Report From 2010 PRSSA National Conference

Washington D.C. — Home of Obama, district of political ideas and tired faces, consistently ranking as one of the most dangerous cities to live in (for crime or state of mind…?) and the city of choice for this year’s Public Relations Student Society of America’s National Conference!

This year I had the pleasure of attending PRSSANC and needless to say it was quite the experience. Can you imagine how excited I was to step into the Marriott Woodely Park Hotel and see hundreds of public relations nerds like myself, running around introducing themselves? The five days I spent at PRSSANC seem like a blur of career advice, business cards, laughs, expensive food, and potential senator husbands. Now that I am back in Chicago, I can finally let all the knowledge and advice from the experts and my peers sink in. Here are some of the main takeaways and reflections that I received from the conference.

Reinvent yourself.

An overall theme that was ingrained in my head by the end of the conference was that to do well in this industry you need to stand out. PR students need to stop approaching public relations in the cookie-cutter way. It’s time to bust out into the industry and go for it. Jeffrey Hayzlett, author of The Mirror Test: Is Your Business Really Breathing? and former Chief Marketing Officer at Kodak, made it clear that we shouldn’t “be afraid to make mistakes; no one is going to die.” We are young and we are willing, so why not brand yourself now? Why not take that step forward today? Look for voids in the industry and create your own niche. Constantly reinvent yourself.

Thrive on a passion.

Jackie Mitchell, Director of Communications and Marketing of the Chicago Red Cross, tells me literally everyday that I am doomed for non-profit because I need to have some substance behind the hours and work I put in. This thought was clearly echoed at the National Conference by many of the speakers who all advocated that being great at public relations is not enough. Communications is just the foundation of being a great PR practitioner; the question is now what can you bring to the table that is different? Take your PR skills and then take your passion in life and marry the two. However, don’t think that your passions can ultimately drive success. Hayzlett asked the audience during his presentation “why are you in the game?” He warned audience members that “passion is not a substitute for planning.” Like any marriage, the one between your career skills and your passion will be a rocky road, but when you find the sweet spot, everything will fall into place.

Have a strategy to create a relationship.

With social media being an obvious hot topic everywhere you look, many development sessions were geared towards strategy and how to be effective when dealing with the digital space. Brandi Boatner, External Relations Professional at IBM, told students “it’s not about ROI, it’s about the IOR, impact of the relationship.” While everyone agreed that social media is about building that relationship with the consumer, the concept of strategy varied. Alan Kelly, CEO of Playmaker Systems, has developed a sort of Periodic Table for social media strategy called the “Playmaker’s Table of Influence Strategies” that categorizes digital marketing in three separate columns: Assess, Condition, Engage. Listening to Kelly speak about one set framework to social media strategy was intriguing but I am not sure I completely agree. On the other hand, Charlene Li, co-author of “Groundswell,” spoke about losing control to gain the relationship over the social media space. In my opinion, social media strategy is not something that can be narrowed down and categorized; every company is going to play a different game to form that relationship between the brand and the customer.

Be the future and be effective.

I was told on several occasions throughout the development sessions that public relation professionals are going to be the next CEO’s. The future is in our hands whether we like it or not so we need to take advantage of our resources. Richard Levick, CEO of Levick Strategic Communications, told students that we should “first seek to understand, then to be understood.” Levick urged students to develop and maintain an abundance mentality and to believe that there is a win-win solution, even in a crisis situation. Michael Herman, CEO of Communications Sciences International, advised that students “know when to shut up” and to “value people and use things, not the opposite.” Students need to realize that being in public relations means being a change agent. We have the ability to change the way the game is played; we have the ability to utilize the massive turning point in this industry and find a way to empower people and ideas.

After leaving PRSSANC, I can assure you, the future of the public relations industry is in good hands. The peers that I met have everything: the skills, the strategy, the mindset, the drive, the passion, the heart. Are you ready for us?

I leave you with a bit of advice from Jim Margolis, Obama’s main media man:

“I still have hope, I hope you do too. Let’s go change the world.”

Lauren Snyder is a sophomore at DePaul University in Chicago with a major in Public Relations. She currently is the Communications and Marketing intern for the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago where she is working to advance digital efforts and promote the Holiday campaign. She is graduating college a year early to jump into the industry and move to New York City to completely destroy any evidence of her former “Maryland farm girl” background. Connect with her on her blogTwitter or email.

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