Communications Week: New PR Event Opens at Business Wire’s State of the Union

This post originally premiered on the Communications Week Blog. Communications Week is a cross-industry celebration of the public relations, communications and media industries. The inaugural week consisted of inspirational, informational and social events for those interested in PR, communications and media held at various locations around New York City and online.

The inaugural Communications Week kicked off on Monday morning in New York with a State of the Union breakfast session, hosted by Business Wire.

The event teed off the weeklong conversation of how media, communications and PR professionals are working together in times of media disruption.  The conversation was led by a diverse panel of PR and marketing all-stars at the Thomson Reuters building in Times Square, merging an incredible view of New York City with a stellar group of communications pros.

The theme of the panel, Living in Times of Media Disruption, drove the discussion full steam, with tips on staying ahead of the evolving definition of media, including cross-departmental collaboration, social media ownership, earned vs. paid media, content creation and future disruptions.

Led by panel moderator, Steve Rubel, Chief Content Strategist of Edelman PR, key themes emerged from both the panelists and the audience.

Media has evolved from a one-dimensional definition to being more “what you want to make of it,” according to Nelson Freitas, panelist and Chief Strategy Officer at Wunderman. New media is playing a huge role in this evolution. How do we communicate and measure the value of non-traditional media, especially to our internal stakeholders? As individuals become content disseminators, how do we tap into them as an authentic source of media, and how do we better follow their individual voices?

The question of ownership surfaced a lot—who owns social, for example? Collaborating across functions and channels, as well as being strategic about content came up as tactical recommendations. Reacting in real-time, which has always be an important tactic in PR, is now impacting marketing more than ever.  Strategically managing relevant, real-time interactions across all communications is becoming a competitive advantage.

Tiffany Guarnaccia, the Founder of Communications Week and CEO and Founder of Kite Hill PR, kicked off the event with and an introduction on the spirit behind Communications Week—the collaboration of stakeholders in public relations, communications and media industries to discuss key topics such as disruption in the media.

Sarah Shepard, Regional Vice President of Business Wire, further set the stage by encouraging “a thought provoking conversation regarding the current state of media relations, communications, marketing and the paradigm shift that has taken place and how they interact with one another.”  She noted, “There is an increasing trend towards more creative content development and distribution with enhanced multimedia capabilities to illustrate and tell the story.”

In addition to moderator Steve Rubel, the State of the Union panelists included:

Communications Week Business Wire Panel

(Pictured from left to right: Chanel Cathey, Director of Corp Comms, Viacom; Nelson Freitas, Chief Strategy Officer, Wunderman; Jordan Fischler, SVP, Allison+Partners; Steve Rubel, Chief Content Strategist, Edleman; Ben Trounson, Director of Communications, North America, TCS.)

Rubel first asked each of the panelists to give their unique definition of ‘media’.

Cathey from Viacom noted that with their diverse holdings, including MTV and Paramount Pictures, Viacom has a diverse, multiplatform view, in real-time and across various channels and audiences.  She said that media first encompasses content and is also the lens of the news, including both bloggers and traditional media.

Freitas of Wunderman, WPP group’s network of advertising, marketing and consulting companies, noted that media was once defined as one-dimensional. Now, it’s almost what you make of it. It depends on what story do you want to tell and through which channels. Right now, Freitas is interested in the power of the individual as media; he noted that millennials trust individual voices, such as reviews on TripAdvisor, for example, more than they trust a brand message.

Fischler from Allison+Partners said that, as an agency representing various clients, defining media involves finding where that audience is and the right method to reach them. She emphasized that media encompasses a balance of paid, owned and earned media.

Trounson represented the point of view of a B2B consultancy, highlighting that relevancy and context are key. In addition to connecting via traditional media, connecting with influencers on social media is extremely important, as is moving away from a shared voice with competitors and focusing more on the individual.

Rubel went on to ask, “Between marketing and communications departments, or between different companies under the same umbrellas, how are you handling disruption?”

Cathey shared that Viacom watches how the audience reacts in real-time (e.g., Snapchat during the VMAs).  You have to understand how you can amplify your message across various teams and channels. She also noted that we are seeing collaboration now where we once saw silos; the lines of communication are blurring more and more. Viacom has a ‘marketing council’ which brings stakeholders such as marketing and PR to the same table to discuss those matters.

