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Tech PR specialist Vanja Lakic spoke with her Cogcast co-host Larissa Padden about what she’s expecting to see at this year’s Collision conference, one of the biggest tech events in the world, Vanja talks about the opportunities for firms looking to make a splash, differences between the US and Canadian media landscapes and what you need to know about pitching Canadian journalists. Listen to Vanja’s take in the latest episode of Cogcast. 


Transcript for podcast

Larissa Padden  00:06

Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of Cogcast Cognito's podcast where we talk to journalists and media pros on the latest happenings in journalism and PR. I'm the Larissa Padden your host today for a special episode, here with my media pro colleague and Cogcast co-host, Vanja Lakic. Vanja will be representing Cognito and supporting our clients at the upcoming Collision Conference in Toronto, and is here today to give us more detail on who will be in attendance, what topics will be a focus this year and how she is advising our clients in the run up to the event. Hi, Vanya, how are you?


Vanja Lakic  00:49

Hi, Larissa. It's so good to be with you and I have to say a little bit strange.


Larissa Padden  00:55

Being on that side of the mic?


Vanja Lakic  00:56



Larissa Padden  00:57

Well, I am going to interview you for a change. But hopefully you can give us some good insights into this event you're going to?


Vanja Lakic  01:02

Absolutely I would love to.


Larissa Padden  01:04

So tell us a little bit about this conference that you're going to- you're going to be attending collision, can you give us a little idea about what it is and what we can expect to hear from this year?


Vanja Lakic  01:14

Collision is one of the biggest tech conferences in the world. It's run by the same people who organize the Annual Web Summit Conference, which is another big tech conference. Collision runs out of Toronto and has since 2019. This year, we're expecting that over 40,000 people will attend from over 100 countries, and that's including over 1,000 journalists. 1,000+ investors will also be there. Politico has dubbed this event the "Olympics of Tech". So you can kind of imagine what that means. There will be a variety of different tech companies at the event, from startups to scale ups to well-known tech brands, and they're all there at varying points in their tech journey. They have different capabilities. They're all coming together in four days of a lot of networking. There's going to be a lot of topics that are going to be discussed, we're obviously at a very important tech moment, the rise of AI is creating lots of questions. It's touching on different industries. So we'll hear speakers talk about anything from copyrights and AI, to debates around proprietary versus open source AI models, you know, whether to build or buy AI models, how to scale and price AI models, you know, sustainability questions and ethics around emerging tech, the role of emerging tech in different industries like financial services and education. So you get the sense there's, the topics are predominantly focused on Gen AI, given that it's such a big part of the conversation right now. But, you know, there will be other topics within the bigger realm of tech, like what the future of work looks like.


Larissa Padden  03:00

Wow, yeah, gosh, I didn't even think yet with this year and all the hype around AI, it sounds like it's going to be bigger than ever. And there's lots of opportunities, but can you give us an idea of how companies can get involved and then if you can, specifically how you're advising your clients?


Vanja Lakic  03:15

Absolutely. So there are a variety of ways that companies can get involved and obviously, we're almost, you know, a week or actually past a week out the conference. So a lot of these deadlines have already passed. But the opportunities that exist, like one way you can participate is to run exhibition space, which is what many up-and-coming tech brands are doing because they want to gain more visibility within the tech ecosystem. Another way is to become a sponsor, you can apply to speak, which can happen in a variety of different formats, like panels, fireside chats, round tables, you can do something slightly more offbeat, like do masterclasses. There's going to be a lot of founders there as well. So they're going to be pitching to a panel of investor judges. So lots of ways to get involved. And you know, what we're advising our clients is to think about this a couple months in advance, see what makes the most sense. I think that on the journalism front, a lot of our clients are going to find it really helpful to be surrounded by many different types of journalists. There will be you know, mainstream reporters there. There's going to be tech publications. They're predominantly based in Canada in the US these reporters but also some from all over the world. It's going to be a high caliber journalists attending both from you know, as I said, mainstreams and tech, some podcasts host some are newsletter aggregators. Some will be live streaming or live blogging from the event. There'll be lots of broadcasters and videographers. Some freelancers in attendance, of course, it's really going to be a great chance to get in front of the media through a variety of different channels. As well as, of course, those opportunities that I talked about earlier to speak and sponsor and have space on the exhibition floor. Some of the big media outlets will be there, like Bloomberg, Forbes, Politico, Financial Times, but also, some of the newer media platforms like Semafor, the tech editor at LinkedIn will be there. So lots of traditional outlets, but then also some other alternative platforms to think about.


Larissa Padden  05:34

We know better than anybody that media and opportunities to build those relationships are a huge component of any conference. And you know, it sounds like there's gonna be a lot of people there. But how are you advising that people get in touch ahead of time, obviously, some of the meetings will happen as they form new connections when they're there. But how can you kind of go about scheduling before you get there?


