A commentary from FGCU student Breanna Rigg, whom the Gulf Coast Chapter of PRSA sponsored.
Waking up at 5 a.m. was not my idea of a fun way to start a Friday morning, but it was worth it when the PRSSA National Conference was only a few hours away. Located in beautiful Indianapolis, a city I had never been to, the conference boasted top PR professionals from some of the best companies in the world. I was thrilled to be attending and to surround myself with inspirational and motivational individuals for the next three days.
Day 1: Saturday, Oct. 22
After the national PRSSA board of directors welcomed us and presented chapter awards, it was time for the keynote address from Allison Melangton of Hulman Motorsports Corporation. Melangton was not only an outstanding speaker, but we learned so much about the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis and how it is not just about sports, but it is about making an impact in the community. Best of all, Melangton was only the second woman to run the Super Bowl, and did so in a way that engaged the community more successfully than football ever could.
“Sporting events are great, but what happens around them is more important.” –Allison Melangton
After the fantastic keynote address, we moved onto crisis communication with Myra Borshoff, APR and fellow PRSA from Borshoff and Jen Dial, from Eli Lilly and Company. From this, we learned about many large scale crises that these professionals have dealt with in the past, including the Indiana State Fair stage collapse in 2011. Takeaways included the importance of being transparent, avoiding the phrase “no comment,” and staying calm. We also learned about the thee A’s of crisis management: acknowledge, apologize and action.
From there, we moved to a session about storytelling with Lindsey Groepper from BLASTmedia and Sabrina List from 500 Festival, Inc. The first and foremost thing that we learned is that press releases are actually used too frequently, and that PR doesn’t equal press releases. Both speakers emphasized the necessity to only write a press release when there’s a story to tell. We also learned about media pitching, and how important it is to personalize each pitch.
“The way you pitch to GQ is different from how you pitch to TechCrunch is different from how you pitch to Buzzfeed.” –Lindsey Groepper
The highlight of the day was hearing from Warner Bros. Television Publicity. Almost 30 minutes before the session began, the line outside the door looked like a line for a new roller coaster at Disney! PRSSA volunteers actually had to turn away attendees because of the large audience. We heard from Jeff Tobler, Lisa Mitchell and Brian Carrillo about the numerous exciting aspects of their jobs in publicity. All three get to travel a lot and manage specific aspects of publicity for a few different shows from Warner Bros., due to 11 publicity field offices all over the world and every show being launched globally! Though I am not personally interested in pursuing a career in entertainment PR, it was very exciting to see how that particular industry works. And, most exciting, the Warner Bros. team gave us free cupcakes afterwards!
This morning’s keynote address was Meet the Living Legends of PR, sponsored by The Plank Center. We got to hear from Bridget Coffing of Emeritus McDonalds Corporation and Mike Fernandez of Burson-Marsteller, with Brian Price of Starwood Retail Partners moderating. The extensive careers of both these professionals was incredible to hear about, particularly about branding and how no two companies are alike. Additionally, we learned about mentor/mentee relationships and how to make the most of both being a mentor and a mentee. Takeaways included having thick skin and having knowledge of data analytics.
“Every time you go into a McDonald’s restaurant, you enter a brand.” –Bridget Coffing
Hands down, my favorite session of the conference was “The Courage to Be Authentic” from David Grossman of The Grossman Group. During this workshop, we were asked the question “Who are you? What do you value? How do you find a job or passion that’s important to you?” We learned that authenticity is about being truthful with yourself and others, in a kind and respectful way, and that respectfully authentic leaders know that relationships are about everyone except themselves. In order to be fully authentic, you need to bring curiosity, the idea of accepting who you are and the focus of what you can control to the table. Not only did David Grossman tell us the story of his life and how authenticity has made him who he is today, but he did so in a beautifully articulate manner, and gave the room free copies of his book “No Cape Needed.”
Following the session on authenticity, we moved into another one of my favorite sessions from the conference: the PRSA General Session. We first heard from Dr. Derreck Kayongo, CEO of the Center for Civil and Human Rights and co-founder of the Global Soap Project. Not only did I love hearing about social responsibility and corporate philanthropy, but Dr. Kayongo was a hilarious and inspiring speaker. We learned about the Global Soap Project and how important it is to instill charity into your company and in your life, and he shared his personal acronym for success: SELF, which stands for service, education, leadership and faith. After this, we learned from astronaut Scott Kelly about his year in space. Kelly taught us that you have to take risks and be willing to fail to see if you can achieve something. He also told us that President Obama challenged him to Instagram his year in space, which allowed him to use social media to engage the public through his journey.
We finished the day with the “Where Are They Now?” session hosted by the New Professionals Section. We heard from Nick Lucido of Krispr Communications, Heather Harder of Prosek Partners, Brian Price of Starwood Retail Partners with Jessica Noonan of Weber Shandwick as moderator. In this session, we learned a great deal about how to go about our future job search. Most importantly, we learned to utilize not only your own network, but your network’s network, as well as teaching yourself the things you don’t know. Hearing from such a motivated and successful group of young professionals was so inspiring, and I hope to be in their shoes in a few years myself.
We started off the day with the PRSA professionals, joining them for their general session featuring Theresa Payton of Fortalice Solutions and Mark Emmert of the NCAA. Payton was the former chief intelligence officer for the White House under George W. Bush’s administration, and shared with us a wealth of knowledge regarding cybersecurity and technology. Although some of the information was a little over our heads, we learned so much about how quickly the industry and our technology changes. After, we heard from Mark Emmert on the multitude of facets that the NCAA is involved in, other than simply basketball. With 19K teams, 475K student-athletes, 1100 colleges involved in the network, it is an underestimate to say that the NCAA is a large industry. We learned that college sports create a sense of community, brand recognition, and allow schools to reach out to alumni around the world. Emmert stated that the NCAA is in the “human development field,” not the sports industry, due to all the extensive community work that they do.
To end the day and the conference, we got to mingle and network at the career development exhibition, get free headshots and have a PR pro critique our resumes. I got to talk to representatives from Edelman, Burson-Marsteller, Weber-Shandwick, and many more companies featured at the fair, which was an amazing opportunity.
Altogether, my LinkedIn connections grew, my knowledge base expanded, and my motivation increased after this amazing conference experience. I was so lucky to have the opportunity to attend, courtesy of the Gulf Coast Chapter of PRSA, and learned more than I could have ever imagined.