Talking • Point

by Sarah Pinch

Sarah blogs about topics relevant to leadership, public relations and communications. If you'd like to write a guest blog, please get in touch.

Future Comms 15

19th June 2015 < Back

I love my job.  I am confident about the future of PR and communications and I would encourage anyone thinking of their career to consider this one.

Yesterday, I was asked as President of the CIPR to speak at and chair a session at Future Comms 15.  It was a mixed day.

The low points

  • The two ‘keynotes’ were both men.  In a profession that’s 67% female, that was not the best opening to what the future might look like.
  • We were told that PR is dead.
  • That the future is all about content (we know, we’ve been doing that for years)
  • That we are not in the business of telling the truth (YES WE ARE)
  • That it’s only when PR get the importance of engagement that we’ll flourish (ahem, have you seen how council and NHS, and many public sector comms teams work?)

Getting involved

Oh I could go on.

But, I was due to join a panel.  That ghastly feeling in my stomach was rising.  Nerves on a scale I had not felt before.

Oh no, not nerves.  Once on the platform, I realised I was cross and I was bored.

The panel was entitled:  PR and content marketing – the great divide.  NO.  PR provides content.  It is what we do.  What we have always done.

Public Relations, we know, because of the research done by the CIPR is alive and well.  It’s thriving and its influence is growing and developing.

There is optimism amongst PRs.  This is our moment, there is a growing understanding of what we do.

The conference would have been amazing if every agency bod, every freelance and every in house person had brought their CEO.  That would have made my day.

I am bored with naval gazing.  We are doing great things.  We have got our stuff together and are doing a brilliant job.

Some organisations do not understand public relations, they do not support our work, or they marginalise us to media relations, which whilst remains part of the mix of PR, it is only part.  Others want the world but are not willing to pay for it.  So, there are still challenges.

Women have a vital role to play, so when it came to chairing my session, I didn’t take my place in the red chair, I stood up and gave the seat to a woman from the audience who wanted to take part.  Step forward the amazing Stella Bayles, who contributed brilliantly to a discussion about Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned media.


my panel at FC15

So my conclusions on yesterday:

  • PR is in great shape
  • We need more women to come forward to sit on panels and we need more conference organisers to be aware of their male/female balance.
  • PR people are passionate, resilient, highly skilled and great fun
  • A good story, told well, is what we do; the platforms and outlets are changing, but they still require excellent content.
  • PR has loads of opportunities and chances to contribute.

I love conferences that challenge and this one certainly did that.  In the words of Dan Slee, watching on Twitter “Future Comms was full of people who gave a stuff.”

I give a massive stuff.



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7 thoughts on “Future Comms 15”

  1. Great blog Sarah. I absolutely agree with you, we are at such an exciting time. I just hope we don’t shag it all up by continuing this constant self-flagellation that seems to occur every time we get together in a big room. Let’s move on. Let’s really give a shit.

    1. “The industry is either scared shitless to get involved with the ‘big boys’ (advertisers) or totally myopic and can’t see beyond the ‘pure’ earned media.” – is that self-flagellation?

  2. Reblogged this on Media tips and commented:
    A PR person’s perspective on the mismatch between “PR” and “content” as perceived by many – well worth reading.

  3. Hi Sarah. Adam here – I used to be head of marketing at Mynewsdesk, and I’m the “founder” of the FutureComms conference. I am now an independent consultant and I was not directly involved in organising this year’s event, but many of the speakers were ones we shortlisted to speak last year (Robert Phillips, Zoe Clapp, Stephen Waddington, David Schneider, Alex Myers) and others were invited back from last year (Stephen Follows, Paul Sutton, Danny Whatmough, Max Tatton-Brown), so I have a close connection to the line-up. Unfortunately this year two very high profile women pulled out of the event at short notice – these things happen. Nevertheless, my friends at Mynewsdesk know they must do better and I’m sure they will next year.

    The conference is a Mynewsdesk conference, and therefore not a “PR” conference as such. “Comms”, I would argue, covers marketing, digital, content marketing, advertising and more. Job titles in the audience reflected this. Robert Rose, of the CMI, is currently one of the most influential marketing speakers in the world, and “content marketing” is one of the hottest topics for PR and marketing. When Wadds characterises marketing as “flogging stuff”, this is also not the whole picture (let me say I love Wadds and I think I recognise when he is taking a subtle and amiable dig at a “rival” discipline). I didn’t feel that the main thrust of Rose’s presentation was to characterise PR or marketing as dishonest. In some ways, Zoe Clapp’s highly successful chocolate Benedict Cumberbatch (for UKTV) media relations case study was a great example of what Robert Rose was talking about – the “story” is not untrue, but it involves a delicious dollop of imagination. And it works. Same with the Chipotle “Scarecrow” campaign, which won the Cannes Grand Prix for Edelman.

    PR means many things. I thought having Zoe’s presentation alongside Chris Webb’s presentation on the London 7/7 bombings aptly illustrated the huge breadth.

    I don’t believe “PR is dead”. My former colleagues at Mynewsdesk don’t either. But when the former head of the largest PR agency in Europe writes a book entitled “Trust me, PR is dead”, it almost feels rude not to include him as one of 11 sessions on the agenda. My original idea last year was to put Robert Phillips up against someone in an adversarial debate. Robert actually had to pull out of last year’s FutureComms. Subsequently his book has been the most talked about and blogged about book relating to PR in the last year. I think Jonathan Bean (Mynewsdesk’s new CMO) did a good job of interviewing him, and it was made clear that Robert does not believe the PR industry is flagging. But the challenges are clear, as many successful PR pros in the audience concurred on Twitter.

    Now for the truth thing. I feel quite bad to have been part of the panel that got stuck on that. I think it was just one of those things. My own take is that PR and marketing present a version of the truth, and there is no single truth (a philosophical point). Take any issue, from religion, to “the deficit”, to climate change, to animal rights, and there is no single “truth” that everyone will agree on. That’s why communicators must present their case. Do you believe that people working in government comms (let’s say in America) always tell us the whole truth? Or even that they never tell us anything untrue? I certainly don’t.

    Content marketing vs PR. Yes, PR is about content, but “content marketing” is something new. One of the reasons is the rise of shared media. Some PR agencies are dramatically changing what they do. Specialist “content agencies” are emerging and in many cases taking work from PR agencies. There is a discussion to be had. It isn’t enough to say “we’ve always done content”.

    I really welcome the debate, as I am certainly not a PR expert, just someone who is happy to have created a conference that attracts such heated discussion. Last year’s event was a big success, but I don’t recall there being such friction. It’s hard to predict what will happen at FutureComms, but who wants a predictable conference? This year there were many different viewpoints in the room, and ultimately no one has a monopoly on the truth. That’s why we need to communicate. Let’s keep the conversation going!

    1. msorganised says:


      In response to: The conference is a Mynewsdesk conference, and therefore not a “PR” conference as such.

      The strap line for the conference was: “The PR & Comms event of the year”, it was also promoted, heavily, to PR and comms people, so it was a PR & comms conference. And the CIPR sponsored it!

      Your other points are interesting and I too welcome the ongoing debate. I am so up for this

      1. I define comms more broadly. I would certainly include content marketing, social media and a lot of digital. What I meant was that the original idea of FutureComms was to challenge the status quo and not just champion a single segment. Mynewsdesk has a 10-year history of disrupting PR, just as search and social have disrupted PR. In a good way. Many PR people are very smart and have adapted and are winning. I actually hear much more critical stuff coming from Wadds, Sutton, Whatmough, Myers, et al.

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