Home » Europe » Takeaways from the IPREX 2015 Global Leadership Conference

Takeaways from the IPREX 2015 Global Leadership Conference

By Darcy Little, Vehr Communications, Cincinnati

Crossing into the future … My Top 5 takeaways from the IPREX 2015 Global Leadership Conference

After a two-mile walk in the rain, I did it.

A Beatles fan for 20 years, I journeyed to Abbey Road Studios – and the famous crossing just outside – and paid homage (in an admittedly cliché way) to John, Paul, George and Ringo by walking the crossing, just as the Fab Four did on their aptly-named Abbey Road album cover.DL_Abbey Road

The Beatles recorded Abbey Road toward the end of its time as an official group. The famous album cover depicts the band members walking away from the studios – away from the beloved Beatles which most everyone knew and loved – and toward a new future, filled with adventures that each Beatle would experience on his own. There were new challenges to meet and overcome.

As PR pros, we find ourselves at a similar point. Maybe we haven’t recorded best-selling albums or become music legends, but we are at a pivotal time when we must leave familiar comforts and journey to new adventures and (perhaps) unknown waters.

I found myself in London (and at Abbey Road), because the city served as the locale of the IPREX 2015 Global Leadership Conference (GLC). About 30 of my peers from fellow IPREX agencies around the world assembled to learn, share and discuss the current status and (more importantly) the future of the public relations industry. (Note: IPREX is a global network of independent communications agencies with 1,500 staff and more than 100 offices. Vehr Communications is the Cincinnati-area IPREX partner.)

External speakers and conference delegates presented (and, of course, we had a little fun) throughout the nearly three-day event. The experiences and takeaways were invaluable. Here, I’d like to share my Top 5 takeaways from the GLC:

1. The state of the industry is lookin’ good. PR is back with a vengeance. Though the industry took a hit a few years ago during the Great Recession, it’s now on a growing track. Arun Sudhaman, partner and editor-in-chief at the Holmes Report, shared with us that the industry grew 11 percent in 2013 (versus 8 percent in 2012). In fact, finding good, qualified talent has overtaken economic conditions as the biggest challenge facing agencies.

2. Break down those silos – become channel neutral. This year’s conference was coined Beyond silos: operating and managing in an integrated communication industry. This theme permeated each session and presentation in various ways. And with good cause. PR agencies constantly find themselves competing with advertising, creative and digital firms for slices of much-coveted marketing budgets. But as digital and tech areas are growth drivers and clients increasingly value creativity, PR pros have a mandate to get better at these fields to stay competitive and grow. This also leads to challenges agencies face with recruiting talent – it’s become more crucial to find professionals who not only excel at PR but have experience in areas outside of “traditional” public relations as well.

Why should public relations agencies be the chosen ones to lead these converged functions? The foundation of our industry is in understanding many stakeholder groups, and we’re experts at developing appropriate messages to those groups. So, let’s take it a step further and learn different vehicles with which to reach stakeholders (without losing our knack for strategic messaging and fostering relationships – the bread and butter of public relations).

3. Measurement isn’t going anywhere. But we gotta get better at it. It’s not enough to measure inputs (i.e. Facebook posts, ads) and outputs (Facebook “likes,” impressions), but we need to develop processes to measure outcomes (sign-ups, retention). Too often, we fail to indicate whether a Facebook share led to a sign-up for your newsletter, or if a morning show interview led to a donation to your organization. The key is to track the line between outputs and outcomes. Can you install cookies on your website? Conduct pre- and post-surveys? Such efforts may require more money, but when you need to prove your worth, they are priceless.

Yes, the measurement topic is challenging, but one thing, at least, is clear – advertising value equivalency (AVE) is not a valid measurement of public relations. This one, simple metric cannot adequately demonstrate the worth of what we do.

4. Leaders ask different questions. Mark Seabright and Patrick Lucocq from In the Moment taught us that real leadership happens in conversations with people. Concerned with strategy and the long-term, leaders ask What? Why? and How? (But always starting with What? to understand the goal.), whereas managers ask When? Who? and Where? Moreover, when junior-level associates ask What? Why? and How?, senior leadership is held to greater accountability.

Earning the trust of each member of your team is paramount as a leader. But first, you must start with empathy – make a personal connection with each of your team members. From there, it’s easier to build rapport, and from rapport comes trust.

5. We’re all in this together. Faced with measurement challenges? Not having as much luck getting coverage from your go-to beat reporter? You’re not alone. Take solace in knowing that other professionals in the industry – no matter the city or the country – are facing the same trials and asking the same questions that you are. There’s something very real and very comforting in knowing this.

Take that step. Cross that crossing. There are new challenges to overcome and new experiences to be had in our never-ending journey to be better at what we do. If we don’t.. we’re going to carry that weight. A long time.

Learn more about IPREX.

Learn more about Vehr Communications.