Glam, Flash, Color and Twitter Pros and Cons at PRSA’s 2012 International Conference

Saturday, before the official start of the PRSA International Conference, I happened upon 2012 Chair and CEO Gerry Corbett while surveying the scene at San Francisco’s Marriott Marquis where the Conference is being held. Gerry, always cordial, was happy to give me some preliminary comments about what he hopes will come out of the conference. Gerry is especially happy that this year there are no glaring controversies that would be distracting.

Gerry wants to grow the near 22,000-member organization (plus 10,000 student members) and believes there’s plenty of room for that. He said that from his studies and calculations, there are more than 1 million people at work in communications jobs ­— and nearly all are hoping for more of a voice in their organization, or client organization. Gerry also wants to reinforce our seat at the table, pointing to the Penn State situation as an institution that would have benefited greatly if PR had been in the loop early on.

With the Conference theme of “The Future Starts Now,” he said that PR must be charged with managing technology and new media communications to maintain true advocacy in a world where the media is no longer the sole arbiter of news and influence. While other marketing disciplines covet control of new media, they do not understand or have the skill set to determine and convey messaging or how to build relationships and trust, he believes. I couldn’t agree more. He said the advent of social media represents growth, change and opportunity for PR pros, and we must grab it while we can.

He went on to say that where we don’t have a seat at the table, we must build a strong tight network in our organizations so that we get early intelligence to engage in true advocacy.

Approximately 3,000 are registered for the conference.

Sunday’s mid-day kickoff was high energy with San Francisco singer Vernon Bush and his musical group. The Conference is in the heart of innovation here and PRSA rose to the occasion with music, color and flash, all in a large room with several remote screens assisting in making the small figures on stage visible to the large, expectant crowd. Among attendees, there was plenty to see, with some in he diverse international crowd wearing native garb from their homelands and with some of the younger, attractive PR pros strutting their stuff.

During the intro, Gerry reported on PRSA’s new initiatives, including advocacy for MBA Reputation Management programs to provide tools and strategies that would better allow business to manage conversations about their brands. Ethics initiatives were emphasized, and awards were bestowed on IBM’s Jon Iwata (PR Pro of the Year) and Brazilian Paulo Nassar (Lifetime Achievement in International PR).

Keynote speaker, Twitter Co-Founder Biz Stone was an entertaining treat for me, personally, but the sentiment wasn’t necessarily unanimous as I learned in interactions with other longtime Public Relations practitioners, including some I’ve known and respected for many years. More on that in a minute.

Biz talked a lot about himself, but I took the anecdotal stories he told as an effective means to convey valuable lessons. To wit, and I paraphrase:

  • As an entrepreneur, be willing to fail spectacularly if you want to succeed spectacularly.
  • Opportunity can be manufactured.
  • Creativity is a renewable resource.
  • Consumers will support a brand if it does something meaningful in the world and/or allows the consumer to do something meaningful.
  • Success in life should be defined in terms of finance, meaning and joy.
  • The term “social media” will soon go away as it becomes standard in the way we communicate.
  • People will always find a way to express themselves, including in China and other speech-restrictive societies.
  • Invest early in a company’s culture and reputation.

All music to my ears.

But, as I said, not everyone was as happy with Biz’s’ presentation or what is perceived as the often shallowness of tweets. Comments about the presentation being too much “My Life” were heard as were comments about those using Twitter who are overly fascinated by the mundane things they may be doing at any given moment. Theirs is definitely a segment of communicators who do not necessarily believe that Twitter is adding much to civilization. “Where’s the message in all this ‘conversation’ ” is what I heard from some.

Three seminars I attended were all decent, including Jim Lukaszewski’s discussion on The Strategic Advisor in Action During Crisis. In truth, as a crisis consultant myself, I had some significantly differing points of view, but I did not share these with our group. It was Jim’s show, after all, and I perceived that his area is more focused on crisis management while my own focus is crisis communications. Additionally, I respect what Jim has accomplished in his many years in the business as well as his bank of knowledge on the crisis topic.

The discussion by Daniel Tisch and John Paluszek on the Global Challenge and Opportunity of Reputation Management included insights about what corporate leaders are thinking. Tisch and Paluszek believe the future of marketing is philanthropy and solid corporate citizenship and that the pillars of Reputation Management are character, responsibility and listening.

In the presentation by global digital strategist Dallas Lawrence on Crisis Advocacy and Reputation Management in the Digital Age, the point was made that you can’t (or shouldn’t) drop a communication on Twitter and walk away thinking you did your job. “You’ve got to continue fighting for the eyeballs,” said Lawrence, and he provided tips on what kind of thinking and guidelines should go into a detailed and specific digital crisis plan, detail that is more often than not lacking in most plans I have reviewed.

I sat next to senior practitioner Tom Gable, a highly respected pro from San Diego, and he liked Lawrence’s brief discussion on Twitter as an early warning system. He also appreciated Lawrence’s emphasis on closely monitoring the organization’s protagonist and antagonists alike.

“When Will Consumers Pay to be Good?” is the theme of one of the keynotes in Monday’s session, based on a study by the speaker, June Cotte, Ph.D. I am assuming the answer is now or soon, but I am looking forward to finding out just how much reward that would mean for my own agency’s clients.

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