What I learned @ #WPRF2016


A few days ago, I had the pleasure of attending the World Public Relations Forum (WPRF), one of the largest global gatherings of the greatest PR minds. The event was hosted in my hometown of Toronto and it was the conference’s North American debut, so I had to go! I was also invited to present my research findings on social sharing, viral content and word of mouth, a huge honour that I’m still buzzing about. For more details about my speech, check out my weekly #WPRFviral mini-series.

The three day PR expo was packed with useful tips, tricks and information from a brilliant lineup of speakers. I also learned a lot from chatting with other delegates. I’d like to share some of these key learning takeaways with you. This advice is useful for every industry, not just public relations. I hope that you can use these tips to grow your business, improve your cross-cultural communication methods and inspire that “AHA!” moment you’ve been waiting for.

1. Learn to become a better listener

This might seem obvious, however, people and organizations often fall under the guise that they’re listening, when truly they are more concerned with speaking. Sunday’s keynote luncheon focused on Jim Macnamara’s two-year, three-country analysis of 36 organizations. The study found that companies listen in an instrumental and designed way in order to serve their own needs. To become better listeners it is important to build an architecture of listening based on the following seven cannons: recognition, acknowledgement, attention, interpretation, understanding, consideration and then, response. What can you do to become a better listener?


2. Encourage participation and co-creation

According to Piers Handling, CEO of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), communication should not be top-down and distant from audiences. Instead, it should give people the opportunity to invest and participate in a brand’s co-creation. In Shilpa R. Sharma’s Values Based Storytelling workshop, she highlighted the importance of audience involvement in a brand’s story and how this leads to more sustainable relationships. In Hugh McPhie’s workshop on the Power of Magnetism, he showed how organizations can naturally attract or repel people based on shared attitudes and values. McPhie compared organizations with tribes, which are participatory in nature. He mentioned that individuals crave rituals and that these ritualistic activities can forge connections and build a sense of community that brings audiences closer to their aspirational personal identity. In other words, participation, especially in a group setting, helps create an identity based on how audiences want to be viewed by others.

3. Communication is a basic need

We need information to survive! This is even more apparent in times of crisis. When access to information is limited, it can make the difference between life and death. During Dr. Julie Lyn Hall’s keynote speech she shared her experiences as the Health Lead for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies during the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Access to information about safe and dignified burials accompanied by a feedback mechanism helped contain the Ebola outbreak, saving millions of lives. This realization matches my belief that it is ALWAYS better to over communicate rather than under communicate.

4. Collaborate and leverage partnerships

I’m a huge fan of collaboration. When we reduce contentious and competitive attitudes, we can work together to reach larger audiences. This paves the way for abundance and new opportunities. TIFF overcame a minuscule marketing budget and established itself as a world-renowned film festival through sponsorships and media relations. Fiona Cassidy, one of New Zealand’s top communicators, made it clear that her country relies on a partnership between business and the indigenous Maori population to get things done. Perhaps the most powerful example of partnerships came from Mohamed Fahmy’s keynote speech. Fahmy, a journalist, was wrongly accused of terrorism and imprisoned for 400 days in Egypt. His wife, Marwa, built relationships with other journalists, celebrities and government officials to uphold her husband’s human rights and eventually expedite his release. The couple have since established the Fahmy Foundation to assist others that have been jailed around the world.

5. Perception vs. reality

Mike MacDougall and Aimee Lewis’ workshop: Eyes on the Prize: Shaping the Future of Visual Communications outlined ten future visual trends to be aware of. As expected, ephemeral content (e.g. Snapchat), live video (e.g. Periscope) and drones were brought up. However, less frequented topics such as 4K and 8K video, digital eye fatigue, auto-tagging, facial recognition and artificial intelligence (e.g. Facebook’s FAIR and Twitter’s Cortex) were discussed too. The highlight of the tech brief was chatter around augmented vs. virtual reality, smart contact lenses and eye implants.


It is important to understand these new technologies and any potential ethical dilemmas they may bring forth in the future. Preparing for the impact of these trends now can help mitigate issues and crises.

During the CEO Panel, Dianne Craig of Ford Canada also noted that autonomous or self-driving cars would be ready for market in the next five years. She was concerned with how quickly and easily consumers could adapt to these changes in the automotive industry.

Some other thoughts:

I’m thankful to have learned so much over these three enlightening days. I hope that you can use these insights to master your quest for effective communication.

Have a wonderful week,



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