CIPR Influence Live - stories, social media and telling the truth

The London School of Economics today played host to the CIPR Influence Live event, attended by a diverse mix of communications professionals in a range of roles and from as far afield as Glasgow – and there I was feeling super committed after my comparatively short jaunt down from Manchester!

The event kicked off with a Q&A between CIPR President, Sarah Hall, and actor Ralf Little, who I’m sure needs no introduction. Sara and Ralf discussed Twitter’s pitfalls and opportunities, with Ralf enlightening the room on his well-publicised Twitter disagreement with Jeremy Hunt.  Both interesting and enlightening, the conversation raised important questions – do we live in a society in which people feel unable to admit that they made a mistake, or perhaps that their viewpoint has changed? Equally worrying is the growing number of people that choose not to air their views for fear of a negative reaction from others.

Ralf also highlighted the importance of using influence only for causes that are genuinely important to you, refraining from giving airtime to issues for self-serving reasons. He highlighted the #MeToo movement as a case in point – while he supports it wholeheartedly, he has refrained from supporting it publicly.  

Summing up the conversation, Ralf described Twitter as “a dance with the devil – everything is a direct quote, and that’s what people don’t realise.”

The Q&A was followed by focus groups, a panel discussion and finished with a case study with Melanie Ward, director of policy and advocacy for the International Rescue Committee, with numerous themes cropping up throughout the afternoon’s discussions:

The value of local PR

The panel discussion highlighted the importance of local engagement and an on-the-ground presence – but with local news outlets continuing to decline, the focus falls further on social media for brand building and awareness. Kathryn Coury, Marketing Director at Brasserie Bar Co, explained that many of its pubs and restaurants manage their own PR and social media presence – stories and news are going to be received more warmly when delivered by the restaurant's manager rather than a London-based PR agency.

Rob Robinson, co-founder of Notes, told us the nature of its business necessitates a hyper-local approach, although PR hasn’t been part of the company’s focus during these early days, with street teams and flyering having the greatest impact on footfall so far. Rob acknowledged that it is Notes’ focus on great customer service – those chats with the barista and a friendly face – that keep its customers coming back.

PR as storyteller

Storytelling was a once again a key theme, with panelists discussing the need to deliver often complex and sometimes controversial messages via storytelling, bringing news to life in a form that people find engaging and interesting.

With so much content and information out there, there is a skill in crafting a story to cut through the noise.

Appetite for beautiful imagery

Brasserie Blanc was unwittingly ahead of the curve when it relaunched its new brand, its beautiful imagery proving hugely popular and significantly widening the scope of possibility in regards to social media channels, particularly Pinterest.

Similarly, the founders of Notes recognised that a large volume of people were posting shots of Macha Lattes on Instagram – it created its own version with attractive patterns, which resulted in an increase in photos posted on Instagram from Notes outlets.

Unique partnerships

Today’s discussions were a reminder that we shouldn’t overlook a potential partnership that first appears a little left-field – it seems they're the order of the day. From top blogger Slummy Single Mummy talking us through some of her more unusual campaigns of late, Brasserie Bar Co’s partnerships with lighting and carpet companies responsible for the design of its restaurants through to IRC's Ben & Jerry's partnership, nothing should be off the table – it may well prove incredibly fruitful.

Telling the truth

Running through every discussion was the importance of telling the truth – from Ralf’s anger towards Jeremy hunt as a result of his repeated misinformation on the state of the NHS, through to the mission of the IRS to make sure that the truth is told about the real, on-the-ground situation for refugees – the importance of truth in an age of mistruths has never been more important.

The PR profession must continue to champion the truth above all else, ridding the industry of its reputation for 'spin' once and for all.