PR the Future, We are the Future

Last week, ‘PR the Future, We are the Future’ took place at Birmingham City University. Jodie Perkins reports.

The conference tackled big industry issues such as diversity within PR and the future of media relations. Keynote speakers Stephen Waddington, Chief Engagement Officer at Ketchum PR and Farzana Baduel, Managing Director and Founder of Curzon PR were welcomed on stage as well as industry practitioners and academics to contribute their thoughts.

Stephen Waddington: Is Media Relations Dead?

Stephen Waddington addressing the conference

Stephen Waddington addressing the conference

Google is asked ‘What is Public Relations?’ 100,000 times every month.

Stephen addressed this question through his presentation with a focus on the future of the industry and media relations.

Historically, PR was the primary means of engagement between an organisation and its publics through the media, in a typically one-way relationship. The developments in mobile technology over the past 20 years meant that this has completely changed, allowing PR professionals to open up a two-way relationship with consumers.

Is media relations dying? Well, Stephen suggested maybe traditional media relations is dying. However, if you see media relations as managing engagement in all forms of media we now have, then it’s not dying at all – in fact it’s growing, with the somewhat 4,000 types of media we now have. The internet has changed consumer behaviour, brands now have their own media; social channels, apps, newsletters etc. all of which allow them to speak directly to consumers, disintermediating traditional media, and opening up this two-way relationship.

Stephen drew examples from his own business; Ketchum, where 60% is still media relations, and a growing 40% is now social and digital relations. He also gave the example of influencer relations, and the growing number of influencers from a digital background such as YouTubers, who are now prime targets for brands to connect with in order to get their products/message in front of their publics.

Stephen’s talk was fascinating, especially for a PR undergraduate student, who will graduate into this changing industry. See more about this at his blog:

Farzana Baduel: Diversity within the PR industry.

Farzana Baduel

Farzana Baduel

PR claims to talk to the public, but if in our industry we don’t reflect the diverse public how can we understand them?

Farzana was passionate about the need for diversity within our industry and talked proudly about her experience as an Asian female working her way through the PR industry, feeling somewhat uncomfortable when she first started out.

She touched on the importance of diversity in terms of age, gender, race, religion etc. and related it to her own experiences to give us all confidence in ourselves “I didn’t have a clue what was going on for the first couple of months, and then suddenly I just got it.”

One of Farzana’s main points was the damaging effect of unpaid internships on the industry.

When Farzana first started her own agency, she hired interns who were happy to work for free, which she is now ashamed of as she realised it only gave opportunities to rich kids who can afford to work for nothing. This shuts out others who want to work and want the experience however can’t afford to work for free.

Farzana advised us students at the conference to ask about the diversity policy at job interviews and to make sure we feel we can fully be ourselves and be comfortable within the work place before agreeing to a job.

Liz Bridgen: Why women leave PR

Liz Bridgen

Liz Bridgen

Women leave PR to go have babies. “It’s not that simple” says Liz Bridgen. Liz’s presentation ‘The Lady Vanishes’ was all about why women leave PR, and where they go. A simple answer to the question is, women leave PR to have children, to have a family – however Liz, through her research, suggests this isn’t the case.

The main points that Liz made were summarised through ‘The funnel of doom’ diagram, which suggests that women leave the industry due to the lack of creative jobs and interesting projects they are given due to their limited time in the office. They also aren’t as flexible, meaning they don’t always have the opportunity to go to after-work drinks or networking sessions.

Panel discussions and responses

Jason MacKenzie, Tom Leatherbarrow, Alison Theaker and Sophie Drake responded to issues raised within the talks. They raised interesting points such as the growth of agencies compared to in-house as well as recognising paternity alongside maternity leave and the responsibility of small agencies as well as bigger agencies to recognise these issues.

Student presentations

The day also gave students the opportunity to present their work to practitioners and academics. Students were split into groups depending on the theme of their presentation and then were given a 10-minute slot each, practitioners then chose which presentations they most wanted to hear. Themes included: crisis management, campaign case studies, spin and social media’s impact on PR.

Thoughts from students:

Salla Laurila: “The student conference was a great opportunity to meet practitioners and also see our keynote speakers give their point of view on public relations in practice today. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to present, it was the first time I’ve presented at a conference and provided valuable experience for the future.”

Nilesh Patel: “I think the conference was a real success, we managed to attract some well renowned names from the PR industry. Their talks were incredibly informative and created some interesting discussions between practitioners, speakers and our guests. Stephen Waddington’s presentation questioning ‘Is Media Relations dead?’ provided a fascinating insight into how the industry is constantly adapting and whether that is a good or bad thing for PR professionals. Farzana Baduel and Liz Bridgen offered an eye-opening perspective on being a women in the profession, and pin-pointed the inequalities of the industry. All our student presentations ran smoothly and invited some stimulating debates and received great feedback. Overall, the conference made me think the future of PR needs to be more proactive and tackle the inequalities within the industry and in wider society through good campaigns and innovative PR.”

Dean Taylor: “I feel as if the conference that we held was a great learning curve. For me, it was my first kind of exposure to a room full of PR professionals and it was very rewarding to have their knowledge shared with me. I think this is an incredibly important aspect of the PR modules at BCU and it’s very enriching for PR hopefuls like myself.”

Photographer: Becky Chivers of SnapScratch

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