PR Summit DC: The Digital Environment Forces Brands to Be Transparent and Proactive


PR Summit DC-The Digital Environment Forces Brands to Be Transparent and ProactiveKaren Megarbane, Marketing Campaign Manager, PublicRelay

At the recent Capitol Communicator event, PR Summit DC, the most important theme presented was that the role of the communicator is more essential than ever before due to a changing digital landscape. This new environment requires the profession to be highly tuned into the social and traditional media environment.

Here are some key takeaways from the event:

Crisis Can Happen to The Best and Brightest Brands; You Need to Be Agile And Proactive In Response

In the opening keynote speech of the event, Richard Levick, Chairman & CEO of LEVICK, declared: The age of “one-way conversations” is over.  According to Levick, in the past, “we controlled the conversation,” but in today’s world, that is no longer the case, and, as related to communications, we have become a “democracy”.  Communicators, “need to be proactive” as there is “no time to be reactive.”

Crisis can happen to your brand in the blink of an eye. Levick cited how United Airways’ Oscar Munoz, received an award from PRWeek for his communication skills, right before their brand crisis happened.

Communicators need to not only stay abreast of potential issues for their brand, but learn from the mistakes of others as well. Tracking competitor issues and industry trends is equally as important as monitoring your own brand.  

Fake News Makes It Imperative to Track Your Environment and Get in Front of the Narrative

In 2018, information travels instantaneously — fake news too, unfortunately. In a panel addressing the spread of fake news and how nonprofits are tackling this, three speakers, Goodwill International Senior Director of Public Relations Lauren Lawson-Zilai, American Red Cross Senior Social Engagement Director Amy Greber, and Atlantic Council Associate Director of the Eurasia Center Geysha Gonzalez, stressed the importance of being on top of your industry’s key conversations and knowing what is being said to get in front of the story quickly by engaging people that matter.

Brands Need to Be Ethical for The Sake of Being Ethical

PMI Senior Vice President of Communications Marian Salzman in her speech, “The Future of PR”, expressed that PR professionals need to uphold ethics because it is ethical and this extends to the greater brand as well.

The majority of consumers want brands to take a stand on societal issues and many are starting to respond. For instance, see how recently, brands like Starbucks, McDonalds and Disney are promising to nix plastics straws.

Being a transparent, responsible brand is becoming a major corporate priority and thus a key point of communications campaigns and activities. To track the impact on this goal, communicators should have a smart measurement plan that takes into account reputational brand drivers like CSR and ethics.

The Lines Between PR and Marketing Continue to Blur; Managing the Brand Is a Central PR Role

In this digital age, the lines between PR and marketing continue to blur and PR is increasingly owning the brand management function. Generally, across all companies today, Marketing is no longer the ‘keeper of the brand’ – the brand belongs to everyone. From leadership, to entry level employees, and most importantly, the communicators advocating on its behalf.

During a session on the role of PR in the age of convergence, panelist, AARP Strategic Communications Director for Health and Healthy Living Yolanda Taylor, explained that while daily jobs and tasks within the communications function has changed, opening the door to new people with different skill sets, the main role of the communications team across her organization is the same: to advocate for the brand and communicate consistently.

PR Still Struggles to Make a Case for Itself

Aligning yourself to the company’s bottom line is crucial, but most are still struggling to prove their relevance to the organization because they are hung up on ROI. This was one key takeaway from a session entitled: Making the Business case for Public Relations.  GE Director of Global Public Affairs Tara Dijulio and National Retail Federation Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs Katie McBreen, emphasized repeatedly that to speak to a Board or CEO, you need to come prepared with data that shows how your team drives the company forward. Whether that is achieving business goals like improving the company reputation and/or protecting it from potential crises. The cost of inactivity, in particular during a media crisis, is so large, that no CEO can ignore the need for PR.

Data is Key to Boosting PR’s Relevancy, But What You Track and How You Track It is Still Not There Yet

Data is overwhelming. With so much information available, it is difficult to know what to track and what tools to use.  BurrellesLuce Executive VP Johna Burke gave a talk on the impact of Technology in the PR field of measurement, and emphasized the importance of accurate measurement. She stressed that communicators can’t fear data; they can’t be afraid to fail and assess themselves and their campaigns accurately.

Technology for communications is evolving quickly, but it is important not to get caught up in the AI hype. She cautioned practitioners to use a hybrid media monitoring approach. While AI is often presented as a silver bullet for all media intelligence solutions, it still has very big weaknesses that communicators must be made aware of.

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