A highly disappointing London World Public Relations Festival: a politically correct, lip service tribute to everything and its contrary! Too bad..

The very selection of the overall theme ‘The public benefit of public relations’ reveals a strong affiliation with that ‘pr-for-pr’ thread of thought which, if one patiently recalls similar attempts…see the preceeding post on this blog..) has possibly done more harm to our profession’s societal acceptability than all recent social critiques bundled together.

Fortunately the harm from London’s Fifth World Festival was minimal… as attendance (200+ from 33 countries says an official Cipr release) and media coverage were minimal, both carefully and well controlled by a truly superb organization.

The content was all there layed out on a huge buffet, a duly politically correct lip-service handed out with a heavily mayonnaised Russian salad of social responsibility, public diplomacy, diversity, inclusivity, territorial attraction building, social and economic development, support to weaker segments of society, care for the environment…..

Mind you, as I said, extremely well organized….which is yet another confirmation that public relations is excellent in its role of master of ceremonies, but fails when it attempts to get into the elaboration of contents of conceptual substance: even when the issue has to do, as was in this case, with navel gazing analysis.

Let me begin by the best.

The acute and enjoyable Jackie L’Etang with her presentation of the histories of public relations: sagaciously critical of my very revered Jim Grunig; innocently (?) naive in ensuring snap visuals different from their oral illustration; describing our acceptable and unacceptable interpretations and practices; with a strong appeal to the audience’s anti American gut feeling by demonstrating that the British empire came well before the US in spin doctoring its colonial inhabitants.

The World Bank’s Paul Mitchell, who interestingly portrayed his employer as the world’s largest public relations consultancy in assisting nations to improve their reputation, as well as the biggest single investor in public relations today by mandating that all projects be funded only when incorporating a communication program and budget.
A highly inspiring, wide-open path by which professional associations in all countries could have a reason to exist and an objective to pursue….

The highly entertaining as well as deeply conceptual presentation by New Zealand educator Graham Sterne: an ironic, innovative, brilliant and revealing illustration of the Maori public relations model which showed the many commonalities of socio-cultural diversities, as well as the many diversities of professional commonalities…
A paradox, this, which I always encounter with my students towards the end of my Global Relations and Intercultural Communication course I am again to begin next week at NYU’s Masters in Public Relations and Corporate Communication.

Finally, and I am well conscious of the bias, I found excellent the overarching presentation by my compatriot Anna Martina in illustrating the general framework, specific programs and measured results of a daring decade of well thought, planned and executed public relations activities to transform the reality (and thus also the perception) of the city of Torino by using, but only as an attraction, the 2006 Winter Olympics.
This case history, in brilliantly following the paradigm of listening and innovatively involving communities in transforming their own territories, and only then by attracting national and international attention through out-of-the- box programs conceived and executed with both sides of the brain.

The remaining plenary presentations were, in equal number, half or barely acceptable or simply pure trash, while I will not comment parallel workshops sessions: a politically correct attempt to give visibility to more scholars and professionals (including yours truly of course..).

2009 will probably see no festival (Kuala Lumpur cancelled its previous candidature…), while 2010 will be in Stockholm:
by the way, I forgot to mention that both the German (Thorsten Luetzler) and Swedish (Margaretha Sjoberg) presentations in the context of the L’Etang panel, were also very good, but had little (actually, nothing) to do with the overall Festival theme.

For uncomprehensible reasons, it appears (at least to me, as I upload this post) that on the www.globalpr.org website all handouts by presenters are under password.
As I recall, this is the first time since the Global Alliance that festival papers are not accessible to the public on the ga website.

If I am right, this is absolutely shocking, despite the average quality of those documents.
I am not aware (I hope not) that the GA paid anyone to present nor do I understand the logic by which a much too exclusive and expensive festival creates a barrier from its contents for those who could not afford or be able to attend.

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11 Replies to “A highly disappointing London World Public Relations Festival: a politically correct, lip service tribute to everything and its contrary! Too bad..

