Q&A With Christopher Graves, Critical Issues Forum Event Chair

Q&A With Christopher Graves, Critical Issues Forum Event Chair

The Council of Public Relations Firms is once again hosting the Critical Issues Forum coming up in just a few weeks on October 23, 2014 in New York. We sat down with Chris Graves, Global Chairman of Ogilvy PR and event Chair for this year’s Forum, The PR Genome Project, to talk about the concept of influencers and their presence in the modern PR world. We asked Chris a few questions about this fascinating topic, particularly in regards to Sinan Aral and Duncan Watts, who will be discussing some of their findings at this year’s conference. Read on to see what he had to say!

1. How did you come up with the theme for this year’s Critical Issues Forum?

The emerging and converging areas of content marketing, big data, social+mobile and a host of other forces have sounded an alarm for the entire public relations industry. Those in the agency business need to become the “agency of the future” today or risk becoming the “agency of the pasture.” Meanwhile, CMOs and CCOs report that this complexity demands agencies that are agile and can integrate an array of skills and expertise. Though we may forever need certain core competencies, we now need new ones. We need to reexamine our very DNA. Therefore, this year’s Critical Issues Forum is dedicated to “The PR Genome Project: Mapping Our Future.”

2. What excites you most about this year’s Forum?

We will kick off with two communications thinkers who will upset many notions about what we believe to be true when it comes to influence. Then we’ll delve into disruption by way of those living it and those who have transformed to survive it. And we’ll look into how the make-up and complexion of our audiences are rapidly evolving. We’ll have a cool demonstration of brain science brought to bear on communications with a real time look at reading audience reactions through facial encoding. Plus we’ll have a debate: Big Data vs. Big Intuition. Sure, Big Data is all the rage, but what if what you really need is Big Intuition? Then we’ll finish with some eye candy by looking at the new approaches to visual narrative.

3. Why is the topic on “Influencers” important in the context of this year’s conference?

For more than half a century, public relations has been built on the concept of finding, mapping and engaging influencers to amplify messages and persuade key audiences. But what if everything we have built our industry on has shifted? I don’t mean the cliché of shifting from figures of authority to the regular Joe-just-like-me. I mean, “What if influencers in social media are a myth?” These are very controversial findings.

4. What is it about Duncan Watts & Sinan Aral that makes their work so relevant to the Critical Issues Forum and the PR world as a whole?

Duncan Watts and Sinan Aral lead the world in research on communications vitality and social networks. They may shake us up a bit in our past beliefs as to what works in spreading communications. They also may debunk some phenomena we think is cause-and-effect when it may really be coincidental-birds-of-a-feather just flocking together. Their research delves into many specific cases and seeks to answer the question of what goes viral and why.

5. What are the biggest takeaways you would like to see people have after attending this year’s Critical Issues Forum?

Just as we rocked the house last year with “Content Frenzy!” — this year we will be the real ice bucket challenge that challenges what you think public relations will evolve into.

About Christopher Graves

Chris Graves is the Global Chairman of Ogilvy Public Relations and has more than 23 years of business news experience, including 18 years with Dow Jones, The Wall Street Journal and CNBC. Graves serves on the board of the Council of Public Relations Firms and is a trustee of the Institute for Public Relations. Learn more about Chris here.

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