Conferences can be inspiring, educational and informative. They can reinforce things you do well or things you know you should do better. I found this year’s PRSA International Conference in Washington D.C. to be a mix. I learned a few new things, found myself energized by one of the keynotes, was inspired by a city filled with so much history and power and was reminded of the things my team and I excel at and those we need to spend more time and energy focusing on. The following are my nine takeaways from three days in our nation’s capital:
1. There was an inspiring reoccurring theme around failure. Jeffrey Hayzlett (who is an awesome speaker btw!) talked about how when he was at Kodak his motto was “no one is going to die in marketing,” and encouraged his team to make mistakes. At Google they have a mantra to “fail fast and fail smart.” These simple but inspiring mantras are great reminders to push the envelope more often and take risks, something I look forward to doing more of in 2011.
2. There was a lot less talk about what’s next and more talk about how to do what we’re doing better. A focus on really utilizing and developing the current social media tools rather than jumping ship to the next hot thing.
3. The word influencer has become quite the buzzword in relation to social networks and in a session titled Become a PR Influencer to Drive Business Value, I found the panel to be split in their definition and approach on influence. I mostly agreed with panelist Geoff Livingston and his stance that, “People should focus on building a community rather than focusing on becoming an influencer. If you have strong relationships an outcome will be influence.” Exactly.
4. Speaking of influence, while it’s important to know who the digital influencers are, and it’s quite easy to identify them, we mustn’t forget about the non-digital influencers. Work to have a balance of both and work at building up your network in both circles.
5. PR ethics, boiled down to its simplest form, is about doing the right thing and not forgetting the obvious – be honest and disclose. There were conversations that it’s easier for brands, companies and individuals to be unethical or shady online and in social networks. I don’t necessarily agree. People on social networks will call a brand or individual out in two seconds flat if they think there is fake or shady behavior taking place. There may be more avenues, but there are fewer shadows to hide in.
6. Senior staff needs to guide and educate younger staff members on ethics and provide a baseline for what’s acceptable, especially on social media. Panelists at the session Ethics and Today’s New World of Communications agreed that we need to rewrite policies so companies and employees know what can and cannot be shared.
7. Social media can’t be measured in the same way advertising can. PR has historically had a tough time measuring in a format similar to advertising so we shouldn’t expect social media to be any easier. It is not a one size fits all approach and while there are definitely elements that can be tracked, monitored and measured there is no perfect solution and no company has it completely figured it out yet. Social media is evolving daily and each brand’s goals are different. We need to shift our focus to outcomes, not outputs.
8. The average attention span for an adult is eight seconds and the elevator pitch these days needs to equal 118 seconds, according to Jeffrey Hayzlett: “Eight seconds to hook someone and 110 seconds to sell them.”
9. When pitching traditional media remember to try and keep your pitch short enough that it will fit into the email preview screen. Michael Smart provided this great tip in his session. We’re all busier than ever and consciously or subconsciously we filter email is if it’s longer than what fits in the preview screen and tell ourselves we’ll come back to it later. But of course it sits in our inbox or gets deleted. If we do this, just think about how many times a day a reporter must do this. Keep your pitch brief and hook them in the first two lines.
There were a lot of sessions at PRSA I didn’t get to attend and would love to hear some of your favorite moments or takeaways.