  1. @Toni – it’s closer to 60% (63% for the last 3 months, 58% for the last month); approx. 20% from referring websites (“inner circle”??)
    Btw, I strongly support your individual opinion that we express our individual opinions (what else?) here. That they seem to concur from time to time is simply due to a hidden agenda ;-))

  2. Fraser,
    what you describe is also known as ‘onanism’.
    True, there is lot of this going on in our small circles.
    It is however more possible than before that inner circles, like this blog for example, connect to outer circles substantially more than conferences or books.
    Yeah…you know…the long tail and all that.
    Some 50% of the visits we receive (Markus, correct me if I am wrong) come from search engines…

    I cannot tell you, tounge in cheek, if this conversation is an application of the srm or the pim models for two reasons:
    a) if both models are implemented as they should be, the latter is an important part of the first,
    c) I believe we express our individual opinions.
    Sure we might (and we should) all have agendas in mind when we express our opinions, but surely they are all different agendas.

    Hoping to read your witty comments and learn from your expertise more often..

  3. so I’m coming to this late … one person’s transparency is another person’s dirty laundry … that aside, what’s interesting are the London attendance figures … like academic journals, PR books, Excellence Studies and ‘thought-provoking’ blogs, ‘high brow’ conferences (for example: GA; Bled; Miami; NH; Euprera) seem to be, at most, a discussion within a small circle … not an inner circle, because it is difficult to see where a possible inner circle actually connects to an outer circle in PR circles – at least for the diffusion of ideas outwards … just a small, separate circle talking among themselves …

    Allow me, with tongue-in-cheek, to ask, Toni, if the conversation above is an example of the workings of the stakeholder relationship model or the personal influence model?


    Fraser Likely

  4. Maybe I missed something, but I thought the conversation here had moved on from discussing and reviewing the recent WPRF to how we, as practitioners, could explore the creation of new types of spaces and events that met the needs of future participants across all industries and organisations we serve, not just public relations?

    I was extremely sorry to read Colin’s remark that a ‘few folks’ had been ‘deeply, deeply offended by the tone’, as I know that it was certainly not my intent to cause offence nor, I am sure, was it the intent of other contributors. It is so easy to mis-read or ‘read tone into’ blog discussions. For example, I am absolutely certain that Colin didn’t intend his comment to read like a rant or indeed, to seem quite so snippy when he remarked: “..have you become in PR Conversations the arbiters of what is acceptable for all pr gatherings; accept our premises about pr or shut up – that seems to be your message”.

    Which of course, it is not our ‘message’ at all – if indeed we had one in the first place! I certainly didn’t.

    PR Conversations is simply a conversation about public relations between some of the many, many people around the world who care passionately about their profession and who, incidentally, either believe there is great public benefit in public relations or who would like to debate and contest that particular point. As in any conversation, we make suggestions, propose ideas and dissect some issues along the way, inviting debate and welcoming comment and new voices as we go. I am sure that my friends and contributors would agree that we are not, nor has it ever been our intention to be, the arbiters of anything at all – just people having a discussion via a convenient medium about issues that concern them, with the wish to learn from that dialogue and share our diverse experiences.

    Personally speaking, as a practitioner who wishes to learn and improve both craft and service, I always welcome the opportunity to explore new ways of doing things, most particularly, those things that facilitate the business of building relationships and good communication. In the course of my working week I run numerous events, sessions and other activities and each one undergoes detailed evaluation. This is not so I can sit back and say ‘great, x% of people who attended loved the muffins and thought it was all brilliant’. It gives me the chance to listen to the voices of those who take time to answer my other ever-present questions – ‘what could we have done better; what didn’t you like; did you get value for money; what, in your opinion, was missing and did we meet your expectations -if not, why not?’. I also ask people before they come to indicate their expectations so that I can tailor things accordingly – or at least advise them beforehand if I think it is not going to meet their specific needs so they can make their own considered decision regarding attendance. Because as we all know, failing to listen effectively and act appropriately as a result of what you have heard invariably leads to the gestation of an activist public, an impact on reputation or a collapse of trust.

    Listening with a view to change gives me, most of the time, the information I need to continuously improve my service delivery, find creative (because Toni, I do think public relations is an extremely creative profession) – and hopefully – innovative ways to bridge stakeholder groups and opinions and build better relationships in the long term. Which, on the whole, is pretty constructive stuff – and I am sure is fairly common practice for the majority of practitioners.

