How to create content for events and conferences

What’s the best way to create an event for a large group of people? How can you plan when you know people will have varied interests, areas of expertise and skills?

I’ve held three #thebigyak unconferences with my fellow The IC Crowd @theICcrowd co-founders in recent years. The beauty of an unconference is topics are decided by attendees on the day.

But what if you are planning an event? How can you design it in the best way and create content for people to enjoy?

Today Laura Sutherland, Chief at Aura (pictured), is here to share her experiences of creating independent conference, PRFest, which is only a week away.

There’s still time to grab a ticket for the event, which takes place from 15-16 June 2017 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I’ll hand you over to Laura and hope you find her experiences useful to help with your own planning…

Crowdsourcing content for events and conferences

Sometimes people attend events and conferences with specific aims in mind, which is great, as you’re likely to get more out of it. Sometimes though, people don’t necessarily know what they need to know, so it’s up to the organiser to anticipate.

As I practice PR, I’m a member of CIPR Council and also run #PRFest, it may be slightly easier for me to realise what the industry’s hot topics are and ‘need-to-knows’.

However, when I was originally developing the concept of #PRFest back in 2015, for 2016, one of the best pieces of advice I received was to crowdsource content.

Working in PR means not only do I know my own industry, but I also knew how to go about crowdsourcing and extracting information which helped inform the concept and also the programme.

Looking for inspiration

I conducted research amongst the Scottish PR community in the first year and used CIPR and PRCA reports, plus looked at other events and their highlights. There was a lot to look to for inspiration. This year I’ve had the opportunity to use last year’s feedback, plus some pre-event attendee questions to drive the programme.

The festival is over two days because there is simply too much to cover in one day. It’s a once-a-year event, which means we need to get through a lot!

Someone suggested in the feedback from last year that the event should only be one day, but #PRFest gives flexibility. If there is only one or two sessions you’re interested in, buy a half day ticket!

Last year, there was an emphasis on tools and practicality. (Check out the e-book which followed the inaugural year):

This year, there is more of an emphasis on catching up with London, looking at the wider role of public relations in businesses and organisations and then looking at our own industry.

Don’t get me wrong, I hear you shouting “it’s not all about London” – I know! You’re preaching to the converted!

One of the big things about #PRFest being in Scotland is to show that there is life outside of the big smoke and to give more practitioners access to higher profile events.

Diversity in PR – round two!

Back again this year, we’ve got a diversity panel, this year programmed by the Taylor Bennett Foundation. Last year, the session was hugely interesting, but it I don’t mind saying, it lacked the ‘business case’ and it left attendees wondering why they weren’t diverse and why they need to be.

This year’s session has a great panel, Chaired by Sarah Hall, which will make the business case.

It’s got me thinking about grassroots levels though, do we have the talent coming from universities to come into PR or do we need to be doing more about that? One to pick up on at #PRFest.

Cyber Security – why does PR need to be involved?
When I invited Craig McGill to speak at #PRFest I suggested he spoke about cyber security.

Craig’s later blog revealed people thought it was odd that PR practitioners would a) need to know about it and b) need to get involved in.

Just a couple of weeks later, the cyber attack took place where it took down hundreds of organisational networks, including the NHS.

Now ordinarily, you’d think it was just an IT issue, but if you look at the impact on communication, crisis management and the biggest impact, people’s lives, actually, PR had a massive role to play.

Mental health in public relations
I also approached Paul Sutton to speak at #PRFest about mental health.

Speaking from experience and having done further work on mental health in PR, Paul will bring a different perspective to the festival.

It’s an area we need to explore further, we need to discuss and we definitely need to be sharing best practice.

An independent event means it can be flexible
One of the reasons I wanted to organise #PRFest, apart from the obvious need for an event of its type, was because I knew that I could quickly adapt the programme.

Being independently run, but with member organisation support, was crucial to the concept working in the first year. People liked that it was a familiar face running it and there was definitely a buzz of excitement on both days. It has a relaxed feeling about it. Kind of like going to someone’s office for a coffee, catch up and some business.

I don’t mind saying, that most of the speakers are people I know. There is no favouritism! In summer last year, I put a call out for pitches for people who wanted to speak at #PRFest. There was a fairly loose yet specific brief on what was expected. It had to be of value, it had to be a learning experience and where possible, to be interactive.

I received pitches from across the world! Most of the ones from abroad hadn’t read the brief properly and were coming up with all sorts of salesy talks. I politely declined.

Making it more like a festival

With festivals, there are normally fringe events and last year I added on networking drinks after the event. People were tired though and with travel at either end, it was a long day.

This year, I was speaking to Mary Whenman, President of Women in PR (part of the diversity panel) and she said WIPR was about to launch in Scotland. I suggested we use #PRFest as a hook for her and also to add a fringe event onto the festival.

Looking forward to meeting Mary (finally!) and some of the team, plus kick off the festival with a bit of a party! Tickets available here if you’re interested.

Opportunities for PR growth
I’ve also organised an influencer dinner on Thursday, 15 June, and we’ll be talking about the first day of #PRFest and also generally about our challenges and what opportunities we see for PR growth in our own areas.

So! #PRFest kicks off on Thursday next and there are still some tickets available for those who are last minute. Ticket sales stop on Monday, 12 June, so be quick! You can also check ‘news and views’ on the website for the speaker blog posts – hugely insightful.

Here’s to another exciting, jam-packed two days, all about public relations – it’s our time!

Big thanks to everyone who has supported me, the speakers for giving up their time and to everyone who has signed up and giving a damn about their professional development!

Here’s what happened last year…

Post author: Laura Sutherland.

I hope next week goes brilliantly Laura. You can find more information on Twitter @ThePRFest.

Further reading on the All Things IC blog

How to brew the perfect managers’ conference

Published on the All Things IC blog 9 June 2017.


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