A tale of two conferences: Counselors Academy and CPRS

I don’t usually attend two conferences in two weeks – much less two PR conferences. However, that’s what happened early in June when I twice ventured west: first for Counselors Academy in Palm Springs and then for the Canadian Public Relations Society in Vancouver.

And I thought it’s worth noting some of the similarities and differences.

Both conferences focused on social media and its application to PR; both had knowledgeable presenters and tier one keynote speakers (including Robert Stephens, Steve McKee, Brian Solis and David Suzuki – to name a few); and both had PR students live-blogging/tweeting about the events.

I personally thought having the students actively involved added a fresh energy to the events.

However, and I don’t know if this is a U.S./Canada or an agency/client thing, but the general knowledge of and enthusiasm for social media seemed less prevalent at the CPRS event. Certainly there was interest, but not the same kind of passion I witnessed from agency heads (mostly from the U.S.). Or maybe Canadians are just a bit more resistant to change.

Now, there’s no doubt Counselors is all about the agency business and, if you’re an agency principal, there’s nothing that compares to it. And, as counselors, it’s incumbent on us to be up to be on top of trends in order to offer more intelligent counsel to our clients.

I don’t have the answer to this.
I did notice that there was a lot less live tweeting at the CPRS conference; a few people were active.

But maybe it’s the small number of agencies represented (from out East, I mean). And that could be due to the economy, but I think it’s a shame that there isn’t a bigger agency president at CPRS national and Toronto.

Which begs the question: why aren’t Canadian agencies more actively engaged in CPRS? I asked my friend Scott Farrell, president of PRSA Chicago and he said they were trying to get more clients to participate; they had lots of active agency members.

And, as the president of CPRS Toronto, I throw this question out to PR folks. What would it take to make agency people want to get more involved?


The community, the people: Counselors Academy 2009

I recently returned from Counselors Academy’s annual conference for agency leaders, my PR highlight of the year. I always come back from these gatherings with new friends/colleagues, fresh ideas I want to try and a renewed energy for the profession.

I first learned about social media and its PR potential from Giovanni Rodriguez at CA2005 and decided right then and there to start a blog (though it took nearly two years of research and listening before jumping in).

This year in addition to insightful and entertaining sessions, attendees contributed a rich and active twitter stream that offered a fresh dimension to the conference; check out #CA2009.

It wasn’t unusual for a table to have three or four people listening, tweeting and commenting on their colleagues’ tweets. My very good friends Gini Dietrich and Scott Farrell were my regular twitners (twitter partners), with special nods to my traveling buddy Joe Thornley and Abbie Fink. In fact, Gini Dietrich highlights a number of Counselors Academy thinker-tweeters here.

Here are a few of my most memorable highlights (via Twitter notes-better than Coles notes by far):
Tom Gable
: There are three rules for succeeding in a recession. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.
Shanny Morgenstern: It’s not billable hours that matter, it’s the hours billed. (There’s a subtle distinction there, but an important one.)
Monty Hagler: 5 Rs drive new business: relationships, referrals, reputation, radar screen, RfP.
Jason Baer: Listen on behalf of your clients; make sure you have a social media crisis plan in place and respond at the flashpoint (where it started).
Steve McKee (author of When Growth Stalls): Factors that contribute to a stalled business include: lack of consensus, loss of focus, loss of nerve, inconsistency.
Steve McKee: A business is more likely to be successful if it pursues a commitment to excellence.
Robert Stephens (founder of Geek Squad and the ultimate nerd): Think of your company as the plot of a great movie.
Robert Stephens: Hire for curiosity, ethics and drive.

I think the key to Counselors is that it’s a true community in every sense of the word – PR agency leaders, entrepreneurs, people with a common interest and goal. We come together in the spirit of meeting, learning, sharing and friendship. And it’s both inspiring and humbling to be around so many smart folks in one place.

In retail it’s location, location, location. At Counselors, while no one could complain about the location (a lovely resort in Palm Springs), it’s really people, people, people.

The next meeting is in May 2010 in Ashville, North Carolina. Hope to see you there.

You can also listen to episode 166 of Inside PR for some CA mini interviews.