    The same reasoning lies beneath the rationale for personal continuous professional development – so we can constantly get better at what we do. We all do a good job. But surely we should all want to do a better one, with each job being an improvement on the last, however ‘good’ that might have been at the time? I know I do. Obviously, this is a personal view. Just because I relish critical appraisal as a constructive indicator towards improvement and an opportunity to review, grow and move forwards, doesn’t mean others feel the same. I should have thought of that, so if in my comments I have unwittingly caused offence or upset, then I sincerely apologise.

    My reasons for making the significant investment necessary to attend the conference as a paying delegate included the opportunity to meet in person fellow practitioners and academics from around the world, learn something new as part of my on-going CIPR continuing professional development commitment, view alternative perspectives of global public relations practice and hopefully, listen to and participate in the conversations that might be generated around the advertised theme ‘ The Public Benefit of Public Relations’.

    Did I get a return on my investment? That elusive ROI that is at the centre of much debate when it comes to public relations measurement and evaluation? Not really, because the central conversation around the conference theme didn’t happen, as I commented previously. Mostly – and most recently – the benefit has been through reflection and discussion here on PRC on future ways to develop meeting spaces that encourage the type of dialogue that leads to action/change/advocacy – which perhaps needs to move to a new post for further discussion rather than this one, as does a conversation on stakeholder expectations – so Heather, I’ll come back on your comments in a new post. I read your own blog entry with great interest – thank you for the link.

    Last word on WPRF from me. It was good to meet other practitioners. Graeme was fab – as was Fiona’s supporting song. And whether Colin feels it necessary or not, I would reiterate my original comment that the CIPR organising team who rushed around looking after everyone for the duration did their job really well.

  5. Colin and Jean,
    I also wish, as Jean, to thank the organisers at CIPR for the effort which, may I repeat, even despite Colin nonchalance, was extremely well organised.
    I also wish to immediately capitalise on Jean’s extremely sage comment and say that I agree with him (even though my expectations were frankly much higher).
    So..incident closed?
    Yes, up to a point… and this is where I think that Colin’s remarks really hit the core of the issue I tried to raise, and that has so much to do with what I detect (being also a proactive pusher myself, of course) as a new disease of our profession.
    Bear with me:
    Colin writes
    …instead we have the statements here which appear for example to imply that one should exercise some dictatorial control over speakers rather than analyse their proposals, give them advice and a time slot and liaise with them over their role in the final shape of the programme. What more should or could one do? Or have you become in ‘PR Conversations’ the arbiters of what is acceptable for all pr gatherings: accept our premises about pr or shut up – that seems to be your message….
    As at least some of us know, the Festival had a program committee which met a couple of times, listened to members expectations, and then decided to proceed the way that it did giving no explanation or rationale fo the choices made.
    In my view (regardless of who the participants were) this is a good example of our new professional disease:
    it is called stakeholder engagement…
    which implies, in a traditional public relations interpretation, that we listen but then we decide as we would have probably decided in the first place, but also politically correctly taking into consideration some of the suggestions, nothwithstanding any coherence and ending up with a mess of a program.
    This implies that we follow the bernays rather than the grunig model of public relations..i.e. we are therefore still in the 20th century.
    Let me explain what I mean:

    °if we decide to run an event, we should have,as organizers, a clear idea of what we wish to accomplish (vision, mission, guiding values and strategy).
    A vague conference headline is simply not sufficient;

    °if we decide to do this inclusively, we should be very careful in listening to our active stakeholders before we decide the contents to be pursued (i.e. subjects who are aware and interested in holding a stake via, for example a call for candidatures i.e. we do not decide who the active stakeholders are, they do!)…not everyone is clearly invited to participate, but exclusions must be trasparent in line with the full adoption by deciders (i.e. organizers) of the principle of responsibility);

    °when one gets to identifying subthemes, contents and presenters, organizers should operate on the basis of what they heard, understood and interpreted in the listening phase as well as on their own opinions… and, where possible, innovate, think twice, add relevance.. but always keeping in mind they are accountable for their decisions.
    For example, for the first two festivals, as Jean and Clin well remember, we opened a public conversation on the ga website on the two themes months before the conference and based much of the final programs on the basis of those discussions.
    Many faults there also, I admit, and many compromises (commercial and diplomatic…as I am sure was the case in London also..).
    But certainly, in both cases, no participant left by asking her/himself what the contents were about and what they had to do with the chosen.

