Sydney is at the start of this year’s Vivid festival which celebrates light, music and ideas. Vivid, in partnership with the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA), organised a panel which kicked off the first week of the festival designed to crack the code of digital PR.
Vivid and PRIA may appear unlikely allies; but as we merge into this exciting world of innovation, storytelling, ideas and creativity, the two seem a perfect pair. So agreed the 200 people who attended the event in the city’s iconic MCA.
The panel featured Dylan Smith (Airbnb), Jocelin Abbey (ABC), Pip Arthur (Microsoft Australia), and James Wright (Red Agency) and was facilitated by Kieran Moore, the CEO of opr. The panel discussed the themes of integrated PR, the demand for authenticity, owned and paid media and the true art of storytelling. While the conversation was far ranging, the overwhelming theme from the panel and from the audience, was the need for people and the work PR performs “to keep it real.”
According to Jocelin Abbey, ABC, “When it’s all said and done, people love raw, human storytelling. They love stories they can connect to. It’s our job as representatives from our organisations, to provide them. Brands and organisations need to learn that authenticity is where stories need to start, and end,” she said.
James Wright, from the Red Agency, explained that storytelling is at the heart of everything we need to do as communicators. We also have to ensure that we have the right people telling our stories in the right place, at the right time.
Similarly, Pip Arthur, from Microsoft, discussed the need, the hunger for truly authentic storytelling to engage audiences. She said that Microsoft’s audiences react and relate to simple impactful storytelling, adding that communications professionals need to be smarter about media spend and data analytics in order to ensure this happens.
Arthur also believes that while it is our role as communicators to get the narrative and the tone right, and that it’s also important that we “swim outside our swimming line,” in terms of better understanding the role of all the channels available to us in the marketing mix. However, she also believes understanding and utilising all the communication channels only works if we take a transmedia approach to storytelling.
When asked about where organisations can find the best people to help them tell their stories, Abbey said that for the ABC, the best tool to find unique, authentic stories, is through social. “Brands need to be using social; we need to have brand relationships, and the best way to do this is through social. We uncover all kinds of magic when we use this tool,” she said.
Wright took this further saying, good content isn’t enough, we need to be thinking about what experience that content brings. “We are moving away from the digital age into the experience age. Brands must resonate deeply with consumers in order to be heard amongst the noise,” he said.
Smith spoke about the role of participatory content and communications in the work that Airbnb completed around Sydney Mardi Gras. He said that good content and communications are at their best when facing the issues that our brands deal with every day. “PR needs to deal with the uncomfortable truths upfront. If, in the case of Airbnb, we can’t get enough hosts for our customers, because people are worried about guests making a mess of their homes; then our communication needs to address this head on.” He pointed to Airbnb’s Mardi Gras campaign, which featured one of Sydney’s most famous drag queens, as an example of going through all the worrying questions usually asked by hosts.
The event concluded with panelists being asked to share advice they would give their younger selves. Smith’s younger self got told to simply “keep it real” – in the digital world where consumers will yearn for a relatable, authentic experience; and to reach real people, we have to be real ourselves.
Wright believes that we can learn new digital skills, be updated on new trends and taught the best methods and practices, but you can’t teach attitude. He said that all communications people need to have the right attitude, perspective and a real discipline to keep it real.