What we learned at the PRIA conference

In September a handful of the PR team at Icon were lucky enough to travel to the sunny Gold Coast to attend the annual Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) conference. In all honesty, I had no idea what to expect from a conference just about PR, but by the end, my skepticism was blown away. An incredibly diverse range of people across industries demonstrated the power of PR to shape lives, change perceptions and tell incredible stories. Here are some of our greatest takeaways from the PRIA conference.

11 people standing in semi-circle

The Icon team with LOTE agency

1. PR is everywhere

From the outset, the speakers demonstrated the power and impact that PR can have across organisations in unexpected yet inspiring ways: from the Queensland Police detailing how they used Tinder to communicate a prevention campaign on sexual assault, to the Australian Olympic Committee using integrated comms to get their team to Tokyo during COVID (and break TV records), and even Lego building a brand on the theme of play.

It’s often PR’s job to be invisible: demonstrating the values of an organisation to its audiences without them even noticing. One of the starkest examples of this was about Queensland Health’s battle to keep COVID under control. Michelle Wellington, Queensland Health’s Assistant-Director General, demonstrated how important PR was to the worldwide COVID response. From March 2020 Queensland Health needed to ensure the right information was shared with the media in a timely manner. For Queensland, this meant the role of the communicator was super-charged, earning ‘more seats at the table’ in government conversations. The campaign is estimated to have saved thousands of lives across the state, one example of the ‘silent’ impact that communications can have.

2. Data tells, but stories move

Ask any PR professional about the fundamentals of a good pitch, and one of the first things they’ll mention is the stats. Providing useful statistics is often central to ensuring a story is newsworthy, but sometimes these statistics can clog up a story, leaving little space for deeper analysis. So how do you work in the key stats without hammering on with a bunch of percentages and data points? The secret is about ‘using less to make more’.

Our very first session at the PRIA conference was a masterclass on DataViz: the presentation of stats and data in more efficient and engaging ways through creative visualisation. Content strategist Cameron Pegg gave us insight into an incredible range of DataViz techniques and demonstrated how ‘humans have always been visual storytellers’.

Man up on stage giving presentation

Cameron Pegg

Data was also extremely important in Ngaire Crawford of Isentia Insights’ session on the importance of research to create meaningful change in communications campaigns. Ngaire and her team assessed the reasons behind the lack of visibility of women in sports media in New Zealand. These insights helped elevate the share of women’s sports in New Zealand to the highest portion compared to men’s sports across the world, again demonstrating the capabilities of turning the information we receive into something greater.

3. The industry is changing (and faster than expected)

Communications is increasingly evolving and driving evolution as the business and media landscape changes across the world. The way media is consumed has also rapidly changed in the last 20 years, with social media, streaming and podcasts taking over from traditional print news, TV and radio.

Along with a range of innovators in the communications industry, our very own Managing Directors Joanne Painter and Chris Dodds are champions of transformation, detailing Icon’s path to becoming a purpose-driven and modern integrated agency, and the transformation that is to come.

In her in-depth presentation, Jo demonstrated how the most innovative and industry-leading businesses have moved their purpose beyond profit towards improving the state of the world and developing people-first practices. Turning down opportunities that aren’t aligned with a business’ values might hurt the hip pocket in the short-term, Jo argued that the long-term benefits of purpose-driven work will increasingly reap its rewards.

Continuing the theme of innovation, Icon’s Managing Director of Digital Chris Dodds is a champion of digital transformation having set up a cutting-edge digital division. He joined a panel discussion on how the Metaverse is set to change our working lives, through digital workspaces and integrated virtual experiences. Just as business has adapted to the internet, the panel detailed how Metaverse now has the potential to become an ‘internet 2.0’.

Woman on stage giving a presentation

Joanne Painter

The PRIA conference helped me and the team realise the value of the work within PR and communications and the capability of the industry to be the voice for organisations, tell in-depth stories and drive change. To hear the stories of such an incredible depth of change-makers brought me a renewed sense of the power of communication to get things done.

Joseph Walker is a PR Account Executive at Icon Agency. If you’re interested in a career at Icon, check out our people & culture page.