Monday, July 02, 2007

What was hot at PRWeek's Summer Forum?

It was a fast and furious few days at PR Week's Summer Forum.

Ed Vaizey MP opened the conference with a pleanry session about PR & politics. He gave some hints about how PRs should engage with politicians, stressing that the best approach was to ensure the issue was relevant to the MP's constituency. You could do this by engaging local businesses or individuals from the constituency to approach the MP on your behalf, he suggested.

During his speech, Ed had to battle with extremely gusty winds that threatened to lift the marquee right off the green at the Forest of Arden golf course. The weather was truly disgraceful, but the wine and conversation flowed freely.

After dinner, we took part in a trivia quiz. My table led the competition right till the last round, before we were pipped at the post by the table with all the Haymarket execs. Hmm. Me smells something fishy…

Tuesday and Wednesday, and it was down to business, with a packed schedule of workshops and 1:1 vendor meetings.

Nicole Lander, Communications Director at Dairy Crest led the first workshop, Payment by time vs payment by results. She discussed whether agencies should be paid on retainer or on a project/performance based approach. The room seemed fairly divided about the approaches. She cited an interesting dilemma about where an agency had planned a huge product launch on a particular day, only to be wiped out the next day by the breaking news of the 7/7 bombings. Should they have been paid for what they had achieved to that point, or not ben paid the full amount, because they had not achieved actual agreed outcomes. I think that was a particularly extreme example, and most people would reasonably expect payment for investing time in the project. We collectively liked the idea of a hybrid payment approach, consisting of a monthly retainer with a performance-based component to it.

Julian Pike from legal firm Farrer & Co then discussed Legal battles and the role of PR. Sometimes good PR can involve keeping a company out of the media. He discussed the impact of social media like blogs and chatrooms on PR, how orgnisations had to be ever-vigilant about what was being written about them, and what some of the recourses were if their company was being slammed in those environments. ISPs are generally obliged to take down defamatory material, so he suggested going straight to an ISP and requesting that they remove offensive material about a company from the blog/chat room. In some case the ISP can be compelled to shut down a blog or website that it hosts.

Antony Mayfield from Spannerworks discussed Engaging with online communities. He mentioned the latest social networking phenomenon – Myspace and facebook. Ok, ok, they’re not so new, but few people in the room had profiles on these sites (though I suspect most of will sign up in the next few days, just to see what all the hype is about). He used interesting case studies about online communities like Catster and Dogster to demonstrate the popularity of sites that allow people to share similar interests. Our CMO, Alan Scott uses the example of Nikonians to illustrate the same point. These communities are huge and have tremendous user loyalty!

It seems that most people in the communications industry are still trying to get their heads around how to engage with online communities and how to incorporate them into their marketing and PR programs. Watch this space…

Tom Whitwell, Communities Editor at the Times Online (and blogger at spoke about the changing newsroom and what he had learned in his 7 months in the role. He encourages Times reporters to try things with their blogs and stories. He said the internet affords us with instant measures as to whether something is working or not. He also pointed out that he gets far less contact from PRs in his current role than he did when he worked on magazines. That started a debate about whether PRs valued print or online coverage more. I reckon it completely depends what industry you’re in and what you’re trying to achieve. It was a great debate in any case.

The 1:1 meetings with the vendors were generally useful. It’s always good to see what the various PR agencies and media monitoring companies are up to. And most useful, as always, was the time chatting with other delegates. It’s always helpful what challenges PR professionals in other companies and industries face.

Overall it was a valuable few days and well worth attending. Thankfully we were able to get back down to London by train, than the ark we’d been secretly building.

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Blogger Tom Whitwell said...

Glad it was useful!

11:37 PM  

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