If you’re a regular reader of the ARPR blog or follow our brand on any one of our numerous social media channels, you already know how important professional development is to our flourishing tech PR agency. For those less familiar with us, understand this: ARPR’s commitment to ongoing education is unbreakable. In fact, Learning Never Ceases is one of our agency’s six “Spirited Ideals.”
Last year I wrote about how the PR industry as a whole must up its game in the prof dev arena. Doing so is needed not just for the benefit of junior-level employees but also for the many thousands of seasoned industry veterans whose traditional job responsibilities have been disrupted by the evolving media landscape, the interjection of digital into traditional PR and the mainstream emergence of agency consolidation.
While we encourage the industry to follow our lead and invest actual dollars in employee training (we allocate almost 50% more than the industry average), ARPR continues to find ways to propel our ideal of Learning Never Ceases into opportunities for employees across all levels. Each year, ARPR allocates a significant line item in our budget for employees to attend sessions, take classes, listen to speakers, view presentations, or join organizations that they deem most beneficial to the maturation of their careers. At the same time, we hold a mid-year and year-end retreat that brings together the entire team for several days of reflecting, planning, fun, and of course, learning.
Taking Our Talents to the Big Apple
This year, the agency traveled to New York City, the birthplace and global HQ of the media industry. Over the course of three days, the team visited sites, such as the Paley Center for Media and Wall Street, and participated in panel discussions that featured luminaries akin to (or of greater stature than) those who regularly speak at expensive trade shows.
One of the highlights of our professional development experience was a panel on the past, present and future of PR, held at The New York Times Building near Times Square. Most PR pros would agree that the prestige of The New York Times is unmatched, so being able to not just visit the building, but having the opportunity to learn within its walls was truly special.
For the panel, ARPR secured participation from:
- Panelist: Don Bates, a PR and writing professor at NYU and an agency M&A specialist
- Panelist: Rick Gould, Managing Partner of Gould + Partners
- Panelist: Sabrina Horn, a PR News Hall of Famer and founder and CEO of Horn, a digital communications agency (acquired by Finn Partners & my former boss)
- Moderator: Diane Schwartz, Senior Vice President & Group Publisher, PR News
Much like any great panel, Bates, Gould and Horn did an excellent job taking the moderator’s questions and making their answers relatable to the current industry landscape, putting into perspective the challenges and opportunities at the forefront of PR going into 2019.
While there was some time spent reflecting on the industry’s past and its current state (M&A is the “hottest” it’s been in 20 years, according to Gould), the majority of the dialogue focused on the future, in which three key takeaways of unanimous consent emerged:
- Should PR (especially agencies) improve their digital prowess and their means to measure, analyze and comprehend data, then the panelists project public relations to surpass advertising in terms of authority, perception and trust among clients. For years, the consensus was that PR is replaceable; often the first discipline to get cut out of a budget. This occurred while underperforming advertisers got the benefit of the doubt, sometimes even increasing retainers to buy their way out of trouble. Because of the democratization of ads across digital platforms, advertisers are now facing much tougher questions about ROI on ad spend and creative allocation – similar to the line of questioning once inherent to PR. Now, because of the transparency and ubiquity of big data and analytics, the script is being flipped, according to the panel, and the opportunity for us to retake advertisers’ seats at the executive table is within reach.
- PR firms, no matter if they’re B2B or B2C driven, and without regard for their industry specializations, simply must become more business savvy. While the panel agreed that ideally such enhanced education should begin at the university level, they recognized that schools have been slow to respond or have had trouble integrating business courses into the curriculum of communications majors. Thus, for the time being, agencies are a bit on an island when trying to hire PR practitioners who can instinctually tie clients to the bigger business picture. But such people do exist, and there are plenty willing and able to be trained through prof dev. Said Schwartz, “Once PR pros have a strong grasp of business objectives, they can begin to tackle what the industry’s biggest quagmire: measurement.”
- Importantly, the panelists agreed that no matter how business savvy PR pros become, or how opportunistic we are at overtaking the ad industry in mindshare, we cannot forfeit our ability to build At its root, PR will always rely upon relationship building and maintenance. Whether with journalists, clients and analysts as in the case of years past, or with more analytically minded people important to the future of PR, the ability to connect both on a business-level and a personal-level is how agency-client relationships will ultimately sustain over time.
The Future of PR is contingent upon developing PR talent differently than what worked in years past. Today we must empower people with not just strategy and tactics, but by helping them critically think, understand business and embrace technology to its fullest. Should we be able to achieve this, our industry looks to have brighter days ahead.
If you’re interested in making Learning Never Ceases one of your professional ideals, visit our Careers page to learn about current openings in Health IT and social media.