    Finally, I very much believe in stakeholder engagement practices but I confess to sometime lipservicing this new pr buzzword myself…
    But, careful friends and colleagues!:
    if we do not wish to have this rather interesting and rewarding line of thought go in the same direction that csr has gone despite our early warning signals years ago (the ga’s with John Paluszek and others remarks and caveats, for example)which has led to serious organizations taking the s out of the csr and passing the role from public relations to other functions as we certainly anticipated would happen…we must either take this engagent process seriously (i.e. exercising the principle of responsibility, but making this transparent to all stakeholders and not only firends and family…)…or this will also soon go down the drain…
    Let us please escape from the ‘wordsmith’ syndrome of always inventing new things but doing them the old way.
    And please, now, watch out for the ‘authenticity’ syndrome too.
    Another trap ahead…

  6. Toni,
    I think your expectations might have been set too high. I thought the conference was a good one. I would have liked more dialogue with participants and perhaps that is the only frustration I had with the time we had. As you know the WPRF is a concept that should distinguish itself from other conferences not only by its theme but by its innovative approach to fostering exchanges. At least that is my impression of what WPRF 1 and 2.
    We have had mitigated success at replicating this exact format since then and I do beleive this is a matter of ‘specific application’ of the generic concept.
    However, I took great pride in the conclusion of WPRF 3 in Brasilia which resulted in the ‘letter from Brasil’ . This was achived despite tremendous problems with the development of the conference itself.
    London’s contribution was the London manifesto which I think galvanized the thinking based on feedback received on site and by test messages- a novel idea.
    So I disagree on some points, agree on some but overal wish to thank organisers at CIPR for a very solid effort.

  7. Friends, it is tiresome I know to deal in facts tht spoil good arguments or even ‘rants’ – which at times we all enjoy, even if they belong in the saloon bar.

    But if you want this and other blogs to be taken seriously(and sadly so many people in the profession are turned away by the sort of writing we have here – and actually I am really only commenting, having decided initially not to, because a few folks have seen it and are deeply, deeply offended by the tone) you need to show some courtesy and indded proper journalistic standards in finding out the facts….

    I am not aware that anyone checked the position on the following items :
    (1) The GA website is currently in a state of flux. I presented the new look and facilities at the conference. When it is up and running the presentations made at the Festival will be freely available. We decided – it is a judgement call I know – to enable those who travelled and paid to attend to have a month’s exclusive access via the CIPR website. I think this is reasonable. Where students etc ask for material from CIPR we usually make stuff available . And by the way it is unacceptable practice for anyone (however distinguished) to give away pass codes. Your name has been taken by the prefects…….

    (2)Media coverage included a 12 page supplement in a major national newspaper, the first ever in the UK as far as we know.

    (3)Bloggers were welcome but I should clarify the comment I made to Cathy that we did not accept several offers to ‘blog on your behalf’ in return for free admission. This would present a clear conflict of interest. In retrospect maybe we should have filled the airwaves with such serendipitous coverage -instead we have the statements here which appear for example to imply that one should exercise some dictatorial control over speakers rather than analyse their proposals, give them advice and a time slot and liaise with them over their role in the final shape of the programme. What more should or could one do? Or have you become in ‘PR Conversations’ the arbiters of what is acceptable for all pr gatherings: accept our premises about pr or shut up – that seems to be your message. I have recommended this website to many people but they are all quickly turned off by this ‘politically correct’ attitude.

    (4) the future of the arrangements for the GA meeting in Kuala Lumpur remain under discussion,although they will not now be organising a Festival as such

    (5) Organisational plaudits are welcomed but not necessary as we at CIPR regard it as our basic standard. Contrary to the statements here we have studied detailed evaluations and we have welcomed 90% compliments on the themes and content of the programme and the many follow up actions resulting. froma wide range of people. I am sure they will shape the thoughts of those who want to play a constructive role in future and for the Stockholm and other gatherings . Probebly not on this website though.

    Colin Farrington
    Director General CIPR
    Chairman, Global Alliance

  8. Markus, Cathy, Heather and other welcomed visitors,

    I was thinking of picking up from your comments here and to create a new post… leaving the London Festival into its deserved oblivion… but, at the end, I opted to continue this conversation here.

