For the first time, Kane Communications Group leaders were invited to present at the Public Relations Society of America’s 2019 International Conference (ICON) in San Diego which was held October 20-22. PRSA ICON brings together more than 3,000 public relations and communications professionals and students from around the world to share information, strategies and trends impacting the industry. It was nearly a week filled with inspiring presentations, learning about new trends and being immersed in the world of communications.
After presenting a session on strategic communications and reputation management, Kimberly Kane, president and CEO, and Sarah Fracek, vice president of strategy and marketing, took time to reflect on one of the biggest conferences in the industry.
What are three key takeaways from the conference?
Kimberly Kane: A big takeaway for me is what it takes to be a trusted communications advisor and how to know when you’ll get there. Key steps to becoming that trusted advisor: be inquisitive and open-minded, be an active listener, be self-aware (know your strengths and opportunities), know when to act fast and when to take your time, know your client’s business well and be authentic. You’ll know you’re a trusted advisor when: you’re asked to attend meetings that aren’t about communications, you’re asking questions that give senior executive leaders pause, your client’s legal department calls you before they call the client/leader, and peers seek your counsel.
There’s no slowdown in sight for the digital transformation of our industry. Public relations professionals must start embracing technology. Companies have to start embracing technology to stay connected to their target customers.
Another common theme was the importance of risk-taking in this business and the industry as a whole. Great talent is everything. When you have great talent you can take more risks, like setting up a pop-up PR shop in a new city just to test your model and grow your company. It’s so important to invest in and shape talent.
Sarah Fracek: One thing I noticed is how marketing and public relations are becoming more integrated. Marketers tend to come out of the business schools and PR professionals are catching up. Now more than ever, PR has to be part of the business plan. And as professionals, we have to become more business savvy.
That’s another takeaway. We need to stop referring to ourselves as “practitioners.” We’re not practicing anything here. We’re experienced business executives who happen to specialize in communications / PR / marketing. We know the business. We’re connected to the business. Because of that, we’re able to consult on the best strategies in our field to generate business results.
A shift from crisis communications to risk management. There was an entire track focused on crisis communication – that’s where our presentation, “Strategic Communications: An Essential Risk Management Tool,” fit. The positive thing here is that there’s more emphasis now on proactively mitigating risk to your brand so that if and when a crisis strikes, a business can weather the storm and the crisis communications needs are not as heavy of a lift.
Who was your favorite speaker or your favorite session? Sarah: I attended a session led by Adam Ritchie from Adam Ritchie Brand Direction and Regina Luttrell, Ph.D., from Syracuse University focused on using “PR as a Creative Engine.” They showcased example after example of highly inventive PR initiatives that drove business and got results FAR beyond media mentions. Take one example where the goal was to announce the launch of a band’s new record. They tapped into industry insight that record stores were dying off, but craft beer stores were picking up their customers. Rather than issuing a press release, they developed a partnership with a local brewery whose target audience matched the band’s audience. Together, they developed a brew that creatively paired with the record and launched the album on the shelves of the craft beer aisle – on the label of the beer. They developed a loyal following, drove sales for brewery and band alike and media attention followed in mass.
Kimberly: I particularly enjoyed hearing from Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico. He emphasized the importance of purpose-driven leadership. It’s the responsibility of a leader to have a purpose. Purpose drives action. In everything you do, every decision you make, there’s a purpose behind it.
What surprised you most? Sarah: PR professionals are WAY more creative than what advertising and marketing people give them credit for. It’s easy to be creative when you’re working with million-dollar budgets, but PR professionals and communicators are challenged to get their message out in creative ways without so much financial backing. It’s why teams that are more diverse and integrated tend to be more creative.
Kimberly: It’s surprising to me how CEOs and communications teams are disconnected about organizational and communications priorities. The 2019 Global Communications Report from the USC Center for Public Relations evaluated the impact technology is having on PR. It found CEOs and their communications teams are not aligned in key areas. It’s critical for both sides to get on the same page. The more communications teams understand the business goals of the company, the better equipped they are to develop strategies to achieve those goals.
The more communications teams understand the business goals of the company, the better equipped they are to develop strategies to achieve those goals.
- Kimberly Kane
Looking Back on a Whirlwind Week at PRSA ICON 2019