7 top takeaways from a fantastic conference

PRWeek's "A Roadmap to Integration" event on Wednesday proved to be inspirational and thought-provoking.

Not many conferences end with the whole audience – and I mean the whole audience, virtually no one had left the building, even after nine hours of content – on their feet lip synching to the Wilson Phillips song Hold On.

But Progressive Insurance’s CMO and master of disruption Jeff Charney achieved that feat and sent everybody on their way invigorated and inspired after what was the best conference we have ever put on. And I’m not just saying this for self-promotional purposes – it was actually the best conference I have ever attended: period.

You can catch up on the highlights of a diverse and super-useful day here, but here are a few of my favorite takeaways from a brilliant day:

  1. Big data – Unilever’s senior director of Axe and men’s grooming Matthew McCarthy was surprisingly hirsute given his role, but he made a hell of a lot of sense when talking about shepherding the CPG giant’s brands in this social media and content age. "Big data is a big opportunity to screw up even more," he cautioned.

  2. PR matters - McCarthy admitted he "can’t do his job without my PR agencies," which made good listening for the PR firm contingency among the audience. McCarthy added that "we’re all marketers" these days and that Unilever is in the business of "creating meaning for people, each other, and shoppers."

  3. Client service – McCarthy’s advice for agency folk was incredibly apposite. He urged them to "map people at your client and proactively engage with them regularly." Don’t wait until quarterly review time. Get to know them and interact with them, and "be a student of what that brand wants to do." Don’t get stuck in your PR silo – broaden your awareness of the overall business and the personalities behind the business.

  4. TV advertising is struggling – Gary Vaynerchuk was as forthright and to the point as ever, particularly on the subject of advertising. I was pleased that his views aligned with my recent blog on the topic. If advertising is to survive in this world of programmatic, ad blocking, ad fraud, and on-demand viewing, it has to come up with a more compelling way of being part of the story.

  5. If you don’t ask, you don’t get Today co-host Hoda Kotb’s story is inspiring and motivational. Her battle with breast cancer concentrated her mind and pushed her to the famous Jeff Zucker "you can’t scare me" moment that landed her the Today job. Her practical career advice to PR pros, especially the 70% of women that make up the workforce, was that "sometimes you’ve got to ask for something and don’t be afraid of no."

  6. Stand out – Chobani’s Michael Gonda simply said: "If we can’t do something better, we don’t do it at all," a very pertinent piece of advice in this social media-obsessed world where the pressure is on to adopt a new platform every week. Make sure it is right for your brand and that you’re not just copying something for the sake of it or to supposedly cover your back.

  7. Change is ubiquitous – the aforementioned Charney really got my attention with a bald but impactful statement: "If you don’t like change, get out of this profession." He actually reinvents himself every few months and pretends he’s coming into work to replace himself. "A CMO should be fired every 18 months – what would I do if I replaced me?" he said. Apparently his staff have come to recognize these moments only too well and they know a few busy weeks are ahead, because Charney believes if you don’t reinvent constantly and reexamine everything, you will inevitably go backwards. "If you’re not disrupting, you’re wasting your money," he added. It is great advice, and – health warning to the PRWeek editorial team - maybe I’ll try it myself sometime…

There were plenty of other nuggets of gold throughout the day, and the crowd itself contributed strongly to the debates, information-sharing, and inspiration. A fantastic conference and a fantastic day capped off by the always-magnificent 40 Under 40 dinner.

Thanks to all who attended and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

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