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PR Summit DC & Mid Atlantic Marketing 2021 Takeaways: Attending an In-person Conference in a Pandemic

By December 1, 2021 January 28th, 2022 News & Viewpoints

Over the last two years, professional development mostly meant virtual webinars. In early November a group of four #TeamStratacomm members attended PR Summit DC/the Mid Atlantic Marketing 2021 conference—IN PERSON! Needless to say, we were excited to be around fellow practitioners.

Thankfully the conference was prepared and secure, asking conference-goers to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test within 48 hours of the event. Mask wearing and social distancing were in place, but it’s certainly the biggest crowd we’ve all been in for quite some time. Few handshakes were had, but there was lots of waving instead to accompany the networking portions of the event. It was an adjustment, being cautious around so many people, but also very refreshing. We all agreed we felt a high degree of safety, which let us focus on the content presented.

Overall Takeaways from the Conference

Here are our top takeaways:

  • Staff support matters. The last two years have been hard, and a common theme we heard from panelists was that check-ins with staff need to remain a priority. A focus on maintaining organizational culture with an eye on mental health is incredibly important right now.
  • The race for talent has broadened. The pandemic spurred many career moves in our PR industry now that many remote positions have opened up our talent pools nationally, and sometimes internationally. This means that it’s important to keep taking the temperature of your current staff because they’re likely being recruited. And invest in recruiters to obtain high-caliber staff for your team, too!
  • Authenticity is key. Now that we’ve seen one another in our respective homes (virtually) for the last two years we understand that disruptions from family, pets, etc. are normal. And, when storytelling we can compromise quality for more “realness.” For example, a video shot on an iPhone is perfectly acceptable so long as the subject is genuine – it doesn’t need to be highly produced/edited.
  • There is a craving for connection. In-person events will continue to be on the rise but adapt for the current climate of comfortability, etc.
  • Back to basics. Going back to “PR basics” and drilling down the who, what, where, when and why of any given strategy and tactic is key. All actions should be about establishing trust and building relationships with key audiences, period.
  • Customer expectations are evolving. Corporate social responsibility is crucial, which means speaking to social issues and ensuring access and equity across your company’s offerings is a must.
  • “Social media is an amplifier, not a solution.” This is a direct quote from Gina Florence from Charles Schwab Corp. and we couldn’t agree more. Social media must continually be re-evaluated to determine what’s working and what’s not, which platforms make an impact and if they’re indeed amplifying the right message for target audiences.
  • Keep it brief. Nearly 80% of content in news is never read. Shocking, yet true. With an abundance of information and content available, people are overwhelmed. Content created for your key audience needs to be efficient and organized – what’s new and what matters.

Highlights from #TeamStratacomm

The four of us divided and conquered when it came to the breakout sessions to maximize value across the board. Here are a few quick hits from the parts of the conference we especially enjoyed the most.

  • Sarah: One of the most interesting sessions I attended was Resilient Communications in the Era of Misinformation (aka how to combat online trolls). In this digital age, no brand or influencer is safe from trolls, and there is a lot of research taking place to try and figure out where they come from and what their motivation is. The panelists shared that most trolls are motivated by a political or social agenda – and sometimes financial incentives. Thankfully there are tools (such as TalkWalker) to measure where trolls are coming from to try to get them shut down or removed. When a brand impacted by trolls should intervene was also discussed. If it is a big enough threat that is gaining traction, a brand can intervene by tapping into the root cause in a positive way or having an advocate for the brand that might relate to your audience more speak up on the company’s behalf.
  • Marcella: Case studies and tangible examples are always helpful for me to conceptualize what works and what doesn’t, helping inform smart recommendations to Stratacomm’s clients. Dave Jorgenson, better known as The Washington Post TikTok guy, hosted the conference’s second morning keynote presentation. Dave successfully curates content for WP’s over one million TikTok followers and offered a humorous take on his content creation. He broke down some of his best-performing TikToks, and provided a round-up of advice to navigate the platform based on his experience. Dave shared two pieces of advice for making TikTok work at your company. First, you need someone to edit the video (like we said above, an iPhone works!). Second, you need someone who knows the voice of the company to bring authenticity through all of the videos. If a 143-year-old newspaper can find success on the app, chances are your company can, too.
  • Megan: One of the most interesting takeaways I observed was the outlook of integrated communications. In one panel Capital One said they view marketing as the brand (e.g., social), communications (across the whole company) and client acquisition. Cvent said they view marketing holistically as all functions across the board from internal communications to social to digital and more. And FiscalNote relayed that their interpretation of marketing is in two buckets: revenue generation and storytelling. This different line of thinking across various corporations highlighted for me, the need to be on the same page of how to approach marketing at my own firm.

We’ll definitely be pursuing more professional development opportunities in the future! What’s on your list for 2022?

Megan Bonelli, Sarah Kuzdak and Marcella Dudek all contributed to this viewpoint.