Trounson noted TCS is a large, conservative organization; they are presented with the challenge of addressing social media ownership. Everyone on the marketing team now has access to admin rights, and they’ve all agreed not to be “a cowboy.” He also addressed an important fact that with social, you can’t always plan six months out.

Fischler noted that Allison+Partners has a voice in the larger conversation because of an agency’s inherent variety of clients, vs. being in house. They work alongside CMOs, brand managers and product managers to provide overarching insights, as do their connections at other agencies. Fischler shared that although the panelists’ companies are different, many organizations are in a similar place on the subject.

Next Rubel asked, “How do you share information internally or with clients about traditional media consumption vs. non-traditional?”  He briefed this by saying that PR pros outnumber journalists—there are more folks calling and emailing than ever. How do you get your message across?

Trounson gave examples of his organization’s new initiative to sponsor the [TCS] New York Marathon. How does the New York Marathon connect to their core business of data and IT consultancy? The sponsorship is an opportunity to make something new happen, and they have eight years to play it out. With a new app that displays where all the runners are from (Britain, India, Brooklyn or Queens) and their running stats, they have an example of connecting data with the marathon and the highly motivated people who participate in it. Additionally, the initial media story about TCS sponsoring the New York Marathon ran in an online medium, but not in print. This is an example of where the communications pro needs to remind the value of print vs. digital to internal stakeholders, some of who might see print as more valuable. But if online has more readers, which one is truly worth more?

Fischler shared her answer to clients who ask to be placed in print: “Why?” As the session audience chuckled, she added, “Are you looking for cache or are you looking to drive users?” If you have a digital business, online media placement can be more valuable. “The notion of influencer programming is more visible now.” For example, using IZEA to find the right influencers in social media.

Rubel asked, “How do you discern between promotion and brand protection?

Cathey from Viacom noted that preparation is key. “Especially if you know that content is going to have a reaction.” She supplied MTV’s Buckwild show as an example. Viacom also just launched an echograph to measure engagement, which is helping them anticipate and engage in real-time. For Cathey, it can be about “defining a win in a new way.” Thus, she advises educating your team [on new media], including executives. Being on BuzzFeed or Perez Hilton might be a bigger win than being in traditional media, depending on the audience. She also recommended having people with different perspectives weigh in on campaigns to avoid pitfalls, such as with topics on race or gender.

Fischler added, “Honesty is key—be upfront and forthcoming.” Have a statement ready on the control side of things. On the backend, have answers to all the questions you know will come up. Then be ready to “turn the page” and “move on to the next story.”

Trounson shared that a competitor of theirs pumps out new research everyday. For TCS, it’s more about quality than quantity—about being more strategic. For an upcoming trip, Trounson has new meetings for his CEO with non-traditional media, which is a departure from his usual agenda of sit-downs with traditional media.

Rubel asked the panelists, “With regard to content, how much time are you spending creating or shaping content to direct media coverage?  Rubel shared that Edelman partnered with IAB to ping consumers on sponsored content, and many consumers found it useful. Consumers feel companies have expertise to share, so Edelman has a team dedicated to this.

Fischler said, “It’s about the story; the content is the tactic. If a brand has a great story, does it lend itself to video?”

Trounson responded, “Dial into social to see what’s resonating; this helps companies become storytellers.”

Freitas answered, “No consumer is sitting around thinking, ‘if only I had a little more content in my life, I’d be happier.’” Being strategic is key. He recommended “following consumers, following the individual voices” instead of “forcing it.”

Rubel concluded by asking, “What is going to be disruptive in the next 12 months?”

Cathey answered, “Professionals in PR are used to real-time. Marketing is learning more than ever how to adjust and react in real time. For example, Oreo’s tweet during a blackout at the Super Bowl in 2013, “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark”. Or Arby’s tweet to Pharrell during the 2013 Grammy’s, (“Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back?”). It’s about tapping into the culture in real-time, at the right time.

Trounson said that, “In B2B, we work very closely with the sales team. Our goal is to create leads for sales.” Methods of measuring the impact of initiatives on sales will become more relevant and disruptive for B2B companies.

Freitas concluded by telling attendees to think about the power of the individual. “People, especially millennials, trust people like themselves for information.”

Rubel from Edelman summed up the panel perfectly by concluding that, “Constellations—not just putting stars in the sky, but connecting them,” will be key in the media industry in the coming years.