PRSA Conference–a few observations

The first day of the PRSA International conference is over, about to head into day 2. A few quick observations. The change in booth content is stunning. Just two years ago there was a wide variety of products and services on display. Today, social media dominates the scene. All these tools and systems aimed at helping you monitor and take advantage of the social media world.

I’m a bit bothered by it. There is a hype and frenzy about it that reminds me a bit of the business trade shows I went to in the late 1970s and early 1980s when business technology was rapidly emerging. Fax machines were big news, the earliest sign of small business computers, copiers, printing machines (OK, carbon paper was still in vogue but was on its way out.) I look back now and see the tremendous transformation. But I think what bothers me is the loss of focus on fundamentals when there is such hype and excitement about something new and, for now anyway, a little mysterious.

When all the hype and hyperbole died down and computers were installed, copiers were killing trees by the forest, and faxes were beginning the information transfer revolution, business people discovered that business was still about selling and producing quality products and services and most importantly about building long term relationships.

Social media, for all its wonders, is no business panacea. Build a Facebook page and they will not necessarily come. But provide quality products and services, do innovative things to attract attention, and most importantly work on building and sustaining high value relationships and success will follow. Oh yes, the hype will go on and “experts” of all stripes will come forth to proclaim the new magic, but when the show is over and we go back to work, it is delivering and serving and listening that matters most.

Excellent presentations by Bettina Luebscher of the UN World Food Program and Jim VandeHei, founder of POLITICO. Key learning from Bettina–the power of celebrity, in this case in fundraising, is something that should not be forgotten. From Jim–three key points he made about today’s news world: diffusion, niche and fickleness. Absolutely right, and in that there are huge opportunities for entrepreneurs and huge risks for established operations. Nimbleness is the name of the game.