Kelly Walsh and James Warren, chief strategy officer and head of digital at MSLGroup, set the tone in their keynote presentation, which argued that marketing comms and PR are pretty much the same thing these days.
Warren said: "If one analyses what a brand or organisation needs to excel at to deliver marketing success in a digital age, the result is a long list of PR outputs. In the new communications agenda, everything is PR."
But they warned that PR is woefully behind competitive industries when it comes to adopting technology and innovation, adding: "The creative and media agencies have invested vast sums of money and effort towards meeting the challenge of change, head-on, and PR agencies haven’t."
They argued that in the new world of comms the comms director should be the ringmaster, directing all the other marketing disciplines and acting as "the nucleus around which all other functions are organised".
Walsh said: "We believe that he CMO of tomorrow won’t come from an ad or media background, but from communications."
Walsh and Warren listed the 13 skills they said PR people would need if PR was to complete its takeover of marketing communications:
A hard-working website allied to the sustained production of informative, editorially oriented long-form content within it and a widely relevant, always-on, digital ecosystem that feeds (and feeds from) the site.
The identification of suitable influencers and the associated generation (and promotion) of advocacy.
Organic search optimisation (achieved through relevant, well-written content with authoritative links).
Engagement using real people to respond to situations immediately and authentically. Leave a void and someone else will fill it, define it and control it.
From insight that inspires a great creative idea to the creative use of technology to deliver that idea in the form of content, it remains the single most important component of successful engagement.
The idea that we consume information in silos is at best naïve and at worst dangerous. If the information is out there it will be found and shared. Success today lies in connected, multi-stakeholder communication that maintains a consistent narrative thread across audiences and channels.
Innovate your way to better marketing. Align your brand with technology start-ups. Provide enhanced digital or product experiences and embrace data.
Social activation and online community management is integral to success.
An ability to embed seamlessly complex specialist messaging (i.e. sustainability) into a broader corporate or consumer narrative.
10 Employee stories that start from the inside out
Employees are becoming the ultimate reputation makers or breakers in a world where organisations increasingly sell experiences over products and where truth is more accessible and shareable – particularly by those on the inside. Employees connected to 10x more people than brands, providing greater reach, speed and influence.
Establishing trust (at an all-time low, while cynicism is at an all-time high) and preference through fact-based third party accreditation and partnerships creates permission to purchase, consume and experience – with less guilt or greater reward.
12 Customer service
A game changer – practically limitless choice has reset the bar, and product differentiation is diminishing. The ability to establish and maintain positive relationships builds a reservoir of goodwill. If we don’t like what we get, we’ll go somewhere else – and let everyone know.
Paid advertising. Still commanding a large share of the marketing budgets and attention. Has the ability to tell powerful stories that connect on an emotional level.
Alex Benady is the features editor at PRWeek