What Happens When You Put 24 PR Agency Leaders Together in One Room?

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Well, to answer the question posed in the title of this post, let me provide some background.

Yesterday, long before Halloween trick or treating started for most, I and some 100 other public relations professionals attended the 6th Annual Agency Leaders Breakfast Roundtable hosted by the Chicago Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

This popular fall gathering allowed participants and senior members of many of Chicago’s foremost global and local PR shops an opportunity to launch conversations in a round robin format.

I’m sure many at the Agency Leaders Roundtable were mesmerized by the view.

The event was sponsored by Find Your Influence, an influencer marketing technology platform, and held in a glorious old cathedral-like room at the University Club of Chicago. The views overlooking Millennium Park and Chicago’s lakefront were sublime, the trees alive with fall colors; but the overall focus was on all things public relations related.

As a member of the PRSA Chicago Board, I was charged with helping to stimulate conversation at table #9. Like most in attendance, I was fueled by coffee and the desire to engage with the many industry colleagues assembled.

Here are abbreviated and paraphrased take aways from the six agency representatives who conversed with myself and two other attendees. Three dominant topics surfaced: The growth of employing influencers, the expansion of multiculturalism, and the resounding need to support ethical public relations practices.

Amy Littleton, Senior Vice President, KemperLesnik: People are getting smarter about recognizing fake news, and people eventually will return to traditional news. Young people digest lots of content on multiple platforms, and they might not be concerned about accuracy. So, we may someday see legislation related to fake news. The public may be making decisions regarding fake news at the ballot box.

Aaron Schoenherr, Founding Partner, Greentarget Global Group: Before the emergence of influencer marketing, public relations campaigns would piggy back on the built-in reputation of the endorser. We’ve determined that some B2B clients are not interested in influencer marketing.  But there is without question a rise in digital: Subscriptions to the New York Times digital edition are up, and Reuters has found that digital use is up. Plus, there’s not as much trust in traditional outlets today.

Stimulating conversation flowed during the 90-minute morning event.

Amy Kennedy, Executive Director, Golin: The question is: Who will own the relationship with influencers today?  PR firms? If so, public relations practices have to be ethical and must include multiculturalism. At Golin, we support multiculturalism and determine ways to find inclusion.  We determine, “How should we talk about that product or service?” It’s the personal responsibility of the influencer to be inclusive.

Christina Steed, Executive Vice President, Flowers Communications Group: Flowers has practiced multicultural communications before it was a well-used term. We would reach out to pastors at local churches to convey messages related to the community, or reach out to the Chicago Urban League regarding economic development. They would help us get the message out.  Some large clients, like McDonald’s, have been slow to catch on with influencers. Current influencers need to put trust in the trust bank.

Maxine Winer, Senior Partner and General Manager, FleishmanHillard: FleishmanHillard has always provided ethics training for our staff. Our policy is, “If you see something that appears to be unethical, say something, even if you’re not sure why it may be unethical.”  We rely on colleagues to be ethical, and we want them to feel comfortable raising any issue.  Multiculturalism is part and parcel in everything we do.

Daniel Pooley, Managing Partner, Finn Partners: Influencer marketing is a craft that has its own heritage. Public relations always has had influencer marketing because it’s another way to create brand connections. There’s a shifting DNA on influencer marketing that demands it to be more scientific with scalable results that are better measured. Bold, smart strategies are needed.

A side note: I have met and worked with some of the leaders on the agenda, but was thrilled to meet new fellow professionals committed to ethical public relations.

Looking forward to next year’s Roundtable. And, if it happens to fall again on Halloween, perhaps costumes should be required.

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