It’s been a month since Future Communicators rolled into London for a five-day extravaganza of learning, sharing and connecting at the Blue Fin Building.
Our vision for the event was to apply the concept of an accelerator, already established in the tech and startup world, to communications and offer mid to senior-level professionals from around the globe the chance to be mentored, coached and trained in the skills and aptitudes they need to become leaders of the future. We secured a lineup featuring CEOs of major global PR networks, heads of comms of household-name brands and chairs of industry bodies to help make this vision a reality.
As to the content, there were three main themes to the event: digital engagement; measurement and evaluation; and personal development and business skills. These were the areas comms professionals told us they needed the most help with to progress their careers and create great work.
As it turned out there was one, even greater theme, underpinning all the presentations, workshops and skills sessions. The future of communications, in one word? Creativity. From planning comms strategies, measuring the impact of PR, mastering innovation in a brave new digital world and climbing the career ladder, the one thing communicators need in order to succeed is creativity. Data is great to have, but if it isn’t used to enhance and fuel creativity, it’s not being utilised to it’s full potential.
Read on for the low-down on who said what, and what we learned.
Influencers dominated a discussion around future trends in branded content, which kicked off the day and the event as a whole. Andrew Canter, chair of the BCMA, explained that through the growth of influencers, brands have lost some of the control of their messaging. Engaging, entertaining content is the way to get that control back.
Nitin Mantri, chair of the PRCAI, said surprisingly branded content can play a huge part in crisis management, because it can allow a brand to talk about their point of view without having to go through a media third party.
The rest of the day was devoted to digital engagement, with two workshops from Brands2Life’s digital director Alan Parker. He outlined the latest trends including; Amazon and the rise of e-commerce, AI, VR and AR, and outlined how innovation isn’t as hard as it seems. Innovation is the buzzword du jour but essentially if a product or service can be made quicker, easier or cheaper; or an experience more sensational, fantastical or motivational, it is innovative.
Finally Mazda UK’s Heather McKim and Collider’s Rose Lewis demystified two of the most prevalent pieces of jargon out there today, omnichannel and madtech. For those wondering, omnichannel differs from multichannel marketing because it’s integrated, and madtech is a portmanteau of marketing, advertising and technology. Yes we know, you’re glad you asked. Although the key theme of the whole session from Lewis was the more old-fashioned proposition of trust, something companies currently take for granted and are going to have to refocus on or face some rude awakenings.
The second day of FCA was devoted exclusively to measurement and evaluation. Richard Bagnall, chair of AMEC, oversaw proceedings and gave delegates a run-down of the organisation’s evaluation and measurement framework. In a nutshell, stop counting the stuff that’s easy to count — that means no more AVEs — and start looking at outtakes and outcomes. There’s a detailed overview here.
The Drum’s Ben Bale brought the perspective of using data to fuel creativity. That might sound counterintuitive but as he put it ‘data doesn’t kill creativity, it kills the creative ego’.
But it’s not just PR campaigns that can, and should be, measured. Christophe Ginisty spoke eloquently on the importance of measuring reputation based upon the crucial difference between what a brand or organisation has said, and how people have taken it. Reputations are created by image work, then they are measured by looking at what people actually believe about corporate, consumer or personal image. He demonstrated this in action with this campaign from Milka.
Hotwire’s Darryl Sparey offered more practical tips for measuring the effectiveness of PR using the sales funnel; awareness, consideration, preference and purchase. He then ran through which tools to use for each — for awareness, try search. For consideration, share of voice, for preference use unprompted positive mentions on social media and for purchase, monitor sales.
It was all about business and strategy today, kicking off with a powerful workshop from WINGS Creative Leadership Lab’s Gabriela Lungu. She demonstrated how business leaders can have a positive impact on creativity and showcased how to prioritise it within company values.
Ruder Finn’s Robin Grainger spoke on the creative use of internal communications to drive behaviour change. In his view, the better an executive can influence people’s behaviour and encourage them to embrace change the more innovative and successful the organisation will be. He outlined a framework called Think Feel Do to break the process down into; what are employees currently thinking, what might be holding them back from embracing change, how to encourage positivity around the processes, and how to translate that into behavioural change.
Ketchum’s Stephen Waddington then took to the stage to run through ten points for creating an external comms strategy, which you can read in detail here.
Finally Aidan McLaughlin, director of international communications at indeed.com, ran through the topic of scaling a PR team through data and data-led storytelling, with some fascinating case studies showcasing the creative results indeed.com has generated from a data-led strategy.
Personal development and leadership dominated day 4 of FCA. Marcus Sorour, general manager of WE in the UK, spoke on personal branding and the role blogging and vlogging can play in building an individual’s brand. In short, anyone can write on any topic but if it isn’t authentic, it’s not going to be worth reading.
Alice Weightman of The Work Crowd interviewed PR stalwart Chris Talago, formerly of WE and now at Oracle, on the top competencies of future communicators to provide inspiration and food for thought for the assembled delegates. Talago came into the industry through the army and reassured the audience that employers aren’t looking for cookie-cutter comms professionals and really value the skills and talents gained from other experiences.
Following this was a rundown from Weber Shandwick’s Colin Byrne on his experience as a leader in PR, charmingly entitled ‘Confessions of an accidental PR CEO’. His top outtakes — don’t underestimate the importance of a creative mindset in business even if you don’t see your role as particularly creative, and have a network of mentors from both within and outside your organisation and the entire PR industry.
Alex Robinson of CapstoneHill Search then ran through building a personal brand and shared tips on how to stay front of mind with recruiters. Then it was the delegates’ turn to hone their skills with workshops from pitching and public speaking coach Peter Hopwood.
All the themes of the event — digital engagement, measurement and evaluation, and personal development — were brought together for the closing day of FCA. Giles Fraser, co-founder of Brands2Life, gave a communicators guide to working with the leadership team. He was followed by Holmes Report founder Paul Holmes giving a whistlestop tour of the future of PR. Holmes also gave the quote of the event itself: ‘If you steal ideas from one person it’s plagiarism, if you steal ideas from lots of people it’s research’. And finally delegates were given personal mentoring sessions with a series of innovators, movers and shakers in the comms industry. As if summing up one of the biggest takeouts of the entire event, 31 Flavas CEO and former CIO of Microsoft JC Oliver said we focus too much on the commercialisation of business and not enough on creativity. ‘It’s a part of humanity and it’s a part of every business and we sometimes forget to think creatively about how we can progress the company, and how we can progress each other.’ Creativity wasn’t one of the three lynchpins of FCA but it ran through each and every session, and ultimately it’s at the heart of successful communications, successful careers and successful organisations fit for the future.
The event proved how bringing together a collection of brilliant focused minds in one room can cut through the chatter and buzzwords to hone in on what really matters. In 2018, the industry needs it.