Thursday morning in London was rather joyous. As I arrived at The Crystal, the venue for this year’s FutureComms conference, it was a beautiful, warm day with the sun gleaming off the glass angles of the eye-catching, post-modern building. Everything seemed right with the world.
That was at 9am. By 11am, the atmosphere had dropped significantly into something tetchy, fractious and approaching volatile.
It was kicked off by Chief Strategy Officer of the Content Marketing Institute Robert Rose’s assertion in the keynote that “we [marketers] are not in the business of truth; we deliver what ought to be the truth”.
Say that to a room full of communications professionals and you’re going to get a reaction. It did. Hackles rose and two hundred coffee-fuelled PR types lit up the #fc15 hashtag (which is the PR equivalent of writing a rather strongly worded letter to the editor).
By the time ex-Edelman President Robert Phillips took to the stage to explain/defend (delete as applicable) the assertion in his book that “‘PR is Dead” [for a review, click here] the room was already bristling. Phillips’ somewhat arrogant delivery did little to quell the rising tide of vitriol. This was perhaps illustrated no better than during the Q&A session at the end of a well-conducted interview by MyNewsDesk CMO Jonathon Bean, during which Rachel Miller passionately criticised Phillips for the tone of the book, calling it the most frustrating and irritating book she’d ever read.
There was still time for more, however, and before we even hit the first refreshment break of the day, a panel supposedly put together to discuss the divide (or not) between content and PR was hijacked by panelist and CIPR President Sarah Pinch stating that she was “bored and cross by the conversation” thus far (to that point it had been a tad naval gazing in nature and not really future focused at all) and, in agitated manner, stating how the PR industry has already “got our shit together”. Which was a facepalm moment for me. Really?!
As I say, this was before the first coffee break of the day. It was like being hit around the face repeatedly with a wet tuna before you’ve even settled into your seat.
Breaking the Normal Routine?
So what should we read into this cantankerous opening to the UK’s premiere communications conference? If anything, in fact?
From a personal perspective, I can only say that I’m grateful the panel session I was asked to take part in (on the subject of the PESO framework) was scheduled for the afternoon! Phew! Side-stepped a firing squad with that one!
Seriously though, two things have stuck with me from those opening three sessions. First, it was fantastic to be at a conference where there was vehement disagreement of opinions, even if it did affect the atmosphere for a while. This tweet summed it up perfectly:
— Dan Slee (@danslee) June 18, 2015
Too many conferences toe the line with safe topics and case study speakers with a corporate agenda. FutureComms is different and, having had an advisory hand in both last and this year’s programmes, I can tell you for a fact that the organisers want this conference to spark conversation and debate with a view to moving the communications industry forward. To my mind, events like this should do exactly that; they should get people thinking and talking.
But second, a couple of hours of debate over whether the industry really is in the ‘truth’ business, whether or not it’s evolving fast enough (or at all) and what we call ourselves (yes, really…) points strongly to the introspective mess that the industry has become.
Despite the best efforts of the likes of former CIPR President Stephen Waddington over the last year, it’s directionless.
Change is happening at snail’s pace and for every progressive, technologically-savvy and data-led PR team or organisation, there are ten who don’t have much of a clue. Hence the arguments.
Essentially, it’s time to step up to the plate. The remainder of the FutureComms agenda pointed to ways in which the industry can embrace a bright new future, and by the time comedian David Schneider had us in stitches with his ‘Is the Internet Making us More Stupider?’, the mood was a lot more positive.
Between you and me though, I can’t help but wonder whether Schneider will have replaced the word ‘us’ with ‘PR’ in his presentation in five years’ time. That’s the ‘truth’ in this.
I will be publishing a more detailed post on the discussion surrounding the PESO framework later this week.
I’ve curated a Twitter list of all of the speakers and participants at FutureComms 15 here if you’d like to subscribe to their thoughts. You can also catch up on all the FutureComms chat through the #fc15 hashtag (note: ignore the odd rogue tweet from a separate conference in the USA!)
Further reading on FutureComms:
7 insights on the future of PR from Future Comms 15 – Stephen Waddington
PESO: Please Evolve Soon OK? – John Brown
Paid: A Must not a Maybe for PR – Danny Whatmough
A tetchy Future Comms moves on from the past – eventually – Rob Smith
Conclusions from FutureComms – Sarah Pinch
FutureComms15 felt like dipping in to a bag of allsorts – Alissia Knight
On a personal level, it was great to meet and to catch up with so many people in person at FutureComms. Thanks for making the time for a quick chat Neville Hobson, Rachel Miller, Danny Whatmough, Jon Bernstein, Stephen Waddington, Stella Bayles, Gary Preston, Jonathon Bean, Adam Cranfield, Jarrod Williams, Gemma Hume, Sara-Jane Brown, Emily Mukalazi, Carole Scott and Emma Duke (sorry if I’ve missed anyone!).