What’s abuzz in the PR industry? Top 10 from PRSA Conference

I attended the 2010 PRSA International Conference in DC last month along with about 2000 or more of my fellow communicators. That’s means probably about 90% of communicators did not attend, but they (probably you) may be very curious about what was discussed there. What’s happening, what’s shaking, what’s going down?

I didn’t take the time to try to distill three days of impressions into a nice neat summary, but I’m very glad someone else did. Linda Welter Cohen of The Caliber Group did a great job of distilling the top ten lessons learned from this conference. I think she really nailed it.

From a crisis communication standpoint, she focused on the need for speed and for preparation because of the need for speed. Yes, that’s what I’ve been trying to say for ten years (Now Is Too Late?). But, ten years ago when I talked about the instant news world, I really couldn’t have imagined exactly how instant it would become. I mean, now it is instant instant. Airline accidents will be visible in real time–as the coverage of the Qantas flight showed. Mine rescues will be seen as it happens with live video. If there is a well spewing oil a mile beneath the surface, no problemo, we’ll send some ROVs down there with cameras and have the whole world watch. A plane flies into a building in Austin, and fifty people stand outside watching the flames sharing them in real time with their cellphones/cameras. We have a fully equipped army of reporters out there right now with HD ENG (high definition electronic news gathering) equipment.

Has it changed our world? Absolutely dramatically. But the vast majority of PR people I know cannot get their minds around this. They cannot adjust to a, pardon the expression, paradigm shift that signals the old ways of doing things don’t work. And if they don’t get it, imagine the isolated CEO who, somehow understanding that it is more scary out there than ever, doesn’t really comprehend what it will mean for him or her when it really hits the fan. When Tony Hayward on BBC tells the world BP was woefully ill-prepared for the kind of media treatment they got, every leader of every major organization is saying to themselves if not outloud, there but for the grace of God go I.

There are ways to prepare. But nothing will work without some very serious soul searching on the part of organization leaders about things like transparency, management of legal issues, social media policies, media access policies, public engagement into their business and response management to unprecedented levels. These are tough tough things. That’s why I think it will take a few more reputation melt-downs before the really tough issues get addressed in board rooms and C-suites across the globe. But it will happen. Because this kind of instant news world is not going away.

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