This year’s AMEC Global Summit in Miami was a blast with a host of great speakers during the day and some amazing networking during the breakfasts, breaks and evenings.
Using communication to protect the future
The conference started with a bang as one of the first speakers was Carmen Romero, deputy assistant secretary general for NATO’s public diplomacy division. Her presentation was so packed with fascinating insight that it’s one I’m going to rewatch on the recorded conference stream.
She talked about NATO’s communication strategy of ‘prebunking’. Rather than wait for Putin’s misinformation and disinformation propaganda and then debunk it, NATO went on the communication offensive and published its facts before Russia had a chance to establish a fake narrative. She also stressed the importance of not being distracted by Russia’s propaganda campaign but maintaining a focus on NATO’s own communication objective. Putin wanted NATO to be distracted, but it didn’t fall into the trap. This equally applies to corporate communication strategy where it’s important to focus on your own objectives and strategy, rather than what competitors are doing.
Another interesting takeaway was hearing about NATO’s extensive use of audience research and insight to plan its communications campaigns. I’m constantly stressing to clients that the two most important aspects of measurement are insight and improvement, so NATO provides a great example of a large globally respected organisation that does this.
However, the most quotable part of an incredibly quotable presentation was Carmen explaining the role of public relations and communications professionals within NATO. NATO’s communication professionals use data driven decision making. It uses its insights from data to anticipate and predict based on trends to contribute to policy decisions. Professional communicators are embedded from the start and are involved in discussions about policy before decisions are made. Just the way it should be in every organisation or company.
Combatting misinformation and disinformation
It was a defence sector heavy AMEC Summit as on the second day Cision’s executive director of AI strategy, Ant Cousins, gave a great talk on combatting misinformation and disinformation. Ant’s quite the expert as in a previous life he worked for the UK government in public relations and communications roles for the Ministry of Defence, Home Office and Cabinet Office. He provided media relations for British Forces deployed in Afghanistan, worked in counterterrorism and in strategy across the Middle East during the Arab Spring or “social media revolutions.”
Ant had lots of great takeaways, but my personal favourite was stressing the need to be able to point to evidence from before the misinformation or disinformation was published. This is a point I’ve been stressing to my crisis communications clients for years as it doesn’t just apply to misinformation or disinformation.
If you’ve got a robust policy on sensitive or controversial issues, then publish it. If it’s already public domain, then you can’t be accused of magically creating it because you’ve been accused of something.
Ukraine’s communications in the face of invasion
The most powerful and emotional presentation was delivered at the end of the final day. Delivered at the end not because it was the least important, but because it was the most important. I cried. I wasn’t the only one. I tried to stop myself as I was at the front with eye contact with the speaker who was incredibly brave while delivering her emotionally charged talk.
The speaker was Julia Petryk, head of PR at Ukrainian software company MacPaw, speaking in her role as co-founder of the Ukrainian PR Army. I have worked extensively in Ukraine – running PR training for the heads of communication for the Prime Minister and cabinet members, for SCM (one of Ukraine’s largest companies) and other technology sector companies. I have PR friends, people just like me, who are no longer just doing PR but serving in the army on the frontline to defend their country. Julia brought all of my emotions to the surface.
Julia’s wonderful talk wasn’t just about the amazing feats already achieved by the Ukrainian PR Army, but more importantly was a rallying call to the global PR and communication industry. We all have to step up and do more to support our colleagues in Ukraine to defeat Russia’s invasion and liberate the whole of Ukraine.
Julia emphasised two communication issues where Ukraine really needs support. The first is to ensure that Ukraine remains at the top of the news agenda. The longer Ukraine defends itself from Russia’s invasion, the greater the danger we treat it as business as usual and it slips down or out of the news agenda.
The second is how we describe it. Public relations and communications professionals are masters of messaging. Julia reminded us of the importance of using Ukraine’s messaging and not allowing Putin to pervert the narrative.
It is the Russian invasion of Ukraine, not a war.
In the early days of the invasion, Ukrainian PR professionals asked me to speak to journalists and senior politicians in the UK to explain to them why we must always refer to Putin’s invasion as aggression. As an invasion. Don’t just call it a war, which implies duality. Russia is the aggressor. Russia is the invader. Russia is the war criminal.
Julia also showed this powerful video that was created by MacPaw to say thank you to the world for its support of Ukraine. No thank you is necessary. It is our moral duty to stand up for our friends in Ukraine. In fact we must do more.
Evaluating the World Health Organisation’s communications during COVID-19
Distinguished Professor Jim Macnamara of the School of Communication, University of Technology Sydney always provides value whenever he speaks at the AMEC Global Summit. This year was no exception. Jim provided so much food for thought that I’m going to do a separate article on his presentation about how he helped the World Health Organisation (WHO) evaluate its communication during COVID-19. He covered lots of topics that PR measurement and evaluation clients and trainees on my courses will have heard me talk about before such as false logic and fallacies, as well as making communication audience centric and not media or organisation centric.
One of the other key points he made was about the thorny issue of causality reminding us that it’s almost impossible to show or prove causality, but we can show contribution.
How Shell powers decision-making with impactful insights
Jim Macnamara started his presentation by stressing that the WHO communication evaluation was achieved on a limited budget. In contrast Kyle Mason, head of external monitoring – corporate relations, at Shell plc is able to utilise the not inconsiderable resources of Europe’s largest company.
Kyle’s presentation is also worthy of an article on its own. The best part of it for me was that he appears to be doing just about everything that I talk to my clients about. It isn’t just about media measurement, but is a dynamic, integrated insights framework designed to inform decision-making. It elevates the importance of reputation and relationships to provide senior leadership with valuable reputational insights to help the senior leadership team make better, more informed decisions.
Unlocking the power of your data: master the art of storytelling
Jonny Bentwood, global head of data and insights at Golin, gave his usual lively and informative talk. This time he focused on how we can make our data tell a story. A lot of what he said will be familiar to anyone who has attended my communications measurement and evaluation courses. Two of the slides even used the same images to make the same points!
The main takeaway is less is more. Most people don’t understand your reams of slides with pie charts, bar charts, line graphs and providing more exotic flavours of graphs isn’t the answer.
What about AI for communications?
I haven’t touched on any the presentations about AI and technology in this article. And there were lots of mentions of AI and whole presentations devoted to AI and technology. I’ll cover those in another article later.
One observation that I’ll share now is that despite the importance of AI these weren’t the most insightful parts of the conference. Next week I’m talking about AI and communications at a global conference for the communications and marketing teams of a big multinational company. I’d hoped to take away lots of new insights and information from the AMEC Summit.
However, on reading my notes I’m not sure I learnt a lot about generative AI for communication measurement and evaluation, ethics for AI in communications, next generation PR technology or building PR technology stacks. A lot of it was more confirmation of what I already know, or even doubt and skepticism about what was being shared.
Where is the AMEC Global Summit 2024?
Miami was a blast, but I’m looking forward even more to next year’s AMEC Global Summit in Sofia, Bulgaria. Hopefully, it will mean more delegates and speakers from Europe, the Middle East and Africa can attend. Will I see you there?