    First, -at least until someone notices and changes codes- visitors of this blog may access the London festival files by going to http://www.cipr.co.uk/wprf08/handouts.asp user id is wprfdelegate; while the password is hand26mermaid.

    As a past chair of the global alliance I am ashamed and shocked that these documents are still under lock, and I am happy to take all the responsibility for allowing access to anyone who wishes to do so.


    Second, you will remember that in my recent post http://www.prconversations.com/?p=414 presenting the world architects conference in Torino on ‘transmitting architecture’, I suggested that a new highly competitive role for the reintermediation of the public relations professional, is to ‘create real and virtual spaces’, where organizational stakeholders may convene (or be convened) and mutually benefit by dialogue on common relevant issues amongst themselves and with the organization.

    From this perspective, it seems to me that the quality of contents is less relevant, somehow left to the conversation (which however needs to be professionally and competently stimulated and facilitated by the public relator), while what really becomes relevant is the quality and attractiveness of the ‘space and environment’ we have been capable of creating for our stakeholder publics.

    This concept has been developed recently by my excellent friend prof. Giampaolo Azzoni from the University of Pavia (one of the real stars of last March’s Euprera/Edelman academic summit on social media in Bruxelles), and he might wish to weigh in on this and explain it more thoroughly.

    In a substantial way, this concept connects with Markus, Cathy and Heather’s idea of the need for new formats for the spaces we create…

    After all, we have always been creating spaces (pseudo-events) for our publics…. but have never been so conscious of its relevance, and this because a good placement in the media had always been at the front of our objectives: the success of a pseudo-event (as contemporary historian Daniel Boorstin acutely wrote back in 1961 in his truly great The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America) was more dependant on its media pick-up, rather than on the quality of the participants and of the conversation which went on during the pseudo-event.

    Personally (ashamed to admit this..) I had never considered public relations to be a particularly ‘creative’ (in the advertising sense) profession.
    I had always thought (and taught..) that, in the best of circumstances, one of our most relevant roles was -as gatekeepers and facilitators- to develop and ease relationships between the information, the political and the business communities of our societies. And that this role exalted our ability to understand, rationalise, argue, con-vince (clients as well as stakeholders).
    Thus, our profession was mostly bent towards the left side of the brain.

    It’s ironic: the public relations profession developed in the late 19th century because society got so complex that robber barons could not handle media and political relationships on their own, and therefore recruited ex lawyers and ex journalists to do this for them (so we disintermediated our clients and employers).

    Today, because we have all become media, anyone can gatekeep and facilitate relationships between different communities in our society, so its our turn to be disintermediated, together with our good friends the journalists….

    Why do I say this?

    Sorry to sound repetitive, but many of the paradigms of our profession have already been or are being shattered:

    °one company one voice (today, one company, many voices)

    °internal/external communication (today, organization as an emmenthal..i.e. full of wholes)

    °institutions (including mainstream media) no longer trusted as authorities as such (you trust your peer)

    °no more control of contents, messages, channels, tools, publics

    °public opinion has given in to published opinion, and what has emerged is the opinion of the publics, similarly to the way public relations has become to be relationships with publics

    °we no longer hold on to privacy and confidentiality, cool companies advocate radical transparency

    °we no longer own the monopoly of knowledge on issues of concern to our client/employers: anyone can double and triple check

    So, I wonder if it would not be useful to elaborate on how we might, also by moving somewhat from the left to the right side of our brain, conceptualise different approaches to the very concept of a pseudo-event as one of the substantial pillars of our profession as it attempts to reintermediate itself.

    Any ideas, comments?

  9. Catherine – your thoughts on a conference format are really interesting and fit with some plans for some events I am working on for later this year. We have already moved to using cabaret style room layouts as we found theatre style did not encourage any participation. I have similar issues with the classic education lecture which is far too passive for much learning, let alone understanding, to take place. As an educator, I’ve moved away from ‘death by powerpoint’ but do use the medium in more creative ways (eg short, free-standing presentations that act as discussion points).

    Regarding the public benefit of PR theme, I agree this is a really important issue for the profession to grasp and it requires both debate and a genuine, critical, look at what PR is about. I raised some questions on this, particuarly, in relation to how we evaluate PR’s impact on society, in a post last week: http://greenbanana.wordpress.com/2008/06/29/can-you-measure-prs-contribution-to-society/

    Finally, in respect of the best presentations from the World PR Festival not being openly available, perhaps the authors of those could be asked to present their thoughts via PR Conversations where wider discussion could take place.

