On March 5, about 75 leaders from the Canadian communications industry, representing CPRS, CCPRF, IABC, Global Alliance, College of Fellows, the HCPRA (and yes, Counselors Academy, too) gathered at the Old Mill Inn in Toronto to look at PR today and imagine our future.
The event was the brainchild of Terry Flynn, director of McMaster University’s Masters of Communication Management program and national president of CPRS.
For me, one of the best parts of the session was working in small groups on a ‘Force Field’ analysis of our industry. Essentially, this is a decision-making exercise that helps analyse the forces for and against change in a core proposal.
Ours was: ‘To advance the PR/communications management profession in Canada to a reputable and requisite professional discipline in the eyes of organizational/business leaders, managers and scholars.’
As you can imagine, there was much debate – the noise level in the room hit 11 more than a few times. After we were done, some common themes emerged that will no doubt form a blueprint for the way ahead.
Here are a few highlights.
Forces for change:
Social media/technology/evolving media landscape. This is, of course, one of the strongest (and most obvious) reasons for us to evolve in a way that will enhance the profession and its reputation. We need to embrace social media, continue to educate ourselves in best practices and add case studies across all sectors that demonstrate measurable results.
Trust, credibility and ethics. The ever-transparent world provides a great opportunity for our industry to take a leadership role and, through our deeds, show unequivocally that we’re no longer spinmeisters. There was talk of a need for a single accreditation designation, as well as the development of a body of knowledge, one of the hallmarks of any profession.
Business savvy. We must become more knowledgeable about business goals, strategy and operations and align our PR recommendations to that. We should master ways to clearly articulate the value we add to an organization. One group suggested that we reposition the profession from being PR managers to chief communications officers in order to get a seat at the ‘grownup’ table.
Forces against change:
Fear. It’s too easy to sit back and rely on the same tools that always worked in the past. Tried and true doesn’t cut it. We need to become strategic risk takers.
Education. What are our programs and institutions teaching young people? Is the curriculum focusing on relevant topics? Are we teaching about the newest tools and where they fit into an overall strategy? What about adding an understanding of business to the mix?
Developing an inter-generational understanding of relationships. For some senior PR folks, phone contact may be key. The younger generation is embracing online as much as IRL. There’s merit to both positions and the industry needs to come up with an understanding of what constitutes a relationship and what makes it lasting and strong.
There was a great energy to the Summit; the kind of intensity you get when you bring a group of smart people together and challenge them to look ahead and share insights. Toward the end, it was suggested that we should consider meeting on a yearly basis to discuss the state of the industry. And I’m all for that.
Maybe in the meantime, as the organizers pore over the responses and craft recommendations, they could keep us informed and involved by setting up a Wiki and open it up to the greater community to maintain the flow of ideas.