Envisioning 2020: A Canadian PR leadership summit

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.

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3 thoughts on “Envisioning 2020: A Canadian PR leadership summit

  1. Sounds like a great conference with some great discussions about how to enhance the credibility of the PR field. Unlike accounting or law, theoretically, anyone can practice PR and our reputation has always been damaged by people who “decide to do PR”, call themselves publicists and hang out a shingle. When I decided to study PR in 1987 against the advice of my high school guidance counsellor, it was a fairly new profession and many people working and succeeding in the PR field lacked either formal education in communications or any type of accreditation. That is no longer the case. Today, practitioners at all levels have graduated from a reputable diploma or post-graduate program, many have received accreditation from CPRS or IABC and many more are members of these organizations and therefore, adhere to their code of ethics. So, it would seem to me that one of the ways in which we could improve the image of the PR profession would be to encourage companies not to hire PR people who don’t have these things in place.

  2. It sounds to me like it was a great conference that resulted in some very important insights. I really enjoyed being able to follow the conversation via Twitter. One of the discussions that was brought up at the conference touched on how formalized communications education needs to be something that is achieved through our university system. I fully support this notion.

    Not only would this enhance the reputation of the public relations industry, it would also ensure that those entering the profession do so with a wealth of knowledge and experience behind them. In terms of accreditation, I believe it would be extremely beneficial to institute some type of formalized accreditation for those who are new to the industry (think B.A.R. exam for the public relations professional). By setting a high standard for entrance, the industry would attract only those professionals who were truly passionate about their work. Admittedly, implementing such a system would be arduous and would likely take some time. However, I do believe that it would strengthen both reputation and future of the public relations industry.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts, Louise and Erick. It seems like there’s a growing consensus for some sort of credible, industry-wide accreditation. (As a past CPRS accreditation chair, this is something I believe in.)

    To make it happen will require a lot of energy and a fundamental shift in the industry at large. Maybe social media with its emphasis on transparency, ethics and relationship-building will help speed up the process. No doubt it will take a lot of support and just plain hard work to make it happen.

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