NEXT Conference underscores continuing evolution of content

Change was a prevailing theme at PRWeek's NEXT Conference, which was held on November 19 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

Change was a prevailing theme at PRWeek's NEXT Conference, which was held on November 19 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. Speakers like Robert Thomson, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, to Robert Nolan, managing partner of Halyard Capital, and corporate communications professionals from IBM, Chevron, and Johnson & Johnson spoke of the need to think practically and practice efficiency in times of economic uncertainty.

Thomson, who delivered the event's keynote, offered advice on how journalists could serve their readers more (and themselves less). Nolan talked about measurement and metrics – about how to get past qualifiers that focus on eyeballs, and onto those that value interactivity and engagement. Panelists from Stanford, Unilever, and Pepsi discussed how tomorrow's PR pros need to adapt to what is now and what will be next.

In the morning, representatives from our strategic advisory board, which included Capstrat, Edelman, Ketchum, The NewsMarket, Ogilvy PR Worldwide, Porter Novelli, Waggener Edstrom, and Weber Shandwick, held breakfast roundtable discussions on topics such as “Womenomics,” digital public affairs, and Millennials. These conversations proved, if there was any doubt, that marketing is a niche game – and a discipline that has one major goal (the aforementioned “engagement”), but multiple paths toward reaching it. The days of monolithic influence are gone – and will never come back.

Perhaps the most resonant commentary came from someone well outside the realm of PR. Bill Persky, screenwriter and creator of such TV shows as Kate & Allie and That Girl, talked about how content has shifted online, and how not all of that content could be considered art. This is reminiscent of Truman Capote's criticism against Jack Kerouac – that the latter's novel On The Road was not writing, just “typing.”

Certainly content today comes in a variety of forms and fashions. When a video of a hamster lying on a piano draws 4 million views on YouTube, we have entered an epoch where the value of content is relative. What Persky intended to get across, according to this observer, is that the ease of publishing can trick an author (or videographer or artist) into a quick solution for a problem or answer for an opportunity. Persky rightly asserted that not everyone who produces content today has the tools to be entertaining, convincing, or endearing, and that has never been more applicable to the profession than today.

In the past, PR practitioners would need to convince one reporter or a couple of journalists that their pitch was worthwhile to the audience. As publications cut staff, the pitchers are becoming true storytellers. Find the talent that can understand the difference between content and noise. And you must realize that content (or art) is also niche. While Persky might be right, the hamster draws an audience. I wonder what Capote would say about that.

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