Who should own a speaking programme – PR or marketing?

26 07 2010

Taking a look at my current clients, it’s roughly an equal split between PR and marketing in terms of who owns the speaking programme.  There are arguments for both camps:


Apart from the messages to deliver and manage in a presentation itself, there is also the potential for ambush from a hostile in the crowd or a competitor on a panel discussion, on-site media briefings with journalists, conversations with various stakeholders during networking breaks – there really are ample scenarios where you need a PR function to assist.


One of the biggest advantages of conference speaking is that it allows you to go DIRECT to a target audience. This is different from traditional media relations which delivers messages INDIRECTLY to a target audience through the media.  Many marketers argue that “if there’s no press involved, why do we need PR? we know what we want to say to our audience and if there are no journalists there to twist our words, we can handle it.”  After all, conference speaking is, in essence, another form of personal selling – probably the most effective element of the marcomms mix.

So who’s right?

In my experience – they both are.  You need marketing involved to capitalise on the outstanding business development opportunity that conference speaking provides, while you need PR to manage the many different elements of a conference speaking opportunity that can turn into a two-way dialogue with stakeholders, manage any on-site media, and to prepare for any hostilities.  I’ll even go one step further and say that you should get the sales team involved as well.

So involve everyone and get the most out of every speaking opportunity!

Blogs, apps and paywalls: how digital media is transforming journalism – Oriella PR Network study

7 07 2010

This may seem a little bit of a jump from our normal content on our blog, but given that many of the conference organisers we deal with are units of media publications (FT, Economist, Forbes, Business Week, Total Telecom, Haymarket, MediaGuardian, etc, etc, etc) this great report from the Oriella PR Network has relevance and potential repercussions for the business conference world.

(In the spirit of transparency, the company I work for, Brands2Life is a member of the Oriella PR Network)

Nevertheless, it’s a substantial study into the impact digital and social media are having on journalism. The study has found that journalists have to produce more content on more platforms, are working longer hours, and have less time to research stories. However, job satisfaction remains high, and almost half of the journalists Oriella spoke to said that digital and social media have increased the quality of their work.

The research also explored publications approaches to paid-for content. Rupert Murdoch’s controversial decision to build paywalls around The Times and The Sunday Times is being watched closely by media executives worldwide: the study found that two thirds of publications are evaluating – or have implemented – some form of paid-for content model, be it smartphone apps, pay-per-view or special formats for e-readers, such as the iPad.

These findings shine a light on some big changes to come in the way the media gathers, presents, and raises revenues from the news – with knock on impacts on how organisations to manage their global communications.

Have a read if you can!

PR Week: PR and Digital Media conference

25 06 2010

I attended this PR Week conference  this week and would like to talk about this from two different angles. 1) my key take-aways from the event in terms of content, and 2) some examples of good and bad practice I noticed from the speakers in terms of the delivery of their presentations.

Key take-aways:

  • AVE as a metric is dead (this is no surprise to most but I was amazed it was included in a speaker’s presentation!)
  • Need to get digital and social media involved in the planning stage for large campaigns – can’t go to the digital team at the end of the planning and ask them to ‘socialise’ or ‘digitise’ something.
  • This is from an agency perspectice, but many brands are still hungry for knowledge about social media and digital and for some there is still a long way to go to educate them. A colleague who has just done a 8-month stint in-house thinks this is because many brands don’t have regular access to the same intelligence that agencies do.
  • There is a fear of social media due to the worry that it will go wrong – no doubt due in part to the high profile social media disasters that are picked up and covered widely in the mainstream media. Crisis management is a big issue and there were two very good and candid presentations from Mary Walsh, Director of Comms for Eurostar and Stuart Ross, Director of News for Transport for London.
  • Control of social media – discussion over who owns it in an org – marketing, comms, customer services, sales, etc. Also an issue of control – legal departments often quash ambitious campaigns.  Advice was that involving legal teams in the planning stage gets them on board easier.

Good and bad practice:

  • I won’t name names but there were examples of great presenters, and not so great. Also slide presentation differed greatly. 
  • One speaker’s slides were so full of text that I lost track of what message he was trying to get across. He moved on to the next slide when I was still reading the second paragraph – yes…I said PARAGRAPH! I took a photo of his slides on my iPhone to document it – that’s the photo at the top of this post. By contrast, another speaker used mainly images and it was much easier to follow.
  • One guy shunned PPT in favour of a something called Prezi.com which worked well and was a nice change – bravo.
  • Finally, most were good with this, but some went on a little too long explaining what they did before getting into the content of the discussion. 

Conference speaking as part of an integrated PR or marketing campaign

6 05 2010

A quick word about how a targeted conference speaking programme fits in with other marketing and communications activity.  It’s important not to silo speaking activity and whereever possible to link it with launches, announcements, or any other activity that is news worthy.

