Thoughts on the Best PRactice Conference… from a non-member (oo!)

Delegates at a CIPR E Anglia Best PRactice Conference

By Jon Wilcox, Senior Communications Manager at Cambridge-based computer games studio Jagex. He is also co-founder of Cambridgeshire-based comms networking group PR Hub and co-host of its spin-off podcast, The PR Hub Podcast.

The sixth CIPR East Anglia Best PRactice Conference took place in Norwich yesterday, having uprooted itself from its previously established home of Cambridge. Taking place – rather aptly – at the delightful National Centre of Writing, the event welcomed practitioners from across the region to hear speakers discuss topics as diverse as influencer marketing and managing online crisis communications, to internal communications and mental health in the industry.

At this point I’m going to hold my hand up and make a couple of admissions: firstly, I’m not a member of the CIPR (or any industry body for that matter); and secondly, this was my first CIPR conference and so was unsure about what to expect.

It. Did. Not. Disappoint.

After a warm welcome from regional chair Becky Hall, CIPR president-elect Jenni Field took the mic to discuss for the very first time her plans for the organisation during her term in 2020. In a speech that was palpably honest about the current state of the wider organisation and its members, Field set out a robust slate of objectives that will need to be focused on beyond her 12-month term. Her ambition, to promote and improve professional conduct among CIPR members, as well as plug the skills gaps that exist in the PR industry, is admirable and should be supported by members and fellows alike. It will be absolutely fascinating to watch her strive to implement them next year, and I for one wish her and the CIPR the very best of luck – when accomplished, the industry as a whole will be all the better for their efforts.

The mix of keynote speakers throughout the afternoon couldn’t be faulted, with Comms2Point0’s Darren Caveney talk about supercharging social media revealing the very interesting – and in the case of Doncaster Council’s Twitter account, amusing – ways in which using social channels continue to evolve. Sally Beadle, senior producer at BBC Look East, discussed how its regional news programmes are looking to stay relevant in the face of increasing challenges including an aging demographic and changing ways in which we consume our news; while Asif Choudry’s insight into how his company’s Comms Hero conferencing brand came about, and continues to go from strength-to-strength, showed exactly how practitioners should approach networking.

Away from the keynotes were the breakout workshops. Six were on offer over two sessions, and there were some difficult choices to make; I attended the very open and honest talk from Leanne Ehren about the increasing strain and toll on practioners’ mental health in the workplace, which was very apt given the conference too place during Mental Health Awareness Week. Ehren’s workshop, which saw attendees discuss the causes and solutions of mental ill health in the workplace, was incredibly useful. As an industry we find ourselves under increasing stress, so to share peer-to-peer advice on how to manage workplace pressure was invaluable. Finally, Helpful Digital’s Alasdair Dick offered a glimpse into the fast-paced world of managing crisis communications online which follows tried and tested tenets, but potentially at a speed several magnitudes faster than most would perhaps realise.

With the final workshop of the afternoon complete came the chance to network with fellow comms professionals over a drink before catching the train. Having completed my first CIPR East Anglia conference, I was left contemplating my key takeaway from the event…

… And my overriding thought? That there is an indelible eagerness among practitioners across the region to do their very best, to continue developing their skills and share their learnings, regardless of the industry sector and discipline in which they work. For me, it was both reassuring and affirming. It was a really interesting and valuable afternoon spent in Norwich, my thanks to the organising team at the CIPR East Anglia for their collective effort. I’m already looking forward to booking my conference ticket next year.


CIPR East Anglia: 2017 PR Predictions

December 2016

Two years after Robert Phillips pronounced ‘PR is dead’, PR is still very much here, but things are changing fast. 

Whether it’s the automation of tasks, the shift towards contributor marketing, greater levels of knowledge-sharing or the advances in measurement practices, the PR landscape continues to evolve as the industry modernises in the face of a changing world.

Having consulted with fellow members of the CIPR East Anglia committee, we believe that PR in 2017 will be defined by two key themes; a growing influence of practitioners outside of London and, secondly, an acceleration in the pace of which PR pros need to upskill as the lines between PR, digital and marketing continue to blur.

Can London be toppled?

East Anglia has historically prospered thanks to successful long-standing industries such as tourism, agriculture, and professional and finance services. While those sectors continue to thrive, the region is now home to some of the biggest, brightest and best technology, medical and scientific companies in the country, which will continue to offer huge growth opportunities for communications professionals in 2017 and beyond.

The foundations are already well established, with good transport links, a talented and well educated workforce and high levels of investment. Sitting in the centre of our region, Cambridge has just received the prestigious crown as the most vibrant economy in the UK by accountancy firm, Grant Thornton. According to the Cambridge Cluster Map, there are more than 21,000 businesses located within 20 miles of the city, with annual turnover of £33bn. With global giants like AstraZeneca relocating to the region, ARM building a new headquarters, and the launch of The Cambridge Norwich Tech Corridor’s 15-year vision, to create £558m in economic growth in and between the two cities, there are plenty of opportunities for local practitioners and agencies to benefit.

East Anglia boasts just seven per cent of the country’s practitioners, but the potential for growth is significant for those working the region. At the close of 2016, Miles Young, UK CEO of Ogilvy PR, has urged his staff to leave its “ivory towers” and connect with Britain outside of the M25. A view, I’m sure, will be shared by practitioners up and down the country. While London firms continue to dominate PR awards and revenue earning tables there are key growth areas outside of London who can benefit and there is a huge appetite among practitioners in this region to challenge the perception that successful businesses should look to London for support and talent. 2017 could well be the year that the balance shifts in favour of regional practitioners.

Standing still will result in getting left behind

Our industry is modernising, the media landscape is becoming increasingly digital, and integrated communications have become the norm. PR is currently experiencing a significant challenge as communication channels change and the way in which audiences access information continues to evolve. But PRs shouldn’t be afraid of these changes, afterall, standing still can be fatal for your career.

The lines between PR and Marketing are blurring, and practitioners need to be able to upskill to stay ahead. Nowhere is this more prevalent than the importance of video. Video has grown to become an integral part of content for social, email and digital campaigns and this will certainly develop as a key trend in 2017. Videos are simply an easier way for consumers to get a vast amount of information in a short amount of time. According to Moovly, in 2015 online videos accounted for 55% of all mobile traffic and by 2020 this should rise to an enormous 75% – meaning by 2017 visual storytelling will be watched and searched far more than ever before. Whilst we don’t all need to rush to become video editors, it is vital that practitioners understand how it should be used and incorporated into our communication plans. If you are going to invest in one for your professional development this year, make it video. We need to embrace change and stay one step ahead to make sure Robert Phillips’ prophecy does not come true.

Download the free 25-page guide to the key trends, issues and opportunities impacting PR here: