Last Thursday, hundreds of public relations professionals converged on the renowned Chicago startup hub, 1871, to attend the 2018 PRWeek conference, PR Decoded. With the promise of “a master class on the best tools, tactics and guidelines to ensure communicators thrive in an ever-evolving digital world,” two of my colleagues from Hill+Knowlton Strategies and I were looking forward to a day of key learnings that would influence our outlook on the industry and inform how we work with clients on a day-to-day basis. With an all-star lineup of speakers hailing from the likes of the White House communications office to Grubhub to Edelman and beyond, the conference did not disappoint.
As PR professionals, we deal with an ever-changing communications landscape on a day-to-day basis. With the technology that is available to companies, all it takes is one small push to turn the tide of communication. Journalism is no longer a 9-to-5 job. Social media can (and often will) create a crisis for companies at the most inopportune time. Communications is a living, breathing specimen that will almost certainly look different a year from now than it does today. Fortunately, the world of public relations is catching on to the understanding that the only guarantee in our profession is change. As a result, we can study these changes, which allows us to be proactive rather than reactive as much as possible.
PR Decoded leaned into this concept of change with all its might. Speakers discussed the ways in which the industry requires us to adapt, offering best practices to stay on top of trends that they have discovered over their successful careers. Here are our three key takeaways from the advice presented during the conference:
- In an ever-changing landscape, data is your friend. Communications is fluid, but facts are forever. This was an underlying theme throughout the day. Whether listening to the communications strategies of former White House press secretaries Josh Earnest and Robert Gibbs (both of whom served under the Obama administration) or the analytical roots of Cision CMO Chris Lynch, each speaker seemed to return to the concept that facts are a key ally to the savvy communications professional. Communications is a field that is constantly fighting to prove its value. There is no better way to a CEO’s heart than cold, hard facts that call out a trend in purchasing habits or the value of communications. Simply put, data allows professionals to stay on top of trends in this malleable industry, and it is always better to use any tools you can to stay ahead of the curve than to find yourself behind the competition.
- Mistakes happen. Do not let them define you. Jano Cabrera, who currently serves as the SVP of U.S. comms, global media and PR at McDonald’s, shared an anecdote about a mistake he made when his career was just beginning, sending an internal memo to a client. However, he recognized the issue and took the proper steps to proactively rectify it, even when it became uncomfortable. He asserted that this story speaks to communications on both an individual and large scale, especially for those who have ever dealt with a corporate crisis. In the end, when a mistake is made, “It is less about the fumble and more about how you recover.” Everybody will make a mistake at some time or another, but not everybody will get up, dust themselves off and move forward from it.
- Stay in the moment, but do not lose sight of the big picture. In a discussion surrounding the concept of disruption, Grubhub CEO Matt Maloney reminded attendees that “the product that will be the standard in 100 years has not been invented yet.” With this in mind, Maloney asserted that adaptability is the X-Factor for companies that want to stay relevant. His key advice for this observation is focused on planning. While it is imperative for businesses to stay in the moment at all times, it is of equal importance to look towards the future. Maloney recommended a three-year story arc. Companies should be able to look where they want to be in three years and operate today with that goal in mind. While this three-year plan should be an evolving document that adapts every three-to-six months, it allows companies to continually maintain proactivity surrounding the future rather than falling into a black hole of reactivity and minimal direction.
The world is changing. Today’s environment has changed substantially over the past decade, and any analyst will tell you that the trend of change will continue. However, if communications professionals not only recognize this change, but actively embrace it, the future is bright.