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PRWeek 2022 proved engaging

PRDecoded taught me what our agency is doing right – and how we can improve

In my role as Senior Director of Public Relations, I recently attended PRWeek’s annual conference, PRDecoded: Purpose Evolved, which took place in Chicago from October 11–12. The event was a whirlwind of presentations, panels, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities that brought together the industry’s most important players.

As the event description pointed out, we are now three years on from the Business Roundtable’s revised statement of the purpose of a corporation. For those who aren’t familiar, this statement by 200 of the world’s largest corporations promised to “elevate customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and the environment onto an equal footing with shareholders in terms of business priorities.”

The question on everyone’s mind was: Are we succeeding in this? It was certainly the question on my mind before setting foot in Chicago – and I quickly concluded that some businesses are, and some aren’t. I like to believe that The Partnership is one of those that is meeting the Business Roundtable’s new idea of a corporation’s purpose.

This year, we were named as an Inc. 5000 company, received the Cobb Chamber of Commerce Top 25 Small business award for the second consecutive year, presented with a Communitas award for philanthropy, and have donated almost $200,000 to deserving entities. Even so, no company should rest on its laurels, so I decided to identify what we’re doing well and how we can further improve.

Here are my top three takeaways from the conference.

Communicating your corporate purpose to build trust.

Trust takes years to build and seconds to break. As a crisis communications and public relations expert, I’m extremely aware of the truth of these words. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that one of the standout panels to me was entitled “Communicating Your Corporate Purpose: How to Build Trust in 2023.”

The panel featured Cameron Klaus, Senior Director, Global Communications and PR, Tupperware Brands, Sheila Mulligan, Managing Director, Corporate Brand and Reputation at Edelman, and Jim O’Leary, U.S. Chief Operating Officer, Corporate Affairs Practice Chair, and Global Chair of Impact & ESG at Edelman.

Together, they explored the idea of what it means to be a purpose-driven brand. Particularly now, as business reputations are evermore dependent on societal issues and ESG, companies need to be seen to be proactive in living their values.

What I found particularly insightful is that this can go both ways. We all know that if a company claims to hold a value but then doesn’t back it up (or worse), it will break down trust between that company and its audience.

But if your company does live by its values yet fails to adequately communicate this, it can also have a negative effect.

Key Takeaway: Live by your purpose/values and be proactive in communicating them.

Integrate your marketing and communications.

Integrated marketing and communications is something that comes naturally to us at our agency. We are, after all, a marketing and brand communications agency that offers PR services.

It was nice to see the approach that is so central to our work affirmed at the “Integrated Marketing & Communications: A Winning Formula” fireside chat. PRWeek’s editorial director Steve Barrett spoke with Laura Lane, EVP and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at UPS, and Chris Byrne President, Marketing Operations & Digital Acceleration at UPS on the subject. I found that throughout the discussion I spent most of the time nodding in agreement. It’s quite simply true that an integrated approach is the best way forward. Apart from the fact that PR is the reputation of your company and should never be siloed from it, pursuing an integrated strategy produces synergies that you never would have expected.

Key Takeaway: An integrated approach to marketing and communications strengthens your PR efforts.

Scaling while retaining soul.

Our company is a small but mighty agency that’s undergoing a period of accelerated growth. It’s the reason that we were named as an Inc. 5000 company this year.

So, I was particularly interested to see what I could learn from the fireside chat: “Leading With a Heart & Conscience: How to Scale a Business While Retaining Organizational Soul.” In this chat, Rank Washkuch, Executive Editor of PRWeek spoke with Peter Finn, CEO of FINN Partners, to discover how the latter achieved growth without sacrificing their moral character.

I noted how much of his approach was rooted in the best practices of public relations. Take the practice of defining principles of conduct, for example. This is a common PR best practice, particularly with media relations, social media, or any kind of external communication. Having in writing what you should and shouldn’t say keeps you on message and on brand.

Finn, however, took this concept and applied it to the clients he would work with. If the client didn’t align with his values, he wouldn’t work with them. On the surface it’s a risky strategy for a company at scale, and yet it ties into our first point. If you don’t live by your values, how can you expect your customers to trust you?

Key Takeaway: Apply the same standards to your prospective partners as you apply to your company.

Final Thoughts

Overall, PRWeek’s PRDecoded: Purpose Evolved was as insightful as it promised. After so many years in the industry, it’s always refreshing and rewarding to find new ways of thinking about PR and applying it to promote and protect your company, while providing partners with the best service possible.

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