  10. I thought it best to mull over the conference on my way home, rather than hit the keyboard straight away. Probably a good job too, as my return journey gave me time to think not so much about the content, but the format and expectations we have for the traditional ‘conference’ setting.

    It was, as Toni says, very well organised and the final applause for the supporting team from CIPR was well deserved, but I did struggle with the content and maybe that was nobody’s fault except my own.

    Perhaps my expectations of the potential debate that would surround the theme of ‘The Public Benefit of Public Relations’ were too high, because in the end, I felt only a tiny fraction of the content even approached the subject, let alone tackled it in any depth, given that one of the stated aims was to ‘examine the future of the PR industry and what needs to be done to ensure its survival”.

    Aside from the presentations already mentioned by Toni and Markus, I found the whole thing incredibly UK/USA centric and got to the point where I thought I might just scream if another presenter flashed up a ‘show and tell’ slide filled with mainstream media coverage they had obtained. I hadn’t realised just how locked in to old school media relations values the UK had become, as evidenced by the presentations – surely things have moved on a bit since I left? I also found myself giggling into my coffee when during one break on the second day a UK presenter observed how marvellous it was that the CIPR had managed to get so many people from other countries to attend the annual CIPR conference. I gently pointed out it was the World PR Festival, which came as a considerable surprise to him and underlined my perception that the ‘world’ in the title wasn’t always reflected in some of the thinking.

    But on to the whole idea of ‘conference’ or in this case ‘festival’. We talk a lot about the need for dialogue, two-way communication, listening and interaction but a conference of this sort is simply another manifestation of ‘top-down’, one-way information. Add to this the materials from the conference being under ‘lock and key’ and you have more of an ‘information is power’ model than a ‘let’s build on knowledge’ experience. I know those of us who went paid a fortune, but I wouldn’t feel short changed if others around the world accessed the papers and thoughts for free – would you? After all, I would like to see some of the issues debated by the wider world, not just given a fleeting mention in a few selected and controlled mainstream media channels. When I asked about the absence of live blogging from the conference it was explained that several people had volunteered to blog but wanted a free place at the conference if they did. Awarding such a place was deemed to be unfair. But why, I pondered on my Heathrow to LA flight? The blogger is simply reporting the proceedings and would gain far wider ‘coverage’ of the event than any mainstream journalist, plus the conversation would continue for a longer period of time – and I am guessing there would be no charge for a mainstream journo to attend. A swift and vital mind-set shift would be recommended on this for event organisers everywhere. Ignore it at your peril.

    From LA to Auckland, I decided that without doubt, the most valuable aspect of the event for me was the opportunity to meet in person with practitioners from around the world. I would have liked to have had more time to talk with them, listen to their stories, understand their experience of public relations and see how their practice models differ or match my own. But within the format we had, I would have liked to have had some answers to the ‘tough’ questions about public relations – not just the ‘show and tell’ commentary. How, for example, did the City of Liverpool overcome community divides when it used only one of its two football teams in its City of Culture promotions? How did the Evertonians react to their identity being subsumed in this way? Why indeed were they cut out in the first place? (Disclosure – all my in-laws are Liverpudlians, most of them support Everton..) Likewise our friend from the World Bank. Interesting stuff indeed, but what was the impact on its own reputation after the controversial resignation of the World Bank president last year? How was that managed and did it impact on the organisation’s credibility and ability to ‘carry on the job’ that was presented to the conference hall? I could go on, but I am sure you get my drift.

    The difficulty I see is the existing conference format and that is not the fault of the organisers, simply a hangover – I believe – of last century’s thinking. And it isn’t just a problem for us, I suspect professions and industries of all sorts are grappling with the same dilemma. So here are a few suggestions.

    We kill off powerpoint for ever and just speak to each other. I thought this had already been done in the public relations world, but was obviously wrong. I could have hugged Thorsten Leutzler when he just spoke – which meant of course, that we all just listened well.