Vanja Lakic  05:52

Yeah, so I think it's about getting a hold of the attending media list and Collision can provide that. We advise our clients to start pitching about two and a half to three weeks in advance. If you have a great story, pitch, by all means pitch it to the right reporters, but also keep an open mind that these are intended to be networking and relationship building meetings. So even you know, asking a reporter you're interested to meet in for a coffee during one of the networking breaks or during after hours, when the day is over, is a way to kind of get in front of them, help with name and face recognition, it goes a long way afterward when you're pitching, and it helps you kind of stand out in their inbox of many other pitches. So yeah, I would say, you know, if you have a very specific pitch, go for it. But also kind of keep in mind that this is an opportunity to meet somebody in person, we tend to believe that or not believed, but we tend to, you know, think that reporters can be a little bit friendlier when you're meeting them in person than when you're emailing them sometimes. So if you're in front of their face, you know, a friendly, hello will probably not get ignored. But it's a chance to, you know, ask them about their beat and their work and what they're covering the next few weeks and how you can make their jobs easier by providing the right data and the right commentary.


Larissa Padden  07:25

And this is a particularly appropriate conference for you to attend, because you were both a reporter in the US and Canada previously. So can you tell us a little bit about the differences between the two, two media and then what it takes to get in front of the US versus Canadian media, for example.


Vanja Lakic  07:43

Look, Canada is a much smaller media market, it's got fewer resources, it's got tighter budgets, we're talking 40 million people is Canada's population compared to 300 million in the US. So naturally, you know, you have fewer outlets, fewer top tiers trade specialized media than in the US. Canada has about three to four major television networks, radio broadcasts, and traditional cable subscriptions are declining. And moving to online formats, kind of similar to really the US. Some of the more well-funded newsrooms like the CBC, which is federally funded, can hire more reporters and can hire more sort of beat reporters than some of the other Canadian outlets tend to have. So US PR people and companies tend to find it a little bit difficult sometimes to know who to pitch to at Canadian publications, because everybody is a general reporter. And the trick here is really to cast a little bit of a wider net when you're pitching to Canadian outlets, because you never really know like what reporters, you know, are in the newsroom who can cover it. But I think the same principles sort of apply. PR principles apply in Canada, as they do in the US. And that is, you know, you need to know the market, you need to do your research. Establishing relationships with reporters is really important keeping pitches nice and tight and pithy and short. No one has time to read paragraphs. Perhaps what the Canadian media shares with the US is, or another thing it shares is the many challenges you know, there's less advertising dollars available to fund the media business newsrooms are shrinking and consolidating, especially local newsrooms, they're either closing down altogether or they're getting sold to bigger outlets. AI is shaking up the news remodel, especially creating risks around misinformation and flooding out fact-based reporting. It's also diminishing referral traffic through new introductions like Google's AI summaries section, you know, something Canada has that the US does not, is the online News Act or Bill, C18, which came into effect last year and essentially requires big tech companies to pay media organizations if they want to put Canadian news content on their platforms. So this has turned into a bit of a controversial bill if you can imagine because social media platforms like Meta have responded by blocking Canadian news from their platforms, making it essentially impossible to get news out of Canada through social media channels. Canada has struck a deal with Google. So you know, Google still distributes Canadian news through its platform and pays Canada for it, Canadian pubs for it. But you can kind of see how, you know, diminishing referral traffic, which is an issue here in the US as well, plus Canada's online News Act, which is now creating less sort of distribution of Canadian news through social media or not none at all, is, you know, creating similar issues on both sides of the border and yet similar PR principles also apply.


Larissa Padden  11:05

Well, I'm sure there's some people out there that will think I'm crazy when I say it sounds like it's gonna be a great time. But it sounds like it's gonna be a great time. But before we part ways, can you tell us something that you're really hoping to see, and you're excited about?


Vanja Lakic  11:18

Yeah, I'm very excited to meet a lot of fascinating people, including journalists and leaders of tech companies, there's going to be plenty of networking opportunities available through breaks and through after-event stuff. And as I said, before, we're in such an interesting time of the tech emerging tech AI conversation. So it's going to be so fascinating to hear from different experts about some of the, you know, divisive topics at the moment, like whether regulations should take shape in the US and when and how, given that in other parts of the world, that's kind of already happening, you know, content deals, we've seen some publishers go the route of signing content deals with big tech companies, while others are suing. And, you know, there'll be experts there who are gonna argue both ways and give us a better sense of like, where that's heading, you know, other topics as well, like how we pay for AI and what that means for the environment are going to be fascinating. So definitely all the people all the networking, all the topics and sessions that are going to be discussed. And finally, I would also say I'm very excited to see what kind of creative marketing design companies are going to come up with what social media activity they're going to do, what their you know, X posts are gonna look like compared to their LinkedIn posts and what the giveaways and the gimmicks are, because who doesn't like a good giveaway? And actually Larissa you told me to bring back giveaways for Cognito because those then get used as some prizes, so I will be sure to oblige.


Larissa Padden  13:03

I like to force conference gear on to our co- workers. Yes. I want to see Elia wearing the socks one day.


Vanja Lakic  13:08

Hey, pick the right person to do that.


Larissa Padden  13:11

Right. Well, it all sounds fascinating and thank you again for taking the time to share with us and I hope when you come back, you'll have some really great insights that you're willing to share with us too.


Vanja Lakic  13:19

Absolutely. Thank you so much, Larissa.