I was a panellist at yesterday’s Question Time event – PR in a Cold Climate – run by the Construction and Property Special Interest Group (CAPSIG) of the CIPR at the Building Centre in London. My fellow panellists were Brian Green (journalist and Brickonomics blogger), Geoff Wilkinson (former MD of Butler & Young, now running his own consultancy – and no relation!) and Ian Exall (communications manager at Rockwool, a CIMCIG committee member, and – this week – a Construction News columnist), and the event was well chaired by CAPSIG chair Liz Male.
Much of the evening’s debates focused on how social media tools and techniques were changing the activities of both journalists and PR practitioners. Brian – memorably described by Geoff as “the Jack Dee of construction journalism” – kicked off by explaining that the recession was accelerating an ongoing change within AEC publications, with editorial teams trimmed to the bone and staff expected to work on material for both print and web-based publications, and a constant drive to provide up-to-the-minute news and analysis.
Ian Exall was concerned that the recession meant the construction industry and its agencies were losing a key cohort of experienced, but expensive, layer of middle management in marketing and PR. This prompted some debate about the danger that weak agency staff could no longer have the confidence to challenge inexperienced clients about their proposed PR strategies and tactics.
I talked about social media and how the dominance of traditional print journalism was now being diluted by the growth of websites, blogs and other online user-generated content (photos, videos on YouTube, podcasts, etc). In response to one questioner, I said this did not mean that face-to-face communication was any less important – rather, I argued, social media actually enabled richer levels of interaction, sometimes opening doors to new networks of contacts (see People having conversations on- and off-line and Meet then Tweet). The expanding social media world also means that in-house and agency people have new ways to monitor a business’s competitors and online ‘buzz’ about themselves – this has already prompted some businesses to spend time on building relationships with bloggers as well as ‘mainstream’ industry journalists (while this is increasingly common in the technology sphere where there are some very influential bloggers, has it started to happen yet in construction and property PR?).
(Such events are always good for networking with both PR agency and in-house people. Among those I met was David Martin of Tuffin Ferraby Taylor, who was pleasantly surprised that I had mentioned him in my blog last week.)
The Question Time session was preceded by an interesting presentation about the CIPR’s benevolent fund IPRovision – helping distressed members cope with financial hardships caused by chronic illness, redundancy, etc. Good to find out what that annual levy I pay goes towards, and to know that this safety net exists to help members who fall on hard times.