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COMMUNICATIONS WEEK® CONCLUDES FIFTH ANNUAL CONFERENCE

Now in its fifth year, Communications Week® concluded its annual industry conference with successful events in New York City, Toronto, Chicago and London, with sessions scheduled in Germany on November 13, 2018.

The global 2018 theme “Workforce of the Future” was addressed at Monday and Tuesdays sessions in New York City. Kicking off the week at Blender Workspace, the event featured speakers from companies such as Business Wire, Away and Johnson & Johnson as well as executives from agencies such as Ruder Finn, Ketchum and Kite Hill PR

Speaking to the future of the PR, media and marketing industries, sessions examined not only the tools and skills needed to be successful in our industry, but the kinds of people and talent companies will continuously want to attract and retain. Sessions dove deeper into the importance of building a healthy and trustworthy external relationship with partners and vendors, and how these relationships will result in better quality work and a more engaged workforce. As covered in PRWeek, Monday’s event stressed the importance of PR professionals not only being an expert in their space, but making efforts to better understand marketing and other business departments.

The week continued on Tuesday at Viacom’s Sky Square Amphitheater, holding a closer lens to the people-centric issues that will impact the future PR industry. Sessions addressed how leaders can encourage a low-stress environment while setting up their teams for success. Executives from companies such as WHOSAY, Bloomberg, Thrive Global, and MSNBC & NBC News, amongst many others, addressed pressing industry issues such as the importance of creating and fostering a diverse culture and work/life integration.

Communications Week® NYC once again brought together top talent to discuss how we can improve our industry, as well as how we can better ourselves as professionals. As Kite Hill PR CEO and founder and Communications Week founder Tiffany Guarnaccia shared with attendees, "Take control and manage up. You're in control of your own universe." 

Plugging the talent drain - why the way we work in PR isn’t working, and how to fix it for the next generation

By Nicky Regazzoni, Co-Founder of The PR Network

When I set up as a freelancer in 2005 before starting The PR Network with my business partner George Blizzard, I was motivated by a desire to continue my PR career without compromising my home life. At this point, I didn’t even have any children - but I saw my colleagues who did. I saw them stressed, exhausted and saying they never did their best at work or at home. Rushing from nursery to work and back, then picking the laptop back up after bedtime - all the time with a palpable sense of panic that there was never enough time to get it all done.

I thought - that life isn’t for me. I started to build a good business as a freelancer, and during that time I met lots of talented people (men and women) who had also jumped off the hamster wheel to create a better work life. They didn’t want a permanent role, but they didn’t want to feel they’d sold their career down the river either. I sensed a huge amount of frustration from people wanting to put their experience to good use - without killing themselves with a 9-5 (and the rest) office job which simply doesn’t fit in with the constraints of family life and childcare.

I can’t count the times I’ve listened to people tell me their stories and say sadly, ‘it just doesn’t WORK’. At the same time, agencies were losing great people at a rate of knots. Talent retention was (is) as big an issue as finding fantastic people in the first place.

Back to 2005 - I was getting approached with a load of exciting PR projects which I couldn’t service alone. Over a glass or two one evening, George and I came up with the idea of a new breed of agile PR agency that would be based on the skills - and capacity - of a self-employed ‘workforce’, offered to clients as experienced PR professionals working in teams. We wouldn’t need to ask people to make sacrifices in order to service clients - they would work when they wanted, in the location they chose, as part of virtual teams steered by us at our London hub. We would plan resource properly so there would always be a senior person available to the client.

Of course, this concept wouldn’t work if there wasn’t a market for it. If clients were bothered about their teams being in the same city office for 8 hours a day, we’d have had a problem. Luckily, it turned out they weren’t. In May 2018 we commissioned The Pulse Business to run a sentiment poll for us to properly assess the appetite for virtual agencies. 45% of respondents (all senior PR and comms professionals) said that in the future, clients would consider virtual agencies a credible alternative to the traditional agency model. In 2017 PR Week wrote about the rise of virtual PR agencies, describing us as “the most established of the cohort”.

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We are now running campaigns all over the world (38 countries in 2017), directed by our management team who are all partners in the business. There are almost 2000 consultants in our global network - men and women who want to work on brands such as Dropbox, Lexus, Toyota, Vodafone and Zipcar (all current PRN clients). Clients don’t care where their teams are, as long as the work is getting done to a high standard, and that there is a senior person available to them when they need them. All of which we can deliver with our model.

