Where did I go wrong with this presentation proposal?

istock_000006111221xsmallGive to get back

I try to give back to the communications industry by offering to speak at meetups, barcamps, schools, industry conferences and other gatherings that want me. Usually, I’ll speak about about social media, sharing what I’ve experienced and learned over the past five years.

I’ve never delivered the same presentation two times in a row. Social media changes so rapidly and there are so many new developments and issues that I’m constantly adding new material.

Don’t waste their time. Make it relevant

When I plan a presentation, I always try to approach the presentation from the perspective of the participants. What is their background? What interests them? What do they already know? What could I offer them that would make their hour with me a worthwhile use of their time?

Usually this approach works. I deliver what people are interested in. And they think their time with me was well spent. Occasionally, I miss the mark.

In the past few years, I’ve become active in the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms (In fact, I was elected Chair of the CCPRF in December.) And one of the topics of ongoing discussion among the PR consulting firm CEOs has been the need to ensure that new employees arrive in our firms with the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the era of social media.

Oops. This one didn’t make the cut.

So, when the Canadian Public Relations Society put out a call for presentation proposals for the CPRS National Conference scheduled for June in Vancouver, I thought that it would make sense to propose a session with a panel of CEOs of some of Canada’s leading PR firms talking about the knowledge and skills they believe that people should be acquiring in order to succeed in our evolving industry. The CEOs of three other firms – Palette PR‘s Martin Waxman, Weber Shandwick‘s Kerry Harris and Argyle‘s Dan Tisch – volunteered to participate in this panel. So, I thought I’d have a rock solid session that would be of interest to the members of the CPRS.

Oops. I was wrong. I received an email telling me that our submission had been declined. Clearly, I’d missed the mark with this proposal.

Fair enough. The conference organizers want to put on the best conference and I’m sure that they had many great presentations to choose from.

Doing better the next time

But, of course, I’d like my presentation proposal to be among the better ones. So, if I missed the mark this time, I’d like to improve for the next time. And I’m hoping that you can help me with that.

I’ve reproduced the presentation proposal below. If you are a public relations practitioner, please take a look at it and tell me how I could tweak it to make it something you’d find useful.

I can’t offer you anything other than my thanks. And my pledge not to waste your time if you find yourself at one of my presentations.

Building your Career with Canada’s PR Consulting Companies
What do the leaders of public relations firms look for in recruiting new employees and deciding who to advance? It’s about more than billings. In this era of social media, what are the skills that PR pros must acquire or develop in order to build a successful PR consulting career?  Four PR firm CEOs, Thornley Fallis’ Joseph Thornley, Palette PR’s Martin Waxman, Argyle’s Dan Tisch and Weber Shandwick’s Kerry Harris, will tell you what they look for and answer all your questions. This panel is co-sponsored by the Council of Public Relations Firms and the CPRS.

Anyone interested in a career in PR consulting, whether PR student, new job entrant, mid career or senior practitioner, will be interested in this session.

The objectives of this workshop are to alert CPRS members to how they can prepare themselves to succeed in today’s fast changing public relations discipline and to give them insight into how PR firms are trying to help them prepare for the future.

Participants will learn:

  • What PR consulting firms look for when recruiting new employees;
  • What skills and expertise PR practitioners should be developing to equip themselves to succeed today and tomorrow;
  • How PR agency heads are trying to help their employees acquire new skills and expertise that they will need to advance in their careers.

PR professionals will gain insight into what PR firm heads feel are the essential skills and expertise of tomorrow and how they can acquire this.

PR consulting companies will benefit by the exchange of best practices and corporate communicators will gain insight into the challenges facing their suppliers and what is being done to meet those challenges.

So, what do you think?

How could I improve this session proposal to make it more interesting and more useful to public relations practitioners and other conference attendees?

IABC World Conference rescheduling is a disservice to Canadian IABC members

Here’s an unfortunate situation. The International Association of Business Communicators has rescheduled its annual World Conference to the same weekend as Canadian Public Relations Society National Conference.

