THURSDAY 18 NOV 2021 5:04 PM


The ICCO Global Summit returned as a hybrid event for practitioners with a global or international remit to hear from agency CEOs and owners alongside in-house communications directors and consultants across thirty countries.

Nitin Mantri, president of the ICCO and CEO of AvianWE, opened the summit with an exploration into the theme of this year’s event, Embracing the Future. “Growth remains buoyant in the PR industry, with IT projected to be the biggest area followed by healthcare and financial and professional services,” said Mantri. This was the first hybrid event for the ICCO, as Mantri said “PR has always listened very closely to the heartbeat of the world.”

Joining the conference virtually was Francis Ingham, chief executive of the ICCO and director general of the PRCA. He shared findings from the latest World PR Report, “There is strong global growth and overall optimism as we look towards recovery. The findings show an industry that continues to have the best of both worlds, old school styles such as media relations, but digital competence continue to power ahead and be our industry’s future,” said Ingham.

The industry is recruiting at scale which signals to a positive recovery. But Ingham acknowledged that there will be practitioners who have suffered job losses and are struggling to find new ones, alongside agencies that didn’t make it. “To them, I would say that I hope the picture painted here provides at least some grounds for optimism about the future,” he added.

Nitan Mantri then sat down with Heather Kernahan, CEO of Hotwire, and Aaron Kwittken, CEO and founder of Prophet AI, to discuss the emergence of technologies in the industry and how brands can choose success over failure.

For the communications industry and the world more globally, technology is moving from a nice-to-have to a must have. “We are still trying to figure out the measurement issue, but we need to look at how we can perform better,” says Kwittken. Finding ways to be more collaborative virtually is going to be important. Data and ESG have put us back in the centre for true technology integration, but finding ways to be more collaborative is going to be fundamental to success, added Kwitten.

Looking at the opportunities presented by technology, Kernahan says technology offers an opportunity for clients and agencies to work more closely, as both they are learning and evolving together. “Don’t run from the technology conversation, run into it,” said Kernahan.

Delivering the ministerial address was Paul Scully, under secretary of state in the department for business, energy and industrial strategy and minister for London. Scully discussed the steady increase in spend in the capital but emphasised the need to make this a worthwhile experience. “The pandemic has shone a light on the vital importance of communications and PR to support the UK and international economy and we need to keep telling these stories,” says Scully.

Keynote speaker, Lord Karan Bilimoria, CBE DL, president CBI & founder of Cobra Beer, shared his insight on marketing, branding and the future of international business. Bilimoria explained how his business survived the pandemic before discussing the ways government can support businesses to communicate through a crisis. He recalled campaigning for one hundred percent bounce back loans for the banks to support businesses in the UK. “It’s about government and business working together,” said Bilimoria. He discussed an Oxford University schools isolation system which took place but was not communicated effectively. “The power of communication goes down to confidence and building confidence in the public,” he said.

But it’s not just about being the best in the world, it’s about being the best for the world, said Bilimoria. Within his business operations Bilimoria runs the Change the Race Ratio initiative, which encourages businesses to set and publish clear targets on the racial diversity, because he said, “Diversity without inclusion is useless.” Meaningful business partnerships are also key to driving real change. Cobra beer partnered with Belu Water, to support sanitation and safe water projects in India. “During the time of crisis is when you can actually look forward and make changes that are transformational,” he added.

The afternoon kicked off with a panel discussion around the critical issue of free media and free speech, which is essential to an effective PR business. Before moving on to a presentation from Catherine Devaney, head of health and deputy managing director of WE Communications, analysing the views of consumers and B2B decision makers when it comes to healthcare brands. “From 2019-2021 the expectation for brands to create stability in uncertain times grew by 30%,” says Devaney. “We have learnt that you cannot please everyone, and you can’t win the narrative entirely. That’s why it’s important for healthcare brands to partner with their stakeholders and develop a purpose that aligns with these stakeholder values,” she added.

Femi Falodun, CEO of ID Africa and Jessica Hope, founder and CEO of Wimbart, came together to open a discussion around the opportunities and challenges in the African PR and communications market. With expertise in the tech space, Hope pointed to the importance of changing narratives to more accurately reflect the market as a place of innovation. 

The last session of the day was a fireside chat with Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn. Bloomgarden highted the importance of purpose in fuelling people to want to push their company’s messaging and communications. Internal comms is becoming more focal to businesses with a focus on empathetic and caring leadership. “I think it’s going to work because it actually delivers an increase in productivity, sense of belonging and retention.”

Employees will need to up upskilled and supported to shift with the industry post pandemic. There is a need to move from skillset training to mindset training. “We learnt you need to listen and individualise the communications you are doing because there really is no one size fits all approach to industries or individuals,” said Bloomgarden.

Day two of the ICCO Global Summit took place today Thursday 18 November.