3 Take Aways from PR Newswire’s Communications Evolution Summit

Last Tuesday, I attended PR Newswire’s Communications Evolution Summit, an event that centered around the following question: How do you break through the clutter and serve audiences with great content that can help them solve a problem?

To answer this question, PR Newswire assembled a diverse group of experts:

Steve Cox, VP of PR for Sodexo
Mandy Jenkins, News Director of Storyful
John Wolf, VP of Global Brand PR for Marriott International
Dianna Heitz, Senior Multi-Platform Editor for CNN
Amy Webb, Founder & CEO of Webbmedia Group

I have to confess to missing Cox’s presentation while schmoozing at my own organization’s event, but was able to arrive in the nick of time for the panel with Jenkins, Wolf, and Heitz.

Here are my main take-aways from the event:

Big brands still see building “awareness” as a worthwhile investment in and of itself.

John Wolf shared Marriott’s latest investment in building brand awareness, a short film called The Two Bellman. The entire 15-minute film has its own premise, designed to capture attention and entertain in and of itself. However, the entirety of it is shot within the Marriott itself, making the brand a silent, but foundational, element within the short.

So, I know extreme product placement or channeling money into campaigns that are solely about making a brand “likeable” or a focal point for community building isn’t exactly new. Still, I’m surprised and intrigued that hotels are starting to enter the film creation space with no immediate intentions but to thrill and titillate, in the hopes that down the line this loyal consumer base will choose their hotel when abroad.

It makes sense, but I’m curious as to how effective it will be. Do customers make decisions on where they stay based on how much they like the hotel brand, or much they can afford in tandem with mounting airline prices? Given that this is clearly targeting my fellow millennials, I have to personally wonder if I’d ever be swayed from a cheap AirBnB or Expedia Take-What-I-Can-Get option.

Regardless, I’m all for trying out new things and testing. I’ll be thinking about ways to apply this to my own work.

Analytics highlight the best ways to engage, but don’t necessarily have to lead content creation.

Dianne Heitz gave what, to me, was the quote of the event: “I’m a huge analytics nerd. It’s the way our audience can speak to us without ever saying anything.”

Being myself an “analytics nerd,” it’s always great to hear people give kudos to the way analytics can help build community. In her remarks, Heitz pointed out that, in a multi-platform world, analytics shows us the right time, the right platform, and the right language to use to reach our audiences in a way that matters to them.

This frame puts a positive spin on what is otherwise a rather creepy process, the sifting of personal data that consumers (you and I included) leave in leaps and bounds over online platforms. While my time in Internet policy has made be a bit more leery of data collection and the lack of consumer privacy online, I hope to take the following mentality to my work: use data to build community, honor trust, offer true choices, and deliver value.

I also loved that Heitz pointed out that analytics doesn’t always have to lead content creation. While I’m a big fan of curating and shaping content based on what we discover in analytics, I recently attended a panel at SXSW by fashion marketers Canon Tekstar Hodge and Katalina Sharkey de Solis that challenged this practice. Both are fine with being guided by analytics, but they pointed out that without building time to experiment or act on creative impulse, you’re dooming your team to following trends instead of setting them.

“Don’t act too early, don’t wait too long, and don’t get blindsided by shiny objects.”

Amy Webb, who is the founder of her own media group and a futurist, gave the final presentation of the day. Her firm’s goal (paraphrased by me) is to predict the digital trends of the future to guide their clients’ communication and marketing strategies. They seem to be doing a pretty neat job, as evinced by the array of S-curves shared with the audience, but Webb’s biggest advice to the audience was: Don’t act too early, don’t wait too long, and don’t get blinded by shiny objects.

As far as I understood, Webb advocated for digital teams to be steeped in early adopter culture so that they can spot new tech and new trends, but cautioned teams to wait until the “first convergence wave” of adoption before bringing your brand on board.

What are we in the first convergence wave of right now? Ambient interfaces, the “autocompletes for our intentions.” An example can be found in augmented messaging apps that bring brands to consumers (think a smarter FB messenger or WhatsApp that suggests local events or faster driving directions to you). In fact, Webb suggests that we might be reaching the tipping point for these kind of messengers, which seems to corroborate what others are saying.

But my biggest action item, over all? Give the press something to run with besides a statement in your press release – charts, infographics, a great stock photo, etc. This is so stunningly obvious I can’t believe we haven’t been trying to figure out a way to incorporate more visual into our press releases. Action item #1 on my list!

Were you at the Communications Evolution Summit? What did you think of the event? And if you disagree with anything I’ve written, feel free express – I love feedback!


Huge thanks to Washington Women in PR for creating a partnership with PR Newswire that offered their members discounted membership. It’s the only way I could have gone! Also major kudos to my boss who let me take the morning to enrich my understanding of integrated communications. 🙂 

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