A conversation with Stephen Waddington

Tamara Vlootman
Stephen Waddington is Chief Engagement Officer of Ketchum, Visiting Professor in Practice at the Newcastle University, former President of the CIPR and author of many books about public relations. So it seemed only right to meet up with him when in London.

We had a very interesting talk over dinner, about the protective and reactive nature of public relations people and the lack of confidence in the profession (that is not officially a profession actually...). And about how all of this is keeping us from staying on top of the rapidly changing, fragmented media landscape. Do I have your attention? Here are some quotes and highlights from the conversation that made me thinking:

How can we succeed in order to meet up to the changing demands of our clients?
Stephen: "To make sure we succeed in PR, to meet up to the expectations of our clients, we need to make sure we are rapidly agile to the fragmented media landscape. But we are simply not doing that. We are an industry used to protecting our clients. We play for reputation, not for innovation. We're scared to fail. R&D is simply not in our DNA. But the media landscape requires us to be curious."

You pledge for a competency framework in #FuturePRoof, something that is missing at the moment. What do you think is most important to develop at this moment when you work in PR?
Stephen: "What makes someone a professional is difficult to say. It's a so-called 'open' profession meaning there are no barriers to entry, but if it was really open, there would have been diversity, but there isn't. 90% of all PR people are female, but at senior level, only 10% is. If we want to become a real profession, we would need to include frameworks and rules that will give us some guidance:
  • a barrier to enter
  • a continuous learning curve
  • a set of rules, a licence to operate
  • a community of practice, where research, science and practice come together"
What role do you think AI will play in PR?Stephen: "It's already playing a huge role, as it gives us the tools to be so much smarter than we were before in gaining insights. It's the innovation curve again."

What is content marketing to you? And what role should it play within an agency?
Stephen: "Content marketing is simply marketing that started with listening. So there is no difference between that in PR. So it should be integrated in everyday PR worklife."

What should PR get in order within the next few years?
Stephen: "Confidence and discipline. We need to push boundaries."

Stephen, thanks so much for taking the time and sharing your knowledge. Please find more information about him and his work here.