On Wednesday the 8th of June 2016, Leeds University Business School hosted the second of a chain of LUBSxIABC events as part of its agenda to develop the newborn partnership with the International Association of Business Communicators through student-organised conferences where industry professionals are invited, as speakers, to share their experience and valuable insights.
As professor Kendi Kinuthia and CCPR program director Tony Byng underlined in their introductory statements, the aim of this collaboration is to make sure the program stays relevant and delivers knowledge and skills that can be applied in the world and in the workplace; all while granting students the chance to organise the event planning committee and IABC’s new UK chapter a broader influence and impact.
After regional vice-president Daniel Schraibman briefly introduced the students on the many ways they can still benefit from their membership after the end of their studies; the mic passed on to the first of four speakers for the day, freelance communications consultant Janet Morgan.
Janet’s speech covered the topic of opportunities and threats of social media in the context of today’s organizational crises. After discussing the loss of control on their storytelling that organizations have suffered from the introduction of digital media, Janet went on to analyse how brands are trying to face the issue today by improving the timeliness of their response and integrating their communications across all departments and branches. The best companies today are able to address issues raised by users anywhere in the world with timeliness and consistence responses to online comments and messages.
The floor was then left for Grant Mercer, LUBS alumni and CMO of DJI Holdings Plc., who shared his future perspectives around the topic of “Brands vs Consumers. Who’s leading who?” providing the crowd with a very clear answer and warning early on in his speech: “Make no mistake: Brands will win”. Grant then developed his speech around the two core reasons for that to happen, focusing on how, although brands have had to step back and re-invent themselves, “brands do not surrender”. And the amount of data we share every day has reached such unprecedented size and detail that in around 5 years’ time brands should be able to develop techniques to use all this data in order to profile consumers ever more accurately and provide even more customer-tailored solutions to all their needs and wants. And thus retain their position of power. While this will most probably be the case in terms of monetary power and influence which brands, contrary to common beliefs, are indeed planning to hold on to; the question remains whether these techniques will also allow brands to re-gain the level of control they once had on their message. In particular enabling customers to participate in co-defining both brands’ public image and their performance may very well instead constitute a power loss that brands will accept as a given cost; given that more and more brands today tend to mould their activities around expectations expressed by their customers online and tailor their offer for specific customer profiles and customise their offer to the needs of particular market segments. As the same Grant admitted this to be the case for corporate responsibilities they “kind of” endorsed, such as being more responsible and the idea of being held accountable for everything since “where there were once walls, there are now windows.”
Next up was pensions & benefits consultant Karen Bolan, who introduced the audience to “The 7 mega trends of Communication”. She connected to many previously mentioned novelties within the industry such as the influence customers have acquired thanks to product validation they nowadays seek to find in online reviews by other random users online and the segmentation of companies’ offers to address different behavioral or attitude-based customer profiles and the consequent customization their products.
Finally, LUBS alumni and eminent scholar Joep Cornelissen took the floor to give us a more academic and analytical overview of these recent changes, analysing the evolution of communications from mass dissemination (broadcasting) to individual stakeholder engagement (crowd-casting) and how marketing and public relations are increasingly combined in the one activity such as content creation or storytelling. His analysis underlined once again the increasingly key role of transparency and authenticity, along with mentioning advocacy and interactivity as other two trends of the new millennium.
After many questions from the audience, the event ended with drinks and refreshments in the hall, granting participants a chance to network with one another and ask further questions to the speakers in private.
By: Marco Romero