2017 - A Great Year For International Communication

By Andras Sztaniszlav Happy New Year to all of You! Just before truly kicking off the new year I want to share with you some of my professional experiences in 2017. In December there were no more conferences, all the awards have been granted. We went to more client gatherings and corporate end-of-the-year parties and the last Christmas campaigns were rolled out.

Reflecting on my conference experiences: Truly international – at least on a European level.

European Communications Convention: this conference is organised every two years in or around Munich. This year it was more like a gathering of Comms professionals (rather than a strict conference) and the topics were mainly about the media environment and the effect of fake news on professional communication. A good start of the conference season without case studies but with thoughts about the world we live and operate in.

Global PRactice: This is our (CIPR International’s) first ever full-day conference so it is pretty hard to be unbiased towards it. We intended to set the bar high by inspiring topics (ethics, crisis on a global scale, managing global communication teams, etc.). Besides Donald Steel’s spectacular presentation about the altered rules of crisis communication, there was a panel discussion about the ethical issues of diverse cultures. Also, a “spotted cow” Ben & Jerry case study was presented about how global corporate messages can be transferred - with the same efficiency - in culturally divergent regions.

Cannes: The Festival of Creativity can hardly be considered as a conference. Most of the time is spent on Rosé wine but if you manage to get into the Palace, you can easily pick up numerous sentences to use as food for thought in the upcoming weeks and months. For me, this year it was David Droga’s out-of-the-box thinking, Sheryl Sandberg’s straightforward message claiming that gender equality pays off also in financial terms. The IMF managing directors, Christine Lagarde and Juan Manuel Santos then talked about their experiences in solving global issues in which widespread stakeholder management and creative solutions were put to good use.

PR Akademia: A 3-day-long conference organized by the Hungarian PR Association. This year, Paul Holmes was a guest lecturer drawing our attention to the split function of PR: on the one hand, focusing on authentic and content-driven campaigns to support sales, and on the other, providing a more sophisticated management function. In this role, insights, strategic planning and accurate measurement have become vital. Thus, a PR leader is supposed to be familiar with all of them.

ICCO Global Summit: This year Helsinki hosted the conference with a couple of hundreds of participants from all over the world. Although primarily there were agency presentations (such as an inspiring keynote by Rob Flaherty), there were other speakers, too: such as Roger Bolton from Arthur Page Society and Richard Bagnall from AMEC. In the chit-chats during the breaks, some of the most current global PR trends became clear. Namely, two crucial issues: ethics and technology... and the region of Asia. As for Asia, we are talking about such large markets (with ever-growing middle class) that cannot be ignored by PR.

CIPR National Conference: An “experimental” conference with speeches (and Q&As) only and no panel discussions. I guess they could make the most out of it. Undoubtedly, a highlight of the event was Matt Peacock’s presentation about purpose driven operations and communication. I also found Robyn de Villiers’ perspective about the Bell Pottinger case and its conclusions extremely thought-provoking, besides further intriguing case studies.

PR&Nativ: This conference organized by one of the comms trade magazines of Hungary attracted fewer and fewer participants over the years. It seems Hungarian PR practitioners are not really interested in each other. This year’s daring topic and programme (consisting almost only of panel discussions) enriched the conference a great deal: editors, agencies, corporate and political experts were discussing whether branded content would ever substitute agencies and clients would work directly with media firms in the future.

Okay, then. But what are the takeaways? What’s the use of attending conferences?

#1 Networking It’s great to meet old and new friends who you rarely see. And it is rewarding to exchange views on the different developments in various countries and sectors. This is a a good reason to attend a conference but it should not be the only one.

#2 Business relations The way I see it, more and more participants go to a conference with a “business reason” in mind. Compared to the previous years, I more often had the feeling that whoever I was talking to had some kind of an agenda: reentering the market, building academic relations, seeking suppliers or hunting for jobs. Just like in the market, it is vital to be clear about what kind of messages and expectations you arrive with.

#3 Good insights Apparently, a prime goal of going to conferences is to learn something new from the speakers or at least think about the cases presented. There are events where this is not really the case. Still, it was great to see that this year almost each and every conference I attended could provide new insights, perspectives or at least a couple of inspiring examples.

#4 Cultural differences As I am dealing with international communication, I am interested not only in technological trends but also in cultural differences. It is such a great feeling to be able to speak elaborately with an expert or a group of people. By seeing their way of thinking, expectations and values I can say without doubt: My view of the world keeps evolving which is a great feeling.

I am Hungarian by origin, therefore, I have the urge to give back something to those professionals who have less chance to travel. At the beginning of the year I took over the editorship of the CCO.hu magazine and I quite often write about international events. I truly advise everyone to do this: Writing keeps our brain moving (and not only our fingers) and helps us synthesize our thoughts after a conference. In the summer of 2017, we started collecting events related to PR profession that - in our view - are worth visiting. So have a look around and if you have any suggestions for a new entry, please let us know.

Again, have a great 2018 and try to visit as many conferences as you can. 2017 was a blast and partly thanks to all those great conferences I was fortunate to attend and the brilliant people I met there.

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