TUESDAY 30 SEP 2014 3:11 PM


“Communicating the truth is easier than communicating something that is contrived,” says Guto Harri, director of communications at News UK and former outrider, comms head and photo buddy to London mayor Boris Johnson. He adds about News International during the phone-hacking scandal, “Nobody was telling their story, there was a cultural paralysis around ‘no comment.’”

Those were more or less the major themes of the PRCA’s National Conference on Friday. Speakers asked questions about reputation and its relationship to communications. Most speakers pointed out that authenticity, straightforwardness and often, a sense of confident creativity were keys to success in public relations.

Reputation, Weber Shandwick MD of corporate, financial and public affairs Mary Whenman says, is the biggest risk in the boardroom and that reputation makes up 60% of market value. Communicators, public relations in particular, are largely responsible for protecting, enhancing and changing that reputation.

The day began with the presentation of the Economics of Reputation findings by Lansons CEO Tony Langham. Shortly following, Golin’s global CEO Fred Cook described his unlikely journey to lead the consultancy, one that involved taxis, tour buses and a ton of ’70s fashion.

Speakers took an intimate tone as they shared stories from their respective organisations. Guy Esnouf, director of external relations at npower, was brutally honest about the utilities sector in general and npower in particular and what it needed to do to change perceptions. He said utilities companies have lost track of what society thinks of them and what their role should be. Following him, Anthony Simon, head of digital communications for 10 Downing Street shared insights from the Scotland referendum. He says, “The press release is the analog way of communicating” and advocates an integrated approach to digital, with a heavy dose of logic, “There’s no point in spending huge amounts of money on websites if they don’t deliver.”

The day was concluded with a pair of panels. One discussed content – to which panelists discussed how content is familiar to most PR professionals. One pointed out, “Content is commercial storytelling.” The second talked about the PR agency of the future. Danny Whatmough, head of consumer digital at Weber Shandiwck and chair of the PRCA’s Digital Group says, “Businesses are starting to think about ideas that will have social media or influencer benefits. This allows public relations to get involved in putting campaigns together.” The panel agreed that PR would have to change to take full advantage of digital and to better meet the needs of clients. However, it should be wary that, “We don’t all end up in that middle ground,” says Whatmough.

The day concluded with the PRCA's AGM at which Matt Neale, president of Golin, was formerly appointed as the new chair of the PRCA, taking over from Grayling CEO Alison Clarke.