be at the front and end of anything you do! You don’t sell it, it’s there, it’s part of the package. How can you develop strategies without it??

SEO has finally made it’s way onto the list (not before time!) and I was pleased listening to Jim Hawker that I’m not missing a trick. PR has a massive opportunity to work with SEO, not just be an accident (that SEO is achieved through PR activity).

Now, business development is a new one. It might be because there were more independent practitioners in the room than the previous year, or might be that as more new agencies launch, the ‘art’ of business development is getting harder. More competition, different approaches… How can you stand out? My answer is BE YOU – whether you’re an agency or independent. You’ll be the one they buy into – you, whether on your own or a team, need to represent the brand. Don’t sell fake services, don’t be all things to all people and always maintain integrity.

The independent practitioner community is strong, just look at the Scottish PR Collective! We’re happy to support each other, share and even refer business.

PR learning and priorities for the industryThe last one which has crept onto the list is business management. Again, perhaps as there were more independent practitioners in attendance, they have to deal with all aspects of managing the business. Agency account execs don’t need to bother about VAT returns and corporation tax or paying NIC. Being organised and strategic is key to running a successful business – no mean feat for us independent practitioners! In addition, the majority of practitioners who attend PRFest are senior. They are in a position to be managing businesses. We talked a little through Sarah Hall’s #FuturePRoof session and Sarah Pinch and Bridget Aherne’s session on Working with and Influencing the Board, about management. There’s a lot to take on, how to get into the boardroom, how to be heard, how to be valued and how to influence.

I think we could benefit from doing some work with the IOD on business management. What do you think?

The second question was  around what practitioners thought the biggest ‘thing’ was, for PR to succeed in being fully integrated within business and organisations.

  1. Maintain credibility
  2. Demonstrate then prove value / ROI
  3. Present on boards
  4. Become essential
  5. Educate ‘business’
  6. Lead the way with essential skills
  7. Demonstrate leadership
  8. Work collaboratively
  9. As fully involved, as early as possible
  10. Make resources available for businesses to constantly keep learning about PR

PR learning and priorities for the industryI’ve been banging the drum for years about the issues we have as an industry not being recognised by ‘business’ as being essential. Many still deem PR a luxury, an add on and some, just nice to have. It’s frustrating. I can only think these businesses a) don’t know what PR actually is and does b) have had a bad experience of some dreadful practice c) thought the likes of Max Clifford was a model of what PR practitioners looked and acted like or d) as is sometimes the case when I speak to prospective clients, they’ve had an agency and all the agency did was tell them how many press releases they wrote and what coverage they achieved.

If you look at ANY of the above points, you will link everything back to 1) setting out PR objectives which are aligned to business objectives 2) developing a strategy which supports and will demonstrate a ROI for the business objectives 3) KPIs will be in place from the outset to help monitor and measure 4) if you’re experienced and giving the right advice, you’ll be leading the client in the right direction and be in the boardroom 5) if you successfully measure and evaluate the IMPACT of the outputs and then outcomes, relating BACK to the business objectives and KPIs set, how can you not do 1 to 10?

Easier said than done for some clients, slow burn for others as you build trust, but practitioners need to play a part in educating their new clients, in-house management teams and demonstrating excellent leadership skills.

A lot depends on corporate culture, has it ‘always been done that way’, is there a new leadership team, has the industry changed…and the list goes on.

In summary

I was pleased to see some stay on the list and some new ones added since the inaugural PRFest. It shows we are moving forward. It shows there is recognition of what practitioners need to learn and areas for development. That in itself is worth a big whoop!

I work in an industry which is constantly evaluating itself, sometimes being too hard on itself (I can be guilty of that, yes), but if you look at the above and you look at the PR community who attended and spoke at PRFest, we’re definitely moving in the right direction. We’re working better together. We’re talking about issues we’ve not talked about before and we’re taking notes to make them into actions.

My personal actions from PRFest

  1. Ensure diversity is included in my client meetings
  2. Monitor my own mental health when times get stressful
  3. Look at my own ‘client journey’ and map out what I’m missing
  4. Invest more time to learn more about influencer ‘tools’
  5. Involve myself more in PRFest as a speaker – not just the organiser and host. I’ve got a lot to talk about!
  6. Finish my branding exercise I started a few months back. Make the time
  7. Stop putting down press releases – they do still have a place, although I’m pretty sure I can modernise the approach to what a press release looks like and does
  8. Speak more to practitioners I know who have experience in areas I don’t and learn from them
  9. Get back to face-to-face networking, although I do prefer one-to-ones

What are your actions?