PRFest 2021 – looking to the future

Many years ago, I ran a CIPR Scotland conference when I was Group Chair, called Future PRoof. We wanted to look at the future and how we could work to identify (then) what we needed to do to be a sustainable industry and remain relevant as practitioners.

Fast forward around 10 years, and we’re having the same conversation. Why now? COVID has changed everything.

This year’s PRFest, a global virtual community and event, will run 14-18 June. You can find more about it here. The theme is ‘The Sustainable future of… in PR’ this year, focussing on five key areas: Planet, Society, Work, Corporate Social Innovation and the Next Generation. Tickets are £50 for the full week and £5 from each ticket will be donated to the Taylor Bennett Foundation, which PRFest has supported since 2017.

I made a promise last year to look at how PRFest was made up and how it could be more diverse and inclusive and not rely on me, my network and my thinking. I’ve done this in the following ways:

1: Last year, with the help of Rax Lakhani and Kuldeep Mehmi, we used the DRIVEN framework to start a conversation at PRFest and then 50+ attendees crowdsourced ideas for how we could take steps to be more diverse and inclusive. This resulted in the DRIVEN Pledge, which was an outline which agencies, teams and organisations could use, to start a conversation about the step changes they needed to make.

2: Last winter I appointed a steering group of 12 practitioners to help navigate the community and festival.

3: The steering group comes from across the world, from Scotland to Barbados and from India to Canada.

4: We launched a Buddy scheme where any PR professional could get in touch with the steering group to organise a 1-2-1, whether it was to help them answer a question or just have some positive interactions with fellow PR pros.

5: The programme for this year was developed with their thinking, ideas and contacts, naturally making it more diverse and representative of our industry.

I’ve been on a journey since last year’s festival. It’s made me have a much clearer view of my own direction and how I’d like to play out the rest of my career in public relations.

Part of this is focussing on my stakeholder engagement practice. I’ve decided to solely focus on this, as it’s what I love doing, as well as what I’m best at. The thinking also applied to PRFest and made me ask myself what I could do better now, to help the future of our industry.

I’ve volunteered in our industry for 12+ years, in a number of senior roles, but my realisation of including the next generation (amongst other diverse groups) right now, in our discussions and resilience planning, is what will make it actually work in the future. And that comes back down to stakeholder engagement. A lot of what our industry does in practice we also need to apply to ourselves! We’re not very good at that, I don’t think.

As well as a standalone day dedicated to the next generation, it was important to weave the next generation into all our discussions and areas of focus, so three junior practitioners joined the steering group to help us.

As part of being more inclusive, I set aside 10 tickets (10% of overall tickets) for PR graduates or PR students to come along to PRFest for free. I think it’s really important to allow and encourage more junior practitioners to learn more, be curious, take part in conversations and have their say.

In addition, I know many practitioners have landed on hard times over the last year, so I’ve set aside a further 10 tickets for those practitioners who have previously attended PRFest (some 550+ people) but can’t afford to attend this year.

I floated the idea to the group to make the event multi-channel, taking the event to where PR pros actually hang out anyway. We’ll be on Zoom, Twitter and Instagram.  This means some of our programme is actually free to attend and anyone can turn up and take part.

We think it’s pretty cool!

This year is a big change for PRFest but it’s been almost a year in the making. It’s taken us a while to find out groove, being based across the world and many of us not knowing each other, but if it wasn’t for the fabulous steering group, we wouldn’t have such a brilliant line-up this year.

Highlights include:

  • Philippe Borremans joins us from Portugal talking about how risk assessments can predict global disasters
  • Kevin Mtai joins us from Kenya to discuss his campaign on climate
  • Stephen Waddington joins Sudha and me to talk about working for yourself and looking specifically at his research report on PR businesses born during lockdown
  • The steering group will discuss the top challenges our industry faces
  • And finally, we have a brilliant session lined up discussing skills for the future leader.

I want to name check those who have worked in the steering group as it’s important to recognise their contribution to the event and our industry.

Katy Branson, Steph Brown, Teela Clayton, Jaitika Dhir, Charlotte Dimond, Michelle Doyle, Simon Francis, Fiona Hughes, Lyndon Johnson, Dan Jones, Sarah Lloyd, Belinda Rastall, Sudha Singh and Sophie Thirkell.

If you’d like more information or to buy your ticket, please click here. News on speakers are being announced on a daily basis.

MD of Aura PR, CIPR Council member and former CIPR Board Director. Former Chair of CIPR Scotland. Fellow and Chartered PR practitioner.

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