888 words from Eurocomm 2008


BARCELONA — After a lovely walk around the marina and Barceloneta area, some Sauvignon Blanc accompanying a remarkable black lobster paella, I drifted back to the Catalonia Suites Hotel for a hot bath to reflect on the past two days.

A 1960s Dean Martin movie, one of the Matt Helm series I adored as a child, plays on the tv of the Catalonia Suites Hotel. I can’t shake the feeling that it’s been somehow strangely improved as an overall experience with the Spanish overdubbing. On screen, a group of waiters standing in the parking lot salute Dino/Helm, who has acquired the Hotel’s bell captain’s uniform, as he rides by on his newly acquired motorcycle.

The waiters’ trousers are around their ankles as Dean slaloms through them with a twinkle in his eye and that trademark smirk. I’m not sure what led to this, but for some reason it’s the only possible image for this particular moment of my life.

A good conference. My personal highlights were Suzanne Salvo’s (Salvo Photography) session on the ethics of photo manipulation and Ramon Olle Jr.’s presentation on the new face of consumer branding. And, of course, the ample and various networking opportunities that the conference schedule so insightfully provided – plenty of time between sessions rather than a quick cuppa and off to the next session. It’s the space in-between that glues these things together so well.

Personally, I enjoyed presenting my session, chillingly entitled “Are you communicating with a fictitious construct?”

Although it was a late addition to the conference’s lineup as I was asked to cover a speaker who had to drop out, I had had some time to think through the issue of audience segmentation and the accompanying pitfalls and opportunities it entails. Having some 20 people show up, when I was expecting to present to the translator, the audio technician and a tumbleweed (given Michael Spencer’s presentation was next door), was a nice surprise.

I was gratified that most of the participants got into the spirit of the thing and didn’t take me too literally. It was really about presenting one or two case studies that I felt explored some interesting audience-related communication challenges facing two of the world’s leading organisations. An opportune question at the end of the session allowed me to steer it right back to where we started off: the rhetorical premise that an audience is a construct of the communicator suiting their communication objective. This holds some intriguing possibilities.

Perhaps not your typical conference presentation, then.

I was really gratified by the feedback – some of which is paraphrased below. (If I have got anything too far wrong, please let me know and I can make amends). I was pleasantly caught quite off guard when the work SAS did for KPMG resulted in spontaneous applause. Some paraphrased examples of the nice comments passed on to me:

  • Russell Grossman (Director of Communications, Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform) – “We are all different people from moment to moment. The whole concept that your communication can be designed to ‘create’ an audience and engage it in a given context that you create has some intriguing implications and possibilities.”
  • Yang-May at ZenGuide – “Great case study and presentation — it made me want to go work for KPMG.”
  • Mike Klein (commsoffensive) – “Brilliant presentation. Actually made me (almost) want to work in an agency again.”
  • Gloria Walker, ABC (consultant and former chair of the IABC Research Foundation) – “The ideas were so relevant to a specific client situation I’m dealing with that I couldn’t write fast enough. Helped me think through some new ways of engaging communication communities.”
  • Indranath ‘Indy’ Neogy (enoptron) – “Completely applicable in a world of vanishing internal-external boundaries and the media fragmentation; audiences are not static and definable, but are constantly moving and shifting.” 
  • Kristian Ruby, Danish Ministry for the Environment – “Excellent, inspiring and interesting presentation.”
  • Sira Coll i Capella, Press Office Manager, Parc LaSalle Innovation (LaSalle) — “Can I use your presentation to add to our curriculum? Very innovative, useful, inspiring modern practice.”
  • Marc Wright (Simply Communicate) – “I would have expected nothing less from one of the new generation of 2.0 presenters and their diffident style.”
  • Julie Freeman, President, IABC – “It didn’t work for me at all. You said audiences didn’t exist, then showed some pictures of audiences, then showed some case studies demonstrating how you went on to segment audiences. And you shouldn’t have been so honest, telling the audience you put the presentation together that morning. You were too glib about the whole thing.”

(Irony can, alas, sometimes be lost on Americans, particularly when they rest in the arms of the gentle slumber of a Barcelona afternoon, peacefully jet lagged, through the lion’s share of one’s presentation. Clearly, not signed up to one of SAS‘s core values: Respectfully irreverent.)

Nonetheless, one must appreciate the sentiment, and if one were a betting man, he’d lay odds of 5-1 against seeing me presenting anything at an IABC International conference anytime soon.

So anyway … a very big thank you to La Salle University and its staff and students who were most gracious and accommodating hosts, to Silvia Cambie and her team for making the whole thing happen, and of course to the conference attendees who were the heart and soul of the whole endeavour. It was refreshing and inspiring to engage with such a fine group of people.

Well, Matt Helm is about to storm the villain’s hideout to capture the nefarious anti-gravity ray pistol, which the criminal mastermind has just used to unzip a young lady’s miniskirt.

A telling reminder to me that some things deserve far more attention than blogging.