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2019 PRSA International Conference: The Evolution of PESO, Fake News and the Alpha Generation

November 6, 2019

As PR professionals, we’ve always had the ethical responsibility for maintaining truth within the communication world. This sentiment was echoed throughout the entire 2019 PRSA International Conference, from keynotes to breakout sessions to conversations with attendees on the showroom floor.

Our team attended this year’s event in San Diego and came back more motivated than ever.

I sat down with David Olson, our SVP, and Melissa Wexler, our Director of Sales, to hear what themes stood out and how we’ll take what we learned and apply it to what we do at Brandpoint.

Are you thinking about the Alpha Generation?

A major topic that stood out to Wexler was the focus of Stephen Dupont’s breakout session: the Alpha Generation. For B2B, B2C and PR companies who market to those aged 9 or younger, it’s important to reflect on how what we do now in the media is influencing this new generation.

The Alpha Gen has been born completely immersed in the digital world. Being exposed to media — and misinformation — so constantly will surely shape how this generation perceives the news and how they analyze the information that’s given to them.

When she got home from PRSA ICON, Wexler found herself observing how her own 9-year-old communicates and is influenced by the digital world. He pretends to be a YouTuber, for example, and his reaction to having a great ice cream cone at a local shop is to give the workers “a tweet out” for not just the good food, but a job well done.

As members of the PR world, it’s up to us to pay attention to how this value-driven generation grows. “We have a duty to help shape the messaging that will impact their future,” Wexler explains. Start thinking about what platforms they’re drawn to, what communities they form, what events shape them, and then think about how your brand can fit in.

Fake news and public relations

“The tone was set for the entire conference with the opening keynote by Bob Woodward,” Olson said. The famous journalist is no stranger to political drama and sniffing out the truth in a highly publicized environment. In his keynote at PRSA ICON, he spoke at length about our current media climate and the parallels between the Nixon and current administrations.

However, Olson remarked on how impressed he was that Woodward’s presentation was completely non-biased. His nuanced and neutral analysis of how the Nixon administration compares with the current impeachment investigation was neither defense nor an indictment of what’s happening in the White House, but instead an eye-opening lens to identify the challenges professionals in the media face.

In short: PR’s role is elevated more than ever. “It’s up to us to make the standards,” Wexler said of how we can help shape the industry. Our responsibility is to rise above the rhetoric and vitriol to address fake news and learn how to stop its spread.

The term “fake news” seems overdone and cliché at this point, but the fact of the matter is that it’s still pervasive, it’s still a major issue and it’s shaping how we’re all taking in mass media.

But what about brands that aren’t political or don’t directly focus on the news? This all applies to them, too. Many PR practitioners who work with big brands may find themselves in situations where misinformation can explode out of nowhere and trust quickly erodes.

During his lunch keynote, Frank Shaw of Microsoft gave some advice on how he and his team focus on building trust:

  • Arm your employees with an educated voice to speak for your brand. Don’t let this responsibility lie with just PR, but also with any other public-facing role within the company. “Employees are your best defense against misinformation,” explains Shaw.
  • Invest in shared experiences. Brands should take advantage of event-based marketing, such as live product launches, games or parties, and charitable events to get their messaging out there and to create a situation where “fake news” is easier to disprove.

“These topics are fascinating,” Olson said. “If you’re in the professions of PR and media, absolutely, but even just as citizens who are over-saturated with content options—yet truth remains elusive.

How the industry is evolving

Fred Cook, Director at the USC Center for Public Relations, presented his 2019 Global Communications Report regarding the future of technology in communication. The study is all about the PESO model, trends and what PR is going to look like in five years.

It’s not news that print is stagnating, but the interesting part in the research is about what IS growing. Earned media is losing steam, but paid and shared is only getting stronger. Sponsored content, native advertising, promoted social; these are all avenues that remain important to focus on.

And to those seeing low numbers and missed goals around your print business? It’s not just you. Instead of letting these methods die, though, just adjust them to fit the demands of your clients. Supplement your traditional tactics with paid and shared strategies. “You need to speak the language of clients that you’re working with as the lines between PR and marketing continue to blur,” Wexler explains.

Wexler also commented that the themes of inclusiveness, representation and diversity were all clearly represented in both leadership and attendees of the event. “I’m really excited about where the industry is going and who we represent as a whole,” she said. “Our industry should be proud to be in the forefront of this reality.”

Another PRSA ICON in the books

Keynotes and sessions aside, the Brandpoint team also had a great time interacting with their peers at the booth and at the cocktail party they hosted at the event.

A final quote that really stood out to David Olson was from the session of Frank Shaw of Microsoft: “Our goal is to illuminate the soul of a company.”

Broken down in the simplest terms, the PR industry is made up of humans trying to connect with other humans. Keeping this perspective in mind reinforces the value in building trust, sharing your point of view and telling your story.

November 6, 2019

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