X-raying current trends in business communication and public relations: An insider’s account of 2013 IABC conference in New York

Posted by Chido Nwakanma | 24 July 2013 | 5,335 times

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The annual world conference of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) held June 23-26 at the Hilton Midtown Manhattan Hotel in New York, USA. The conference, held in a different major international city each year, is IABC’s largest event of the year, attended by more than 1,400 members and non-members.

Delegates from around the world attended the conference. Nigeria had representation of seven participants, namely, IABC Nigeria President Mr. Chido Nwakanma of Blueflower Limited; Mr. Funkakpo Fufeyin of Shell Petroleum Development Company; Miss Temitope Lakisokun of Insider Concepts Lagos; and a four-person team from Nigeria LNG Limited comprising Gloria Ita Ikpeme, Anne-Marie Palmer-Ikuku, Eva Ben Wari and Yemi Adeyemi.

The conference featured eight tracks with more than 100 sessions, on topics ranging from Media to Public Relations, Marketing, Leadership, Career Building and Global Trends. High profile speakers included former Marvel CEO, Peter Cuneo, Edelman PR’s Richard Edelman, Duarte Inc.’s Nancy Duarte, and Shelly Lazarus from Ogilvy & Mather.

Focal issues for this top-notch public relations conference were:

1.  Use and monitoring of social media  

2.  Best practices in internal (employee) communications

3.  Leadership communication, 

4.  Best practices in media engagement

5.  Cross cultural communication challenges for leaders of MNCs

6.  Design for the digital world

7.  Tactical (how to) sessions on writing, video production and website authoring. 

Expectedly, issues around social media and reputation management were on the agenda all through in various hues.  Richard Torrenzano, author (with Mark Davis) of Digital Assassination, spoke of “the new 8-hour digital day” being the amount of time it takes for a story to go virile and cause either severe damage or good to corporate or individual reputations.  “When you are attacked, you have three to five hours to put together a strategy for how you are going to respond”, because you cannot approach our digital world in the old way, Torrenzano affirmed.

Megatrends in the social world include the following:  (a) the democratization of hacking, (b) conflation and confusion of crime with ideology, (c) digital combat marketing in response to the above.

Torrenzano put together a Socratic Dialogue and real life scenario that brought together experienced board directors, investors, company executives including their public relations teams and journalists from print, broadcast and online media. It was fascinating treatment of the example of Glamour Global Group in Gloucester, Mass, a 90-year-old firm known for its Fountain of Youth facial cream. One morning a blogger reports that the company’s product causes cancer. How do you respond?

The panellists played out the scene as each party would treat the matter from their perspective. Fascinating and enlightening.

Crisis communication and media training expert Gerard Braud reminded all that “crisis communication is about your dollars. Reputation equals dollars” and companies (strikingly those quoted on Exchanges) have lost significant equity during crises and afterwards if not well managed.

A similar session but with less people played out as experts from Intel, MTV and Dell discussed communicating with the young in “Taking the pulse of the new generation: communicating effectively with millennials.” Key take-outs: millennials want to be involved in the brand dialogue and they want to be co-creators of the brands they consume. Brand and reputation managers must be in “permanent beta” mode because of the velocity of change. Even so, be authentic and have a relationship with the audience.

There were several case histories. Design firm Lippincourt’s Creative Director Connie Birdsall shared one of the most interesting cases, the rebranding of Starbucks. Breaking through and connecting today requires authentic stories and inspiring experience, she asserted. Lippincourt shared insights with the 120 designers on the team of client Starbucks to arrive at their new look and feel. It took 10 years to change the Starbucks signage across its 30,000 stores across the world after the work of Lippincourt. Most importantly, Starbucks did an internal launch for its employees before the external so the new look does not hit employees at the same time as external publics. They spent $35m on employee experience before advertising. Design, Birdsall added, must be linked to business strategy.

