• Don't bring me stories, bring me geeks

    Don't bring me stories, bring me geeks

    I had the pleasure of attending a great event last night organised by PRmoment. I was in London for another reason (at the CIPR) but it was a bonus to be able to also squeeze in PRmoment’s first two speakers before I rushed to Gatwick for a flight home.

    Top speakers
    The contributors, happily, that I was able to catch were one of the biggest names in the PR agency business and the top comms man in the UK government – Mark Borkowski and Alex Aiken respectively.

    You can read my post from earlier in the week for more background to the event. But, essentially, Borkowski was arguing for the importance of creativity in PR whilst Aiken was arguing for a pre-eminent role for analytics and data. And PRmoment gave the debate the clever title ‘Does PR need more geeks?’

    Where are all the geeks?
    Judging by the room full of (mostly) young, trendy types from London, one could have been forgiven for thinking that PR currently actually has no geeks, or at least that they don’t go to PRmoment events. But both speakers found common ground in accepting that yes, indeed, PR has become more ‘geeky’, as technology has come to play a big role in the industry.

    That’s where the consensus largely ended.

    Borkowski argued that PR works because it understands “the power of the story”. And he quoted Pepsi Co’s chief, who demanded: “Don’t bring me media plans, bring me amazing stories!”

    Borkowski urged the PR industry not to throw the baby out the with the bathwater in its bid to capitalise on the potential of social media, and implored us not to write off the traditional media just yet.

    ‘Don’t be too obvious’, ‘tease your audience’, ‘don’t be afraid to make fun of yourself’, and ‘lead the herd rather than following it’, were amongst Borkowski’s pointers.

    The current running throughout his talk was that PR is creative, it’s intuitive… it’s an art. (Though he emphasised that we mustn’t go backwards and should use tech wisely.)

    “Get with the data” was Aiken’s theme. Never afraid of being provocative, one of his salvos was: “creative PR agencies are dangerous”. There is not enough business analysis in PR, and there are too many creative ideas that have absolutely nothing to do with the objectives, he furthered.

    There was also a fascinating insight into how Aiken runs communications within the UK government departments. “We are on a journey to abolish the old press office.” Data analysis, content creation, influencer building, and evaluation “are the new curriculum”… “Get with the geek and metrics programme or you will have no PR career”… “PR will go down a cul-de-sac if it doesn’t properly embrace data.”

    I’m with the geeks
    It was all both entertaining and insightful.

    And like all of these debates, the truth most probably lies somewhere in between the two speakers, who (particularly Aiken) went to extremes to make their point.

    Creativity will always be important in PR… and so too will “the story” (particularly amazing ones). So Borkowski is certainly right in that respect. But there is absolutely no doubt that technology has wrought huge changed and brings real opportunity to get more scientific and precise.

    So, on balance, I’m with Aiken… geeks are here and they’re here to stay!

    I should also just say ‘well done’ to MyNewsDesk for partnering with PRmoment to organise the event. It was a big success and created lots of awareness for them. I’m also assuming they paid for the beer and pizza… on behalf of the audience, cheers!

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