PR Week’s NEXT Conference

I had a chance to spend the morning at NYC’s Waldorf Astoria’s Starlight Roof. No. It wasn’t a wedding, bar mitzvah or even a debutante ball. Rather, our industry’s leading weekly magazine gathered PR’s movers and shakers for a look at What’s Next.

The PR Week NEXT Conference, in celebration of the glossy’s 10th anniversary, commenced at 7:45am with a handful of roundtable discussions over croissants and coffee. I had the great fortune to explore the future of media, as moderated by former CBS-TV News prexy Andrew Heyward. My tablemates included PR thought leaders from both agencies and companies, in New York and beyond. We explored the cacophonous media environment and what it takes to succeed (an admittedly much longer conversation).

Publishing director Julia Hood introduced Lord Michael Heseltine, chairman of the UK-based ad/PR/marketing media powerhouse Haymarket, who recounted how he decided ten years ago, with the urging of Richard Edelman, to take his successful PR franchise across the pond. The million-dollar start-up cost was cushioned by the half million he solicited in initial advertising.

Then PR Week editor Keith O’Brien segued to the first panel featuring a rather lengthy introduction by Porter Novelli’s Marian “metrosexual” Salzman who moderated former US magazine and American Media editrix Bonnie Fuller, The New York Times’s R&D chief Michael Zimbalist, and long-time TV writer/producer Bill Persky who caught the wired audience off guard with his talk of mimeograph machines and hand-edited TV scripts.

Both Zimbalist and Fuller were exceptionally well-spoken and very plugged in to the trends. From Zimbalist:

“How are we going to reach consumers? We got it backwards…they’re reaching us…Most profound change is that actual production and distribution has been outsourced to the consumer for immediate accessibility…People are looking for some means to filter all this news content…there’s a need for authenticity.”

And from Fuller:

“I am a woman who owes an incredible amount to Britney Spears…she was a gift to the newsstand who just kept on giving. she was a watershed…the world of the weekly just couldn’t keep up…because of Britney, I had to change to meet the needs of readers.”

I did take exception to their shared opinion that video production should not be left to PR people. From Zimbalist:

“…content creation is not a core competency of PR people…”

From Fuller:

“PR (corp comms) people need to recognize that they are not content providers…I would outsource to others to create content…work with people who are excellent at content creation.”

Hmmm. We’ll see about that!

It was Persky, however, who made the greatest impression, at least on this blogger, with his engaging perspective on how technology-driven scripting and editing has hampered the very essence of the creative process:

“…once the computer arrived, we immediately saw a change in the tv scripts…edits no longer flowed…they bumped…the computer led to language loosening up…it became lascivious rather than fun…a lot of creativity became lost…as a result of technology…what makes people laugh, what makes people cry, remains the same…it’s not how you deliver it to them…the time to think has been removed by the speed with which you can reach people.”

The next conversation featured a private equity executive who knew a thing or two about media and marketing services companies, and the valuations thereof. Robert Nolan, managing partner of Halyard Capital, noted that:

“…what matters most to investors that there be multiple sources of revenue,” and that “location-based advertising enabled through broadband gets me excited.”

It was followed by a panel titled “The Next Digital Era” that I suppose was the raison d’etre for the conference. Moderated by Peter Kim, it featured Steve Rubel, SVP, Edelman Digital; Mark Donovan, SVP of mobile and senior analyst, comScore; Tom Arrix, VP of sales, Facebook.

Steve Rubel shook things up right off the bat with his three “directional” trends:

  1. “…all tangible forms of media will be in sharp decline.”
  2. …as social networks rise, the whole notion of peers filtering info from pros is a big deal.”
  3. “I believe that Google is media, and what is found there is media. This is something that PR people need to be aware of immediately”

True to his ad sales roots, Facebook’s Tom Arrix complimented P&G as:

“…the most innovative company on the planet, thought leaders, metric-driven…”

and cited MTV’s creative use of FB as a means to

“…assess Britney’s relevance during her comeback on the Video Music Awards.”

He went on to say that:

“as we get better, we’ll figure out betters ways to measure performance. We’re rolling out FaceBook Connect experience.”

ComScore’s Mark Donovan waxed poetic on the prospects for mobile:

one in five U.S. mobile phone users used their phone to access news in the last year……mobile technology node that connects people to people, people to brands, people to facebook…in next 12-18 months we’re going to see a big proliferation of mobile media…”

Peter Kim posed the question of the day:

“As more people participate with social media, how to reconcile when personal brands and corporate brands collide?”

Clickable’s Max Kalehoff, following my Tweets from afar, weighed in:

“I ask that question all the time. Nobody’s answered it. It’s an issue of management control and values. It goes far beyond superficial trends and “social computing” technologies.”

Rubel did say that this collision, for him, is like “walking a tightrope” everyday. Peter Kim then observed that many companies block Facebook and even iPhones in the enterprise, prompting this comment from Rubel:

“The companies with the most liberal IT policies are going to win…”

And this from Arrix:

“You’re far better off as a brand to allow your people to be on Facebook. You have no choice.”

Comment of the day from ComScore’s Mark Donovan:

My mother calls Facebook “My Face”