media update’s Adam Wakefield was at the Maslow Hotel, Johannesburg, on Wednesday, 29 March, to hear what industry leaders had to say.

This year’s summit is the latest in The Holmes Report’s In2 Summit series. It was backed by partner firms Burson-Marsteller, WE Communications, FleishmanHillard, Engage Joe Public, Magna Carta, Ogilvy PR, Clockwork Media, Atmosphere and Weber Shandwick. Trade bodies ICCO and PRISA were also supportive of the event.

Following a welcome and introduction by The Holmes Report’s CEO and editor-in-chief Arun Sudhaman, the first topic tackled was working in Africa and whether the African era has ended, begun or was still going.

Moky Makura, country representative at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told delegates that working remotely in Africa is not the solution and a physical presence on the ground, and understanding local governance and cultural dynamics, are critical to success on the continent.

The next panel saw a robust discussion on how technology is reinventing media and shifting the environment in which media operate. Mail&Guardian editor-in-chief Khadija Patel held the firm conviction that established media is not dying, but is facing an existential crisis in staying relevant to its audiences, finding new audiences, and new sources of revenue, while not compromising quality reporting.

Veteran journalist Gus Silber noted that media regaining the public’s trust means producing honest reporting so the audience can learn some truths. This is not a new challenge.

Crisis communication and gender equity

After delegates and speakers recharged during a coffee break, crisis communications was picked apart, where WE Communications general manager James Wilson noted that, “The manual approach isn’t what it’s cut out to be, but you need to have some principles in place”.

Kirby Gordon, vice president for sales & distribution at FlySafair, stressed the importance of speed, having a centralised point to distribute information, regularity of message, and maintaining good relationships with experts in relevant fields.

As noted by Microsoft MEA director of communications Delia Sieff, “When a crisis hits, that is not the time to build relationships, that is the time you rely on them”.

Sharon Piehl, general manager at FleishmanHillard Johannesburg, followed by informing delegates that PR, as it has been known, is dead. She said the foundation “most agencies have been built on probably won’t exist in the next few years”, with the industry to look very different in the future compared to now.

The industry has to take stock of what changes are taking place in technology and in business; with their clients and those they worked with.

“Don’t focus on the change. Influence the change,” Piehl said.

Piehl was followed by a robust discussion on gender equity being a business imperative. Robyn de Villiers, chairman & CEO of Burson-Marsteller Africa, said women influence 80% of household purchasing decisions, companies with a higher proportion of women executives perform 20% better than all male executive teams, and start-ups with a woman perform 63% better than those only founded by men.

South Africa bucks the trend of males holding senior positions in the PR industry, with the opposite being true locally.

Colleen Larsen, chief executive of the Business Engage Association, said gender equality must come from senior leadership within an organisation, otherwise it is “useless”. Further, women must be bold enough to step into senior roles when the opportunity presents itself.

“Women should be shaping the economy, not fitting into it,” Larsen said.

After the lunch break, the importance of being creative instead of using a default PR approach was emphasised, with Mariska Oosthuizen, head of brand at Sanlam, noting the importance of briefs not being too descriptive or vague.

“Creatives like the freedom of a tight brief,” Oosthuzien said.

Communications talent and content to consumption

Next, head of marketing at BDO South Africa Ashley Truscutt, and Joanna Oosthuizen, national managing director at Ogilvy PR South Africa, spoke about the battle to retain talent in the communications industry.

“We have a real shortage of skills in our industry and I think it’s largely as a result of the fact we are not very good at training. We need to get much better at investing in training and upskilling,” Oosthuizen said.

Both Oosthuizen and Truscott agreed that an eye for detail and being able to write competently are among the basic skills required to succeed in the industry. It’s making many basic mistakes over a period of time that sees agencies fired by clients.

Following the last break for the day, the growing role of data in reputation management was discussed. Katherine du Plessis, data analyst at Manga Carta, told delegates that if you can define something, you can measure it. Further, “reputations are shaped by a multitude of very divert factors”.

Professor Bheki Twala, director of the Institute for Intelligent Systems at the University of Johannesburg, told attendees that reputation management is a long journey, and when it comes to using data, it is very important to use high-quality data when seeking insights.

The last panel of the day focused on content to commerce, how content could demonstrate value beyond what Sudhuman called the “vanity metrics” of likes and impressions.

Among the panel, there was agreement that it was possible, but as head of operations at Webfluential Kirsty Shaman cautioned, moving away from vanity metrics poses risks.

“Are we setting ourselves up for failure by telling brands we can measure from content to commerce?” she asked. In addition, the effect of vanity metrics three months and six months down the line are open ended.

Eugene Chetty, head of advertising at Microsoft SA, added that moving away from such metrics will change the way business is done, with there being fear of “what this will unravel into”.

The Holmes Report In2 Innovation Summit will return next year

After the final panel, Sudhaman, who had also moderated the majority of the day’s panels, thanked everyone for their attendance, and found what had been heard during the summit “inspiring and very thought provoking”.

“We will be back next year, if not earlier, so thank you”, he said, wrapping up the 2017 In2 Innovation Summit.

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