Why sharing is caring in PR

Those of us who blog about PR-related topics know what value lies in it. It can help make us an influencer, a thought-leader, an industry commentator, but it also allows others to learn from our experiences.

Blogging should be personal, it should be view and opinion based and it should be relevant to the target audience. Yes, I know you know that.

Let’s go one step further. Let’s think about other ways of sharing.

An example I’ve been working on recently is PRFest. In case you’ve not heard about it already, it’s the world’s first PR festival and takes place 16-17 June in the capital, Edinburgh.

The PRofessionals PR festivalWhy?

For some years I’ve felt that there are many other marketing and digital ‘landmark’ events being organised, but none with a public relations focus. When I joined the CIPR Board in 2014, I started to think about the PR landscape in Scotland, there was loads of chat about how the industry needs to modernise, examples of people and businesses doing it well (and some not so much), but when I thought about Scotland, I really felt it was lagging behind. More so than other areas of the UK.

See my previous post from June 2015, Scotland is behind in public relations modernisation. I boldly gave my thoughts about PR in Scotland. Some were surprised and some agreed. Granted, in the last year we’ve moved on, but still, there seems to be a lack of understanding of PR using the PESO model, for example.

I’ve never been scared to make bold moves and indeed take risks at times, it’s in my nature, and for the last few years I’ve been thinking about what could help the industry. Why? Because I care. I care that I belong to an industry that is bold and innovative, I care how public relations is perceived, and I fully believe that by sharing skills, knowledge and experience, everyone can benefit.

What do I have to offer? Well, I’ve been involved in roles within the public relations industry for around eight years, both at a Scottish national and UK national level. All through my voluntary work with the CIPR. I’ve networked with amazing people, I’ve learned from the best and one of my greatest skills is strategic event organisation. Voila! There you have it – my network and contacts married with my event expertise. The PRofessionals was born.

How?

I set about setting up a questionnaire early summer last year and it was distributed widely on social platforms and emails directly from me. The idea wasn’t to replicate PR industry surveys that we often get, it was to make the research specific to this event idea.

I got responses from mostly senior practitioners. That’s a good and bad thing. It’s good because they’ll be the ones helping the industry modernise from the top, but it’s bad because the real game-changers will be the less experienced and more junior, the PR practitioners of the future.

So, with this research, I started to draw out key areas of challenge, learning barriers, skills development gaps and suggestion for how we can overcome the barriers.

This then drew out a simple structure for the event with key take-aways. Read Top things you’ll get out of the festival for an idea of how this looks.

I then started to match people with structure. I also had to bear in mind that others had to be of the same belief that sharing is caring.

In the first year I really wanted a massive name to draw the numbers. I secured said ‘massive name’ but quickly realised it was too risky for the first year. In order to cover costs I’d have to bring in large amounts of sponsorship and be guaranteed sales. This was a step too far, too soon. That’s on the back burner for 2017!

So, with industry activity, the structure of the festival in response to the survey (and knowledge of feedback from other surveys and events), I announced the festival last December.

Since, we have run CIPR, PRCA, Marketing Society, Scottish Comms Network, Local Government Comms, Third Sector and Scottish Government discounts, giving everyone a chance to buy tickets at a very reasonable rate.

I have secured sponsorship from PRCA, CIPR Scotland and Press Data. I’ve also secured sponsorship in-kind from Pocapoc Creative, Capture Media, Whitespace and Hiscox.

I’ve scheduled the whole programme of marketing and PR activity from last December up until the week before. Making announcements, asking questions, chatting on social and welcoming each and every attendee on social and email. I’ve made it personal.

I emailed, sent LinkedIn messages, called and interacted with every agency Director, PR and Comms Director I know, and some I don’t, introducing the festival and asking them to get involved. Most have been really pleased to see the event come to life and have supported by buying tickets. Others, not so much.

With the support from PRCA and CIPR and me actively selling it should encourage people to come along and hear from the amazing line-up the festival has achieved. You can also get up to 20 CPD points for attending!

I’ve had applications from several students to volunteer at the festival, helping with registration, live tweeting, hosting etc and each of them have their own areas of responsibility. They will also get the opportunity to take part, an opportunity they might not have had. These students are Paul Surgeoner, Melissa Craib, Laura Hamilton, Hannah McNeil, Alanah Rodgers and Niina Bruun. Say ‘hi’ if you meet them!

What next?

Well, there’s just over four weeks until the festival kicks off, so there is still time to get your ticket here. Tickets start at £70 for a half day. Check out the line-up in case one session is of particular interest. Click here for an automatic 15% CIPR member discount available 16-29 May (membership number required).

I’ve opened up the networking drinks, as planned, to students at a discounted price (£15). It’s important we encourage students to interact with practitioners. Napier, Stirling, Glasgow Caledonian and Queen Margaret University have all sent the details to their students. Drinks reception tickets for everyone else at full price (£25) will be launched next week!

I have two elements which are still to be confirmed – one speaker and one other ‘thing’ *winks*. Then the full programme will be live with timings on the website. At the moment there is an indication of timings for morning and afternoon sessions.

Tickets will close the week before the festival, as I need numbers for catering etc.

What’s the festival to do with anything?

Well, I’ve shared my idea and I’ve used my networks and communities I’m involved in. I care enough to organise an event which will help any PR practitioner in any sector. Learning, sharing and collaborating are the three main principles. Sharing is caring after all!

I think that should do it, eh?

And after this year’s festival?

Well, I’ll of course send attendees evaluation questionnaires to get feedback and ask for suggestions. The 2017 festival has already started to take shape, mostly from requests by people to speak this year, but couldn’t.

The timing of this year’s festival couldn’t be better. Coinciding with the International Association of Measurement and Evaluation of Communications (AMEC) and just ahead of Cannes Lions, International Festival of Creativity. I mean, why shouldn’t Scotland sit alongside these two international events? It’s also ahead of the Edinburgh festivals, so it kicks off Scottish festival season nicely. It’s a possibility we’ll stick with the same timing, unless the feedback says differently.

The ask?

Join 35 speakers, participate in practical workshops, network in the summer sun with fellow practitioners and be inspired about what you can do when you get back to your desk! Book your tickets now.

Feel free to share this post across your networks to help spread the word and make the conversation inclusive, diverse and inspiring.

Lastly, a huge thanks to all the speakers, panellists, sponsors and students. In particular, thanks to those who took the time to feed into the festival design and inform its structure.

Blog post by Laura Sutherland FCIPR, Chief at Aura and Founder of The PRofessionals- PR festival.