2009 PRSSA National Conference – San Diego, California

Last weekend, I had the honor of traveling to San Diego for the 2009 PRSSA National Conference.  It was my first year, and I had pretty high expectations.  I had seen the National Conference committee tweet and send out Facebook messages promoting the speakers and how many PRSSA members would be attending.  My excitement was overwhelming as I counted down the days to my trip across country.

The second we stepped onto the hotel property, we were immediately greeted by the National Committee and other PRSSA members.  It was truly thrilling to immediately learn about other PRSSA chapters and the opportunities they offer.

The following morning, we had the opportunity to see San Diego.  But I couldn’t wait until I was back at the hotel to attend the first breakout sessions of the conference.  That first day we attend chapter development sessions hosted by The University of Texas at Austin, Indiana State, Roger Williams University, and University at Wisconsin-Madison.  University of Texas at Austin proved to be my favorite as they discussed a thematic approach to chapters.  I was so impressed by the way they retain so many of their members and truly reach out to PR professionals in Austin.  They have a Mentorship Program partnering PR professionals with PRSSA members, and I really hope to implement that at our chapter at BU.  Their professionalism, charisma, and the hard work demonstrated by their executive board was clear and inspiring.  Indiana State spoke about their experience with e-portfolios and provided anecdotes about how it personally has helped their PR careers.  Roger Williams University spoke about their annual Gala and the importance of particular event planning skills.  University at Wisconsin-Madison gave tips on promoting professionalism whether when networking or applying for internships.

After that, I attended a workshop for Chapter Presidents led by the President of the OC PRSA.  This workshop was an outstanding opportunity to hear about the strengths and struggles of other chapters.  I talked to presidents from across the country and learned about how they deal with being the leader of such a prestigious organization.

That night, an event to meet other chapters was held in the hotel.  Everyone wore either their school colors or PRSSA shirts.  I found it hilarious to read some of the shirts that people had for their chapters, such as “Hello public, let’s relate.”  It was a great opportunity to once again meet people from different chapters and hear about what makes their chapters unique and promote our Regional Activity event.

The next day was the official start of the conference.  Mona Pasquil, a former public affairs director under Bill Clinton, was the keynote speaker.  She gave an inspiring addressing about how to be prepared while under pressure and truly have confidence in yourself.  The next activity was a brunch for Chapter Presidents, which gave me a chance to learn about other chapters once again.  The breakout sessions throughout the rest of the day were given my professionals.  I attended a session about media relations with Joseph V. Trahan, III, President & CEO of Trahan & Associates.  He was absolutely incredible.  He was so engaging and had such useful advice.  He spoke about preparation before dealing with the media, how to prepare your clients, how to figure out the information, and how to get the attention of journalists.  He told stories about himself in these situations, and stressed the importance to tell the truth, even if it means losing your job.

Next, I attended a session about how young talent can stand out given by Ron Culp, Partner and Corporate Director of Ketchum, and Kevin Saghy, an Account Executive at Ketchum.  They spoke about the different perspective of how interns and entry-level employees can advance themselves.  Ron Culp gave the senior management perspective, and Kevin Saghy gave the entry-level perspective.  They spoke with employees at many PR agencies to get their opinions as well.  It was eye opening to hear the differences in opinions.

Finally, I head Sheri Oppenheimer, the Communications Manager at Campbell’s Soup talk about her experiences.  She was at the company during a time of change and saw it transition from a company with bad employee relations to one of the best in its industry.  It was interesting to hear her talk about specific employee relations techniques, as my internship this past summer consisted of working with internal relations.

The next day, I started off my day by leading a breakout session about the Regional Activity with Jenna Huskinson, the VP of Regional Activity on the National Committee.  It was such an honor to speak about my experiences the past 2 years on this event because the Regional Activity attracted me to PRSSA in the first place.  I had a wonderful time, and it made me even more excited to be a co-coordinator for the event.  Additionally, we met with the other coordinators after this workshop and discussed our ideas for our events.

After, we were lucky enough to attend the PRSA Conference and hear Arianna Huffington speak.  Not only did we hear her advice on engaging the public and proper etiquette when dealing with the media, but we saw her interview Wendell Potter about his stand against health care.  After, we were able to stay at the PRSA Conference for a bit and talk to companies who provide services to PR organizations, such as Cision and Vocus.  I had questions about both programs that were promptly answered.

When we arrived back at our conference, we attended more breakout sessions.  First, we went to a session on Corporate vs. Agency given by Rana Kay, the PR Manager at the Hard Rock Café, and Tim Wheatcroft, General Manager of Allison & Partners.  They discussed differences between the two work styles and even pointed out many misconceptions, such as corporate employees make A LOT more than agency employees (it is actually only 85% of what agencies make).

The last session of the day was about Investor Relations and Ethics and discussed the PRSA Code of Ethics.  David Silver of Silver Public Relations, Deborah A. Silverman, Assistant Professor of Communication at Buffalo State College, and Jonathan R. Slater, Professor at State University of New York at Plattsburgh led the discussion and even a case study at the end.

On our final day, we went to the PRSA Conference again to hear their next keynote speaker, Todd Buccholz speak.  He was by far my favorite speaker of the conference.  He spoke about the economy, clearly a hard topic to keep listeners engaged, but he did a fantastic job of keeping everyone intrigued and fascinated.  I cannot even express how much he inspired me, and I plan to read his books over my winter break.  FABULOUS!

The next session was led by Dennis John Gaschen, Professor at California State University, Fullerton and Bey-Ling Sha, Ph.D., Associate Professor at San Diego State University.  They were such a good pair together!  They spoke about being accredited in PR (aka getting your APR) and gave advice on graduate school, internships, and key tips to keep in mind while being more involved in the field.

The final session was on interviewing, resumes, and networking led by Walter R. Bateman II, Retired CEO of The Harleysville Group and Natalie Neczypor, Marketing Executive at Ernst & Young LLP.  They gave SUCH valuable advice about how to tailor your resume, network, research a company, questions to ask in an interview, and steps to follow up an interview.

We ended our stay at San Diego by attending the Awards Ceremony.  Our own graduate student from Boston University won the highest ethics award given out to PR students.

My time at this conference was nothing short of spectacular.  I heard fantastic speakers and was able to have incredible discussions about their workshops with other PRSSA students afterwards.  I networked with PRSA professionals and PRSSA students.  I learned more about the industry than I could have ever hoped.  I learned how to develop our chapter at Boston University.  I gained tips to benefit my career in the future and learned how to stand out in this competitive environment.  I discussed other chapters’ opportunities, including Regional Activities, speakers, meeting agendas, retaining members, and being a leader.  The four days I spent in San Diego changed my perspective on PR, increased my enthusiasm of PR, and benefited my future.

For more information on specific workshops, go towww.youtube.com/buprssa to see members of Boston University’s PRSSA e-board speak about everything they learned.

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