This year’s sixth Academic Summit at DePaul University in
Chicago included over 80 professors of communications,
marketing and public relations. Many Edelman clients, including
HP, GE, Starbucks, SC Johnson, Samsung, Darden, Gap, CVS
Caremark, DMI, ConAgra and Mars, participated, as well. We
also had a very broad spectrum of media, including the Chicago
Tribune, Forbes, Quartz, Wall Street Journal, The New York
Times, The Huffington Post and LinkedIn. Finally, we offered
experts in content marketing and amplification via paid media
including Outbrain, Percolate, SimpleReach and Sharethrough.
I was honored to give the
in which I noted
that while the idea of brands and corporations telling their stories is not new, the velocity and the proliferation of
channels is new. The pace of change is explosive, and I spoke with the summit attendees about the evolution of the
media, of client-side roles and of the PR agency itself. I asked the academics to begin to think about how we can
continue our partnership as we evolve from “marketing communications” to “communications marketing.” And I
urged them to encourage new kinds of talent to enter the PR profession; equip the next breed of PR pros to be at
least conversational, if not fluent, in related disciplines; and embrace new ideas, including (and perhaps especially)
ideas that challenge conventional wisdom.
Some of the important findings from the week included:
1. Authenticity, not Authority.
Great content is now table stakes; you have to create experiences around that
content. You need an environment of active thinking and a system for collaboration with the community. If you
are a brand, you now must curate content that presents you as a thought leader (an example is GE’s Idea
Exchange). It is now cost effective to drive people to your content through paid media — you spend money for
2. The Value of the Long Tail is Nearly Zero.
Ed Kim of SimpleReach said that 10 percent of your content drives
90 percent of your traffic. BuzzFeed creates 300 pieces of content per day and only five to 10 of them take off
virally. “Content is a game of winners.”
3. The Central Role of Employees.
For Starbucks.com, the editor Linda Thomas finds hero stories. “We need our
people to do emotional storytelling. An example is our relief efforts after a landslide in rural Washington State,
where our employees just spontaneously brought coffee to relief workers. Or a recent portrait of Timothy Jones,
who picks the music for our stores.” For AMD, the corporate reputation campaign began with employees selected
to be on the “Imagine Team,” the tagline was crowd-sourced within the company and the result was a 33 percent
increase in employee confidence within a year. For HP’s Stacey MacNeil, “The best stories are the ones we tell
ourselves,” on the HP News Now site, the source for HP news on any platform.
Photo: Richard Edelman, lower right in blue suit, with 2014 Academic Summit attendees