In essence, a speaking programme introduces a live element to an integrated PR or marketing campaign – ideally you want a campaign to live online, in the traditional media and also be live through an integrated speaker programme. The direct nature of conference speaking is simply a much more cost-effective method of personal selling – one of the most important (and expensive!) elements of the marcomms mix and one that allows you to come face to face with your target audience.

Cross-referencing your internal event and activity planner for year with a calendar of targeted external events is an easy way to see where there may be an opportunity to leverage your PR or marketing activity with a decent event.  Such an event may provide you with a pre-convened captive audience of existing customers, prospects and media.

Best practice using PowerPoint

14 04 2010

Think presentation – think PowerPoint.

Sadly this is the case for many professionals and as a result it’s been completely forgotten that PowerPoint is simply a presentation aid – not a presentation in itself. For many presenters, it is a program that is relied on so much that it ends up dominating their presentation, deadening the impact that great content might otherwise have had. Think of the best, most memorable presentations or speeches you have ever heard in your life, and chances are most of them will have either used less than five slides or not used PowerPoint at all. With no complicated slides to distract your eye and mind, you are forced to focus on the person speaking and take in what they are saying. Ever tried to listen to what someone is saying to you while you are reading a book? It is quite difficult to do, and it’s no easier reading busy slides while trying to listen to a presentation.

Use PowerPoint if you must, but keep in mind these tips to ensure that you use it appropriately and that it will aid your presentation – not dominate it:

1. Avoid crowding the slides with too much information

2. Do not rely on PowerPoint to hide poor presenting skills – rather sign up for some presentation training!

3. Do not read off the slides with your back to the audience

4. Make every word and image count – each one should help convey your message

5. Avoid using too many special effects – too much can be distracting

6. Do not use hard to read colour combinations

7. Use as few slides as possible

That’s not to say that PowerPoint doesn’t have its place, and in fact I stumbled upon a good blog post that does a better job than I could of outlining when, where and how to use PowerPoint.

The truth about keynotes: is it THE slot to have?

11 04 2010

Good question.  We often have clients come to us and tell us that they only want a keynote when the speak at a conference.  Fair enough.  A keynote is traditionally the premier slot at any event and for the most part I would agree that this is an excellent slot to have as it sets you apart from competitors and the rest of the speaker list.  But this shouldn’t be used a benchmark for what value you get out of speaking at a conference, or whether you should bother speaking at an event or not.

There are few observations I’d like to share with regard to keynotes….

Audiences are expecting a lot more from conferences these days.  Long gone are the days when delegates were happy to pay full price just to be talked at – they want interactivity, they want to ask questions, they want networking.  In short, they want value for money.   In this respect, keynotes are not also the showpiece of every event and in fact if the conference organisers do a good job at putting them together, panel discussions are much more engaging and exciting for audiences.  A panel full of competitors for example or even representatives of different parts of the industry value chain can really get sparks flying and you often learn more from these sessions then you ever would from the one-way pulpit preaching that a keynote can sometimes be.

Secondly, some conference organisers can be a bit sneaky and many now call any old stand-alone slot a keynote in order to attract higher-level execs to speak at their event.  This can lead to speakers being misled as when most people think of a keynote, they imagine themselves being the first speaker or having a slot that is somehow exclusive.  There can often be disappointment when they arrive and find that they are one of 20 ‘keynote’ speakers throughout the day. Do your research and ask penetrating questions of the organiser about the format and structure of the sessions.

Finally, a keynote slot won’t hide poor presentation skills or a poorly prepared presentation and in fact, with the great expectation that a keynote brings from the audience, it can be detrimental to your communications goals and brand image.  If you are fortunate enough to have secured an opening keynote slot at a great event – PREPARE!  Treat the whole thing like a Broadway musical and practice, practice, practice.  Invest the time and effort in making the content great and the speaker the best he or she can be. It’s a show folks, the audience wants to learn but also be entertained. Many companies that we work with do this exceptionally well and even have a whole internal team dedicated to the task. As a result their presentations are outstanding and they are constantly asked back to present or asked to new events on the back of others.

So step back and have a think about what you want to get out of a conference (sales leads, networking, raise brand profile, etc).  Granted, you don’t want to be stuck in a back room session on the afternoon of the last day of the event, but if the people you want to meet or influence are at the event, chances are you can still be memorable, achieve your objective and gain value from paticipation, regardless of whether you have a keynote slot or not.

Live video coverage of Mobile World Congress conference sessions

16 02 2010

Just stumbled upon this, but it seems anyone can watch live video coverage of the Mobile World Congress conference sessions via the event site – they call it Mobile World Live.  You have to register your details but apart from that it’s free.  This is a new feature and quite a good idea.

You can see Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google deliver his keynote at 3.45pm GMT – that’s in 15 minutes!