    Forget the ‘big speaker, talk long time’ scenario and try instead a number of short ’round table’ meetings with people. Set the room out with round tables, put an ‘expert’ or presenter on each one and let us all have a revolving twenty minute discussion per table, visiting as many tables as we can over a two-hour span. This would help people who wanted to enter the conversation, but who might be shy, be dealing with English as a second language or who are otherwise reticent about speaking to a large room. The time for questions and debate is naturally limited by the ‘big speaker, long time’ format and there were many frustrated ‘askers’ passed over in the plenary sessions. And as a point, I think languages other than English should be incorporated or at least simultaneous translations available. Why, in a ‘World’ context do we just employ one language?

    How about more workshops, smaller in number with a couple of chances to go to each rather than a one-shot opportunity in full room with not enough seats?

    Live blogging and Second Life style sharing for those who can’t travel or who are reluctant to spend their CO2 allowances on participation.

    Use YouTube or similar to start the conversations and encourage video responses before and after the event. Use aggregation to ‘vote up’ the main topics so the wider community sets the agenda and choses the presenters.

    As public relations professionals, a major part of our role involves facilitating good communication and while the old conference format (invented for another time and other purposes) provides a platform for some types of communication to take place, it doesn’t necessarily provide the right sort of platform to address content issues such as ‘examining the future of the PR industry and what needs to be done to ensure its survival”.

    So let’s look at some new ‘meeting’ models that give people a voice, encourage the sharing of knowledge and help us determine the way ahead. In which case, I’ll look forward to seeing you again at the next one – and it was great to see you this time around.

  11. Okay, you outpaced me with your report on the WPRCF 08, Toni, which puts me in the more preferable position of a commenter. I wouldn’t call the conference a “highly disappointing” event, but that may be due to the fact that I don’t attend intenational conferences like these too often. From a been-there-done-that-perspective your disapproval does make sense; in the conversations between sessions I talked to quite a few of the attendants and the majority of them seems to have liked what they heard and saw.

    For me, there have been some (not too many) bright spots in an otherwise only scarcely enlightening conference, and I guess it is not by chance that they match the sessions you found worthy to be mentioned:
    – Jacquie L’Etang (though I didn’t see her appealing to any anti-american gut feelings, at least not intentionally)
    – Anna Martina (unfortunately the quality of presentation didn’t match the – high – quality of the content)
    – Graeme Sterne, and – I might add –
    – Michael Hayman

    Most important, as always, was the opportunity to foster existing contacts and establish new ones.

    But there are some other aspects that struck me to some extent:

    – pr people are bad presenters. There was only one remarkable presentation – or shall I say “stand-up PR” – (by Graeme Sterne), a few average ones, but mostly it was boring, meaningless, sub-standard, “death by powerpoint” stuff. Hey, it’s not THAT difficult to deliver a fairly entertaining presentation (if unsure, read Garr Reynolds’ “presentation zen”)

    – lack of interactivity: Except for the usual Q&A, conversations had to take place in the breaks. I felt especially uneasy when in one session the audience was requested to ask short questions and make no statements (and we weren’t even in Parliament).

    – silent agreement on superficiality: Quite a few, in fact too many, of the presentations didn’t dig very deep; they were nice, descriptive narratives, probably with the happy ending of success (where appropriate). I understand that a conference like WPRCF is about the positive impact of pr, but I would have like to hear more about the problems and obstacles they have had to deal with in their respective projects.

    – western focus: With very few exceptions the presentations (in the plenary sessions as well as in the workshops) were dealing with projects/theories in/of the western industrialized hemisphere. If the Nigerian colleagues hadn’t contributed so much to the Q&A section, I’d have questioned the “World” part in the conference title.

    – rudimentary understanding of the role of the social web: If at all, in most of the sessions the social web (or web 2.0 or whateveryouwanttocallit) was a peripheral phenomenon and in some of the statements it became quite clear, that many pr practitioners are still struggling to grasp the role of social media/networks etc. I especially recall one workshop where interactivity was reduced to being able to click on a hyperlink.

    In a more practical way this was reflected by the fact that there was no free wireless internet access, something that I’d consider as default for conferences like this (especially when you consider the conference fee). Apart from that the organization of WPRCF was flawless.

    Was the event worthwhile for me? All in all: yes. Will I attend WPRCF again? Most probably; I’m sure that Margaretha Sjöberg and her colleagues in Sweden will give their all to make WPRCF 2010 an impressive experience.

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