Pesel & Carr heads to Darwin

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Pesel & Carr swapped Melbourne’s spring chills for the balmy heat of Darwin to attend the Public Relations Institute of Australia’s National Conference 2010.

Held at the impressive Darwin Convention Centre, the two day event offered a range of inspiring international and national speakers and hands-on practical workshops.

Ben Mitchell, Director of Public Affairs at the Minerals Council of Australia, gave an enlightening presentation about how the organisation launched its public relations response to the Government’s controversial Resource Super Profit Tax. His account of the contentious process of taking on the establishment provided a fascinating insight into what was going on behind the scenes of the countless stories, opinion pieces, television news items and talkback conversations that consumed the media at the time.

One of the many highlights was a presentation by Stephen Attenborough, the Head of Astronaut Relations at Virgin Galactic. Stephen has, by his own admission, the coolest job title in the world! Sir Richard Branson’s right hand man talked us through the long process, the drive and the dreams that have led his team to be standing at the verge of taking paying earthling passengers into space for the first time in history. His speech was enlightening and entertaining and it was clear that many members of the audience were itching to find the $200,000 to cover the cost of a ticket on the ship.

The ever increasing importance of social media was brought to our attention a number of times throughout the conference. Globally, 72% of journalists use Facebook as a primary research tool … hardly surprising considering the social networking site now has more than 500 million users! There are now over 200 million blogs with 34% of bloggers posting opinions on brands and products. 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations whilst only 14% trust advertising. 80% of Twitter usage is via mobile phone, meaning people have the power to update anytime, anywhere. These fascinating facts came thick and fast. And Australia, it seems, is the most prolific user of social media in the world. It’s clear, therefore, that a sending out a humble media release and counting the clippings it generates is no longer the end of the story. Conversely, sending out a media release is now the beginning of an ongoing and engaging conversation with the public.

Another common theme running throughout the conference was that intangible assets such as reputation have never been more important. Anne Gregory of Leeds Metropolitan University and the Global Alliance for PR and Communication Management predicted that finance will soon no longer be the only thing to make up the bottom line of a company. She explained that environmental and social factors also need to be taken into account. Apparently, 87% of CocaCola’s value is made up of its intangible assets i.e. its reputation and relationships. Therefore, public relations as a business function has never been more important. Anne explained that the key to an organisation’s authenticity is to have communications at its heart and there needs to be a collaborative approach in order to shape strategic direction. It is therefore essential that communication professionals are involved at a boardroom level, helping to change the reality so it reflects what the organisation wants to say. In a world where scrutiny has never been so public, the days of spin are over and authenticity is king.

Another interesting presentation came from Louise Alley, Head of Communications at BBC Worldwide Australia, who gave an entertaining presentation regarding the story behind bringing the much loved British TV show Top Gear to Australia and its journey from a humble television program about cars to a global tour-de-force entertainment brand. As a big fan of Top Gear and BBC content in general, it was interesting to learn about how and why certain BBC brands do or don’t travel and in what ways this is facilitated.

Seeing as Pesel & Carr was responsible for overseeing the communications surrounding Jesse Martin’s solo circumnavigation around the globe, we listened with particular interest to Andrew Fraser, MD of 5 Oceans Media, who handled a similar campaign for Jessica Watson. We were also fascinated to hear what Monsignor Paul Tighe, Pontifical Council for Social Communications (Vatican City) had to say about how the Vatican has embraced the world of online communications.

With such a diverse range of speakers, the event provided an excellent overview of the state of the global PR industry in 2010. It was useful for cultivating fresh ideas as well as providing reassurance that at Pesel & Carr much of the ‘best practise’ that was being preached is already absorbed into what we do.

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