Laura M. Sutherland: Being part of a ‘community’ helps develop skills, relationships and our businesses

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Three years ago, I started #PRFest. It’s two-day festival, specifically focussing on helping senior public relations and communication practitioners up-skill, share best practice and help the PR community grow.

How does a community form?

I hadn’t thought of #PRFest being a community originally, but it’s shaped up to the people who attend and speak, being the biggest ambassadors for the festival.

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In addition to my day job as a Chartered PR consultant, I plan #PRFest with the input of the attendees. This year seems to have come around a lot more quickly than previous years and there’s only two months to go to finalise the plans!

Over the past two years, hundreds of practitioners have come along to learn from the best in the business, some international, some home grown right here in Scotland.

Communities are formed out of common interest. Long ago, I’d never have thought public relations could have formed its own communities, with the perception that it was bitchy and one of the most stressful jobs there is.

Public relations has grown up

Now, things have changed. People are helping people. People realise the satisfaction of doing this and ‘giving back’. From fabulous mentoring programmes to online groups set up to share and offer advice.

It’s a pleasure to see people from across the UK and beyond, coming together to discuss common challenges, ways of overcoming them and sharing what’s worked for them. There’s a huge amount of personality around #PRFest, not least the personal commitment I’ve given it over the years, and it’s testament to the power of collaboration.

A risk that was worth it

It was a personal risk to start. A risk I was willing to take to give the industry what it needed. It’s not a conference, not a seminar and it’s definitely not boring. It’s hugely practical and in fact, most of what you learn can be implemented immediately.

Community involvement

From speakers pitching their ideas, to attendees feeding into the programme each year, to the sponsors (PRCA and The PR Cavalry), who clearly see value in supporting the event.

#PRFest has grown from an event I developed for Scottish practitioners, to an internationally recognised event and an event organisations are now asking to be a part of.

Communities should form part of organisational culture

No matter what business you’re in, growing communities is key to success. Whether it’s employees, residential communities or virtual spaces, conversation, collaboration and listening is what makes them thrive.

You take what you learn and then you develop a response which gives the community what they need. It’s not what you want the community to know or have, but what they need. Too often lack of engagement, lack of listening and understanding and lack of two-way respect hinders organisations from being all they can be.

PR for non-PRs

#PRFest runs on 14 and 15 June at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation. If you’re a PR, digital, marketing or communications practitioner, you should definitely book. Likewise, if you’re leading a business or organisation, it might open your eyes to the possibilities of strategic public relations. PR is often misunderstood as storytelling or media relations instead of being an integrated function within the business, managing reputation and building relationships, helping overcome challenges and growing your bottom line.

I’d be delighted to see you there!


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