October 28, 2019

Top 5 Lessons from #PRSAICON

by Megha Pai in News

by Julianne Muszynski, associate vice president, and Bre Zboran, senior account executive

We traveled to sunny San Diego last week for the PRSA International Conference. While there, we listened to thought-provoking keynotes, attended specialized breakout sessions and workshops, connected with communications pros and, of course, ate delicious tacos.

Julianne and Bre at #PRSAICON

Here are the top five messages we took away from the conference:

1. We’re living in the disinformation age, but can overcome it through storytelling, diplomacy and truth.

Today, it can be hard to discern the truth from false information, especially given the volume and speed at which news is shared through digital and social media. Frank X. Shaw, corporate vice president of communication at Microsoft, talked about the current communications age—the “disinformation age.” As communicators, we can help our clients build a symbiotic relationship with the media and thrive through:

  • Storytelling. Create simple yet strong stories that can’t be unraveled while keeping in mind who is reading them and how.
  • Diplomacy. Bring people together, understand deception and be honest.
  • Truth. “Trust is a common thread that runs through all of this,” said Shaw. According to him, truth is our biggest shield in this age. We must be authentic and cannot be misleading.

2. Finding a sponsor at work is important, especially for women.

Women dominate the PR profession, but we’re underrepresented in leadership positions. A panel featuring Sheryl Battles, vice president, global diversity, inclusion and engagement at Pitney Bowes; Rosanna Fiske, senior vice president, corporate communications at Wells Fargo & Co.; and Marlene Neill, associate professor at Baylor University, shared their personal stories to help women navigate the challenges we face in the workplace.

We need to advocate for ourselves, but we can’t do it alone. The most important conversations about our careers happen in rooms we are not in, and we need someone advocating for us behind closed doors. This is where a sponsor/advocate comes in, and it’s different than having a mentor. Sponsors help their proteges by advocating for them to get the next promotion, raise or big project. And if we can be a sponsor for someone else and help them take the next step in their career, we’re helping all women. 

3. Find little ways to make work-life balance a priority.

Work-life balance isn’t one size fits all. It can mean different things to different people, especially at various stages of life. A cross-generational panel shared perspectives from a Baby Boomer, Gen Xer and Xennial (if you’re not familiar, a Xennial is a micro-generation of people born in the late 1970s to early 1980s) that PR pros of all ages can learn from.

  • Make one change and do it consistently. Jennie Whitaker, co-founder of Seedling Communications, gets up earlier every day so that she can cross tasks off her to-do list before the rest of her family is up and her day officially starts.
  • Divide time into buckets. Jamie Meredith, CEO of The Meredith Group, Inc., segments her day into blocks for work time, exercise time, family time, personal time, etc.
  • Outsource where you can. Jamie also recommends taking advantage of grocery delivery services like Instacart (it even tells you how much cumulative time you save), hiring a babysitter or house cleaning service, or using Amazon Prime for some of your shopping.
  • Attitude of gratitude. Every night, Jennifer Heinly, president of J&J Consulting, writes down three things she’s thankful for that day.

4. Clear the way for true creative thinking during brainstorming sessions and beyond.

Kate Synder, APR of Piper & Gold, led a fantastic session on brainstorming and shared different techniques to add creativity into PR. Our key takeaways included:

  • Build systems that foster creativity. This includes scheduling creative time, and Kate shared details about the weekly one-hour coffee chat they have at Piper & Gold. Anyone can claim the hour for something they need creativity on. They must come with a creative activity for the group.
  • Make people believe they are creative. Embrace a yes mentality, and don’t say no when brainstorming. There’s a time for brainstorming vs. planning. If you turn the brainstorm into a planning session, you’ll kill the creative ideas.
  • Say thank you. Use behavioral feedback to say thank you and reinforce positive creative behaviors. Behavioral feedback includes a description of the behavior, a description of the benefit and the impact of that. As Kate said, gratitude is a powerful way to set the positive tone needed for creativity.

5. When faced with a crisis, be authentic, honest and resilient.

From hate crimes to natural disasters, four leaders from around the world faced unimaginable tragedies in their communities and shared the qualities that helped them weather a crisis.  

  • Fiona Cassidy, APR, chair of the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand, discussed the importance of being kind and authentic.
  • According to Raquel del Carmen Rivera Torres, APR, director of the Association of Public Relations Professionals of Puerto Rico, communications professionals should put people first and build a mutually beneficial community.
  • Honesty is also vital. Steve Vaus, mayor of Poway, California, said, “You can’t control when hate crosses your threshold, but you can control how you respond to it.” He recommended acknowledging the situation for what it is.
  • Lastly, Matt Plotkin, executive director of Camp Fire Long Term Recovery Group, emphasized the importance of finding resiliency and sustainability to persevere through challenging times.

Check out the hashtag #PRSAICON for more key insights from the conference.