We are also excited to announce that this week we are launching a new PRCA working group co-chaired by me and George. The Virtual Agencies group will bring together agency heads to collectively drive the growth of the category. More on that soon.

We are very proud that our concept has gone some way to halt the ‘talent drain’ of fantastic PR practitioners who would otherwise leave our industry because the traditional world of work is not geared up for everyone. We have many PR Network associates that were pushed out of their permanent roles, sometimes quite aggressively, by making the conditions and hours impossible to manage with childcare logistics. That is not to say that employers do not try hard to make it work - I know many who do. However, it is still extremely rare to find an employer that affords its trusted staff complete freedom and flexibility regarding where, when and how they work.

Having worked as a freelancer and then been self-employed as a partner in my own company since 2005, I am proof that growth and results can be generated without any fixed ‘work abode’ or set hours contract, however much flexibility may be built into that. I’m also a great case study for a working mum of two, having only missed a handful of school events since 2006. We afford the same consideration to all our partners, male and female (we have 14 children in the team).

Of course, when you work for yourself you are in control of your own diary and you can make choices and decisions over how to prioritise work and family life. However, opening up the working ‘day’ to make it possible to use the time available to you to fit in your work and parental/other life responsibilities is enormously empowering.

I believe that removing the shackles of a standard employment contract and allowing people to work freely - whatever their motivation - creates a sense of mutual obligation and goodwill which reaps benefits for all involved. Extending that opportunity beyond parents to all committed staff members may also help solve the issue of retaining millennials, allowing them to explore their personal goals without leaving the business. That’s another blog post.

We are delighted to be invited to participate in the inaugural Comms Week London event, representing The PR Network and our agile global workforce, and Women in PR, which aims to improve work life for women in the UK PR industry. George will be speaking on the Future of Work panel on October 17th in London. Get your tickets here.

Power To The Storytellers

By Dan Simon, CEO and Co-Founder of Vested, parent company of Qwoted

Journalists used to be heroes. It was said that there were three kinds of people who ran toward a disaster: the police, firemen...and reporters. Thomas Jefferson wrote that given the choice between a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, “...I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Yet the media today is under attack.

A perfect storm of technology and politics is placing historically high stresses on this noble profession and pushing many newsrooms, veteran reporters and independent freelancers to their breaking point. Who in their right mind would sign up for journalism school today?

The great irony, of course, is that we have never needed a strong, healthy and independent press more than we do today - as a check on the deluge of misinformation that besets us as well as on the powerful interests who spread it.

The challenge is a structural one. Reporters sit on the most valuable asset in modern history, more valuable than gold, oil or bitcoin. That asset is attention. They summon it, harness it, and point it at companies and politicians who grow successful as a result. But journalistic integrity and the separation of editorial and publishing means reporters have no legitimate mechanism to leverage this asset. Instead, an entire industry (the field of public relations) was created to monetize an asset that writers couldn’t or wouldn’t take advantage of.

As long as publishers were willing to invest in quality journalism, this structural flaw could be papered over. But once technology platforms began hacking away at publishers’ margins, their willingness to invest began to be hacked away with it. Publishers have largely learned to adapt to this new digital future but their appetite for brutal cost-cutting once acquired, was hard to let go of. As a consequence, we have an industry where almost everyone is making money except the very people who produce the content the industry is built upon. Tech platforms get rich, publishers get rich, advertisers get rich, PRs get rich. Reporters get laid off.

Qwoted is on a mission to solve this problem.

Firstly, we aim to give the media an amazing free expert platform and idea tool that helps them write better stories faster. Reporters are under increasing pressure to deliver more quality content on shorter deadlines. By giving them everything they need for their stories in one place, Qwoted is designed to give them more time back in their day.

Secondly, Qwoted puts reporters in greater control of the information that reaches them. Unlike email which gets cluttered and filled with irrelevant outreach, Qwoted enables reporters to filter who can pitch them and what they want to see. Qwoted is designed to identify and filter out spam, penalizing users for wasting reporters’ time.

Finally, Qwoted is committed to redistributing value to the reporters and writers who use it.

For now, that means points, leaderboards, giveaways and special features for power users. In the future though, we want to explore ways to tax the systems that have become rich on the backs of reporters: corporations, publishers, advertisers and PRs, and redistribute this income directly back into the pockets of our media users, fixing this industry’s systemic flaw.

Reporters produce the first rough draft of history. It’s time to put the power back in the hands of these important storytellers.