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What can PR practitioners learn from Festival of Marketing 2017?

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The Festival of Marketing (FoM), for those who are unfamiliar, is a communications event that features seminars, workshops, presentations and debates from prominent figures in the industry across two days.

The events were spread across 12 stages; Artificial Intelligence (AI), Brand and Creative, Content, Customer Experience, Data and Analytics, Digital Transformation, Insight, Multichannel, Personalisation, Programmatic, Realising Your Potential, and Social.

In an attempt to make my experience as varied as possible, I attended a number of presentations across the stages. As a result, I left the festival having heard everything from the ways in which PRs can use AI in their communication with customers, to the lessons we can learn from Guinness World Record holders about resilience and mentorship.

The festival began with an exhilarating discussion from Stephen Fry, whose commentary ended with the assertion that marketers and communications professionals will only thrive if they can anticipate trends and stay proactive. To support this, he shared wise words from Wayne Gretsky, an ice hockey player who, when asked “how are you such a good player?” replied “I don’t skate to where the puck is; I skate to where it is going to be.”

I then joined a discussion led by Mark Evans, the CMO of Direct Line Group, who I have the pleasure of working with and learning from on a daily basis. Evans is extremely passionate about neurodiversity, and so his event focussed more on the ways we can incorporate divergency in our teams, recognising your own abilities and the abilities of others, than marketing in general.

Artificial Intelligence appeared to be a buzz word at this year’s festival, as almost every speaker acknowledged the importance of AI in the evolution of communications. Kunal Lohia discussed the role of ‘chat bots’ in customer relations using the example of his own company’s website, conveying that the future of communications is looking as complex technologically as it is simple in terms of efficiency.

A lasting quote from the session was one that Lohia used fairly early: “you can either accept the change to AI, or lead the change.”

The closing act on the first day was Jo Malone, who described the amazing journey of her brand and reflected upon the lessons she wished she had been given when she was younger.

Malone’s biggest piece of advice was about accepting and learning from your mistakes. She can teach us all about the importance of resilience. As a breast cancer survivor, Malone influences professionals across all industries to appreciate the power in self-belief and the value of understanding your abilities.

When asked about whether or not she felt her gender was debilitating in her experience as a business person, Malone asserted “I love being a woman, and because I want confident and brilliant people working for me, 90 per cent of my employees are also women”.

The final showdown was a fiery debate on emotional vs evidence-based marketing techniques between Mark Ritson and Byron Sharp. The debate began with Mark Ritson heavily complimenting his opponent’s success before acknowledging to his audience; “this is not what you came for… You came here for blood, and you shall have it!”

The Festival of Marketing 2017 was most prevalent in its elucidation of common themes affecting marketers and PRs today. Artificial Intelligence, influencers, the power of self-belief and the integration of PR and social campaigns were all topics that I recognised as priorities. The biggest message from the festival would undoubtedly be focussed on confidence, something we can apply to our own work ethics, and something that will allow us to incorporate unexplored techniques into our strategy.