Measurement guru Katie Delahaye Paine was one of the star attractions and she did not disappoint. In “The Measurement Spring: Global Communication Measurement in the Social Era”, Paine asserted based on insight:

  1. Relationships matter more than ever, and more than the media used, in the age of collapse of mass media, growth of alternative platforms and intolerance for messaging.
  2. Relationships. Relationships. Relationships. It is all about relationships and it translates to value. Examples: Type “I Love Zappos” into Google and you find 1.19 million references. Type “I love Citibank” and you get 21,000 references. Citibank spends 100 times more a year on advertising than Zappos. Alternatively, check these interesting figures. Cost per delegate acquired: Obama, $6,024; Hilary Clinton, $147,058 and Mitt Romney, $2,389,464.
  3. All communications must begin with measurement. Even so, match goals to appropriate metrics. She describes as “old school” long established metrics such as AVEs, (advertising value equivalence), hits online (derided as How Idiots Track Success), couch potatoes, number of twitter followers (unless you are a celebrity). Most important metrics today are influence, engagement (some action beyond zero), advocacy (engagement driven by an agenda, sentiment and ROI.
  4. Big Data matters, but even more important is usage of data.
  5. Big numbers do not mean influence. All influence is relative. “Likes” on Facebook or other social media do not often translate to followership and engagement.
  6. Communicators in the social media age should note, “All impression numbers are flawed for a variety of reasons” and avoid multipliers.
  7. Pay attention to engagement, being some action beyond and because of exposure to messaging, as well as conversations, online and offline.
  8. Check for influence and relevance as well as measure for impact and value.

Specialisation is growing apace in the communications industry. Many firms had products displaying new methods and skills in video production but more so in social media engagement and monitoring. The Executive Committee of Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria under my leadership commenced this year a campaign showing that PR agencies in Nigeria offer services in at least 21 disciplines of public relations. It was poignant seeing in New York how firms have moved the needle of specialisation north: there are companies that specialise in an aspect of documentation called corporate histories, and using that to help companies drive their strategies, while others simply offer editorial services.

Then also, the big firms are getting bigger by swallowing the smaller niche players. Katie Paine came as Chief Marketing Officer of News Group, an international monitoring, measurement and social media company based in Dubai, UAE. Her KDPaine and Partners is now part of Salience Insight, News Group’s measurement and insight practice. There were similar cases.

Among the most anticipated sessions, this year was the “Conversation with Transformative CEOs” with Lazarus, Cuneo, Bill McDermott from SAP, and Dolf van der Brink from Heineken US. This year, a new addition to the AGM was an open Town Hall, where members were encouraged to ask the International Executive Board anything they were concerned about regarding the organization, and the conversations covered a range of topics from chapter support, IABC staffing, and international growth. Members not in attendance were able to tweet or call in questions using Collaboration Squared’s teleconference software, making the Town Hall an interactive experience for all IABC members. One of the key questions from a member from Barbados was when IABC would move its world conference from its Euro-American locations. The 2014 conference would hold in Toronto, Canada.

“This conference’s success is a tribute to our membership and our staff, and I’m honoured to have the chance to lead and serve IABC members as IEB chair for the next year. My immediate focus is going to be on local chapter development and building a strong student outreach program and I’m confident that we have the staff, volunteers and a solid strategy to make IABC thrive,” said Robin McCasland, incoming International Executive Board chair.
We promptly got her commitment to pay closer attention to Africa and the developing world.

Founded in 1970, The International Association of Business Communicators provides a professional network of about 15,000 business communication professionals in over 80 countries. Members hold positions in areas of expertise ranging from public relations, writing, editing, teaching, and human resources. Its headquarters is in the United States.

The Africa Regional Conference of IABC comes up in October in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Photo shows Nwakanma (r) with NLNG’s Yemi Adeyemi, Anne Marie Palmer-Ikuku and Eva Ben Wari during the IABC Conference in New York.


Source: News Express

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