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Reflections on the PR ...

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Given all the industry organizations based in New York that count PR as a target audience, we were enthused about the Holmes Report hosting its first Innovation Summit in Silicon Valley last week.

As with any first-time activity, there are going to be hits and misses. Still, I would characterize the overall conference as a success (and I would say this even if we didn’t take away a Sabre Award for the owned media category).

The following captures some random reflections over the two days:

  • Toward the end of conference opener, “Fixing the Broken Agency Model,” a question was posed to the panel: What is the one thing that you’d like to see changed about the agency model? The panel responded with “passion.” Agencies need to do this. Agencies need to do that. But there was zero dialogue on what clients can do to cultivate passion in their agency partners, which I find revealing.
  • Gabriel Stricker, vice president of marketing and communications at Twitter, delivered the day-one keynote. With slide headlines that included “Love Thy Reporter,” “It’s About the Voters, Not the Election” and “Get the Picture (visual storytelling), I agreed with most of his talk. But his perspective around “Outsource for Coverage, Not for Competency” caused a murmur in the audience largely made up of PR agency types. The macro point by itself didn’t bother me. Many variables go into determining how a company gains the most from its agency relationship. What did get my attention was Stricker’s belief that companies should solely depend on an internal resource even for unique situations like a crisis. I would have thought with so much on the line, a second perspective from the outside – even if it’s a mere a sanity check – would be useful.
  • The word “authenticity” has lost all meaning after being beaten to the morgue. Film maker Ted Hope used the term “emotional truth” during his panel which just sounds better. I also appreciated the point that B2B doesn’t have to stand for “boring to boring.” (couldn’t find the source behind this comment in my notes).
  • My favorite conference line — “Oreo screwed us all with their Super Bowl moment last year” from David Matahia, director of marketing communications for Hyundai. The hoopla generated from that single Oreo tweet that played off the power outage at last year’s Super Bowl has now forced hundreds of brands to put together production teams for the upcoming Super Bowl, all keen to capture lightning in a bottle from improv marketing.

Oreo Super Bowl Tweet 07-13

  • Jim Goldman moderated one of the better panels, “The New Rules of Venture Capital, PR and Marketing.” No question, Goldman’s years in front of a camera as a broadcast journalist came in handy in poking and cajoling the panelists into a lively discussion. Peter Delevett from the San Jose Mercury News was particularly open in sharing his criteria on what makes for a potential story such as the prestige of the venture capitalist does matter; i.e., he’s going to pay more attention to a startup backed by Google Ventures than a no-name VC.
  • I heard a fair amount of positive feedback on our City of Fremont case study which was presented as tag team with me and Kelly Kline, economic development director for Fremont. Rather than having me serve as a moderator, this format allowed for a blending of client and agency perspectives.
  • The Four Seasons in San Francisco provided a first-class venue with attention to detail that included piping in Led Zeppelin.
  • My second favorite conference line— “I often wonder if journalists invite PR to their conferences so they can say what a crappy job they’re doing” from Paul Holmes.
  • Colleague and friend Sam Whitmore directed a question to the panel “Communicating Innovation:” How could the Southwest Airlines blog which has garnered accolade after accolade not utter a single word about the pilot landing at the wrong airport? Stephanie Losse who heads Dell’s editorial content strategy and previously worked at Fortune agreed with Sam that this concept of brand journalism still has a ways to go when it comes to the “journalism” part of the phrase.

As someone who isn’t a natural networker, simply spending a couple days with smart colleagues was refreshing.

Kudos to Aarti Shah from the Holmes Report who did the heavy lifting.

We’ll be back next year.


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