The CPRS announced some time back that the 2009 CPRS National Conference will be held in Vancouver June 7-9, 2009. Now, I’ve received word in the IABC’s member newsletter that the IABC World Conference has been rescheduled to overlapping dates, June 7-10, in San Francisco.

Canadian Public Relations SocietyLike many Canadians, I belong to both the IABC and the CPRS. The principal benefit I receive from these associations is the opportunity to attend their professional development conferences. By attending these conferences, not only do I have a chance to keep abreast of the latest thinking about communications, but I also have a chance to meet and discuss these ideas with other communication professionals from across Canada and North America.

Scheduling these conferences to occur on the same weekend is a terrible waste of resouces and potential.

In this case, it appears to me that the party responsible for this conflict is the IABC, which changed its conference date. Now, some might say that this doesn’t matter. They may see IABC as primarily a US-based organization. But to those, take a look at the number of active IABC chapters in Canada, including the largest IABC Chapter in the world, Toronto.

So, here’s my call to the leaders of the IABC: Serve your members better. Coordinate your conference dates with the CPRS so that your Canadian members can have the opportunity to participate in all of the professional development conferences that you offer.


I wasn’t alone in my annoyance at IABC’s move. PRWeek reports that “Derrick Pieters, director of communications, Department of Justice Canada, Prairie Region and the North in Edmonton, and CPRS president, said they were surprised, and not initially warned, of the date change. “It is unfortunate there is a conflict, but it was just an unfortunate set of circumstances as to how it happened,” Pieters commented. The article quoted me as saying that “the IABC, as the bigger, international organization, has ‘not played nice in Canada.'”

The new face of public relations

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I believe that social media is a game changer for public relations.

It forces public relations people to come out from behind the curtain. No longer can we be the "unnamed source" who talks "on background."

We now are in a world in which the traditional news cycle has been replaced by a constant flow of breaking news and immediate commentary. We must start to monitor conversations well before we ever wish to enter them in order to find where people are talking, listen to what they are talking about, identify the new influencers, and understand their point of view.

And then, when we have done this, we join the conversations where they are occurring. This helps us to build credibility and trust among those who are already engaged in the issues of importance to us.

And all of that occurs before the words "corporate blog" are ever spoken.

Social media demands transparency and authenticity. That means that we must be front and centre as individuals when we are playing the role of spokesperson for our organization. If you want an example of what I’m talking about, take a look at RichardatDell . Richard Binhammer has been one of Dell’s most high profile people in the blogosphere since mid-2006. He is part of the conversation through his personal blog , direct outreach to bloggers , Twitter and real world presentations . And he does this with transparency and authenticity. The corporate spokesperson becomes a real person – and our trust increases because of this.

And that’s the template for the new PR practitioner.

And I’m not alone in my view. It was encouraging to read other industry leaders underline the importance of social media during a recent roundtable discussion organized by PR Week (April 14, 2008, p.12). A couple of statements that caught my attention:

"Traditional PR is getting completely redefined. I won’t say it’s dying, but I think people need to get with what’s on the cutting edge, in terms of building communities and starting conversations – as opposed to that traditional one-way dialogue." Karen Kahn, Vice President, Global Communications, Sun Microsystems.

"The bigger evolution in our job is not learning about social media and digital. It’s about changing from a [text] storyteller to a visual storyteller. I think as PR pros we always related to the written word, and these new Web 2.0 applications relate to being more visual…" Luca Penati, Managing Director of the global tech practice, Ogilvy PR.

Things to think about when you’re planning your own career and growth path.

UPDATE: Shel Israel posted this video interview with Richard Binhammer on Global Neighbourhoods TV shortly after I posted. It’s worth looking at for an illustration of the "up front" PR person. There’s very little (if any) "corporate speak" on Richard’s side. Just a PR person speaking in plain language about what he believes about his company.