By Bryant McNamara, uOPRA member, PR student at The University of Ottawa, co-organizer of Let’s Grow Together 2014.
On February 4, IABC Ottawa partnered with the University of Ottawa’s Public Relations Association (uOPRA) for “Let’s Grow Together 2014”. The event was also sponsored by the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS), Pita Pit, H&M, Hooley’s, and the Young PR Pros.
The conference presented five speakers – each celebrated professionals in their field – who spoke to different characteristics and roles of the public relations (PR) profession. The event had close to 220 in attendance; mostly students from the University of Ottawa and Algonquin College public relations programs.
Ryan Kennery, press secretary for Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, was the first speaker, and quick to emphasize that a communicator must “remind people why they should care.”
Secondly, he asserted that PR professionals must “be genuine.” By way of example, he said that Mayor Watson attends over 2,000 events a year to reach his public; not simply during election time, but as a year-round effort.
Thirdly, Mr. Kennery said “the best offence is a good offence.” Although crisis communication is a critical component to any plan, it is key to remember that the early bird will always get the worm. In essence, one can never be too prepared.
Mr. Kennery closed by saying “Link your message with the lives of the audience, use emotion and be genuine, and remember to plan.”
Mark Monahan, executive and creative director of Bluesfest, was up next, illustrating the value that PR holds alongside marketing. His example was that when marketing failed Bluesfest in 2012, he required PR to save the day. The crisis at hand was that ticket sales were suffering because the public perceived Bluesfest to be departing too far from its roots by becoming too involved with electronic dance music.
By publicly addressing this misconception through good PR, the Bluesfest organizers were able to make up for lost sales, and even set new sales records the following year.
Elizabeth Gray-Smith, social columnist for iPolitics, outlined the bridging role that PR plays between an organization and its public. This relationship facilitation role is what allows PR professionals to transcend the reach of marketing alone. Ms. Gray-Smith also spoke of the power of embracing storytelling and developing one’s skills through volunteering.
Emily Scarlett, the national spokesperson for H&M, highlighted how establishing positive relationships with the media has played a huge role in getting their messages out to the world. She also mentioned the importance of understanding the roles of colleagues at each level of an organization. “Those who surround you internally play a critical role in the success or failure of your message; we would all do well to make sure to pay them their due respect in the process.”
Carrie Croft provided a wonderful close to this event, illustrating what professional associations such as IABC can do for communications professionals. IABC provided Ms. Croft with opportunities for volunteering and networking with people otherwise out of her professional reach. This ultimately led to her current leadership position as national communications manager for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015.
uOPRA extends its sincere appreciation to IABC Ottawa for supporting the conference through sponsorship and its on-site booth presence, which gave students the opportunity to meet industry professionals while learning more about the value of IABC.