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.

CPRS 2009 national conference – Twitter notes

If you’re following me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed my recent propensity to live-tweet at events. I’ve tried to take my cue from Joe Thornley, who sets the bar high. And while I do like being an ersatz ‘reporter’, I know there’s a trade off between filing stories in 140 and full concentration. (I’m sure some psychologist will conduct a study to measure it.)

Here are some of my Twitter highlights from the CPRS national conference in Vancouver (or search the hashtag #CPRS2009):
@thornley Old PR is dying, our eyeballs are moving over to social media; the world is changing, media is evolving

@briansolis Press release just over 100 yrs old; journalists and bloggers have yet to get as excited about it as PR folks

@briansolis Reason why PR is in a state of crisis – we act like publicists, not evangelists

@dbarefoot: Social media sin 3: foist not thine spam upon yon rabble

@julieszabo: Social media sin 6 abandon not thy blog (try not to lose steam-that is easier said than done)

@terryflynn: 74 pct of Canadians felt Maple Leaf CEO had credibility during crisis; higher than Obama had on inauguration day

@maggiefox: In Social Media it’s important to focus on relentless innovation; the internet never sleeps

And finally…
@martin waxman: How much to we miss by live tweeting? I like doing it, but have to admit some trains of thought do leave the station without me. Just asking

Special thanks to the On The Edge organizers and to the student bloggers, @LesleyChang, @apparently_so, @mikedefault, @ashletts, and @stephleung who really added a lot of content and energy as they chronicled the event.

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?

Still praising APR

Last month, David Mullen posted a question about whether APR still had value for PR professionals. There was a lively debate and I posted a comment which put me in the APR ‘die-hard’ camp – a place I’m happy to be.

As I’ve said before, I’m a strong believer in professional accreditation, both personally and for the industry as a whole.

And, as CPRS Toronto accreditation committee co-chair, I wanted to remind you that if you are interested in pursuing the designation, the deadline for applications is December 1, 2008. Please visit, www.cprs.ca for more information, or feel free to contact me.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it

In a recent Inside PR podcast, I was taken to task for my statement (and I’m paraphrasing) that in Canada, tobacco companies are legal entities and, while most of us would say that smoking is bad for you, tobacco companies, like other Canadian corporations, are entitled to PR. To me, this is similar to the right of legal representation.

I still believe that. In much the same way that I believe in free speech though I may not always like or agree with what’s being said (or written).

And for that reason I don’t think our industry should get into a position where we become the arbiters of what’s ‘right’ and dictate what work others should or should not do. That smacks of censorship; small-minded political correctness. We are not holier than thou ‘Big Brothers’ (and I don’t mean the TV show); we are communicators.

In any case, the decision as to whether or not you’re going to take on a company’s work is (or should be) yours. This can be tough if you’re employed by an organization that chooses a direction you don’t support. If that happens, I would urge you to think long and hard and do what YOU think is right (even if that means having to leave a job).

As for me, I consider myself an ethical PR practitioner and adhere to the CPRS code of professional standards*. I believe we should never lie for a client or break the law. But our industry is not the country’s judge and jury. Nor should it be. We don’t have an inside track on a so-called moral high ground.

In my books, there’s nothing wrong with trying to help facilitate an honest, transparent, two-way conversation between an organization and its publics. Isn’t that what the profession is all about?

When I was a kid and had a ‘talking to’ for something I did, my dad used to say, ‘put that in your pipe and smoke it’. Which meant he wanted me to consider his perspective and hopefully learn something.

But I guess in these days and times that expression would be considered politically wrong.

*Disclosure: I am the CPRS Toronto accreditation committee co-chair.

Everything old is new again

As I mentioned, Giovanni Rodriguez, communications practitioner, social media thinker and one of the founders of The Conversation Group was in Toronto last week to talk to my agency’s staff and clients and members of CPRS Toronto and have a chance to social-ize with Joseph Thornley and the folks at Third Tuesday Toronto.

Giovanni presented many thought-provoking ideas. He encouraged PR folks to take a leadership role in social media by going back to our roots and ‘relating to the public’.

He suggested we consider social media (formerly ‘new media’) as an innovative way to reach out to influencers. He contends that this should more than just blogger relations, in the same way that PR is more than media relations (or should be).

And he pointed out that the new tools we’re so excited about have been around for a long time: blogging = publishing; podcasting = broadcasting; tagging = indexing; rss = distribution. What’s different is that they’ve become accessible to the masses, ‘DIY’.

We live in a ‘participatory’ world. The question is: how are we, as communicators, going to take part?

Thanks for the conversation, Giovanni.