PRSA Conference Wrap-Up: A Walk-Off Home Run — And Some Key Takeaways

It’s Day Three. Feels like many folks left early unless you’re judging by the still long lines at Starbucks in the Marriott Marquis Hotel where the Conference is being held. I know I’m certainly ready to get back to managing my agency and putting in some billable time.

But I am happy I’m here. I met and spoke with many wonderful dedicated PR professionals from all over, reconnected with peers I don’t’ see often, took the opportunity to record great tips that I’ll bring back to the office with me, heard invigorating speakers and presenters and not just the keynoters, and received great satisfaction that my home, San Francisco PRSA chapter did an outstanding job hosting this Conference. Outstanding, Gerry Corbett — and I know it wasn’t as easy as all of your team made it appear — never saw you sweat.

That said, I won’t be going to Philly (my original hometown) for next year’s soiree, but guess what…I’ll definitely send a couple of my staff for the great experience it will give them.

Power Personality Michael Steele

Whoa, Michael Steele took the Conference by storm this morning. At about 6’6″, with as large and affable a personality, he is an imposing and highly entertaining speaker, smooth and persuasive. His politics notwithstanding, I found myself wanting to smile and agree with everything he said…well, almost. I can’t figure out why the Republicans would have canned him…actually, on second thought, yes I can.

I am talking, of course, about our Keynote Speaker today, political analyst and former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, who provided a cogent, lively and personal viewpoint on the dynamics of the current political scene. I might even describe it as balanced in its descriptions of both candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. This, too, just hours before presidential debate number two and after Hilary took responsibility for the Libyan embassy mess. I had the feeling that Steele would sign up for the other side if it was Hilary that was running or “any Clinton,” he said half jokingly.

From a public relations standpoint, he weaved into his presentation the effective conveyance of messages and how, in any given situation, your star player can make that disappear in one fell swoop with a disappointing and counter-narrative performance.

Honors

Bey-Ling Sha, Ph.D. and Associate Professor at San Diego State University, became the youngest and first Asian American to win PRSA’s Outstanding Educator Award. Her acceptance was fire-y, enjoyably so, as she challenged the audience to have our actions speak louder than our words. “Show me you value education,” she demanded. “Be a mentor, offer legal (paid), internships, get accredited, vote yes on education initiatives at the ballot box, and elect candidates who truly value education. Take the actions necessary to enhance our profession, and we will be more respected in the boardroom.” Go, go, go Bey-Ling.

A couple of breakout sessions

Roy Reid, Jr. presented “Building a Culture of Trust” Tuesday morning. At first I was concerned that his whole session would be filled with nice platitudes, but Roy backed up his assertion that trust is cultivated, built or repaired by exemplifying trustworthiness, demonstrations of influence, being dependable and manifesting authenticity in our professional lives. Following are a few of his how-to’s for ourselves or our brands:

  • Show your integrity by doing the right thing when no one is looking
  • Be the “cooler” in your professional relationships; be the calming and reassuring influence
  • Be the one who always comes with the next idea
  • Respect everyone and all sides of the issue, and your voice will be heard
  • Demonstrate your reliability every single time
  • Be on time or early
  • Show high performance by being fully engaged and committed to planning, executing the plan and evaluating the plan
  • Provide value every single time
  • Make a physical or public commitment to your decisions
  • Confront the good, the bad and the ugly

Later, at the “National Incident Management System Are You Ready for a Crisis Seminar, Lauri-Ellen Smith and Joseph Trahan III, Ph.D. gave a Southern style, no-nonsense, barn burning presentation about getting information to the public in a disaster. Lauri is a special assistant to the Office of the Sheriff in Jacksonville, Fla., and Joe is a retired Army Lt. Colonel. Oh gosh, I think that’s right, because they’ll definitely come after me if I get any of this wrong. These guys take this very seriously, as they should, but I bet they’d be a total hoot at any party. And, if there’s really a fight, I want them on my side.

Can you tell I was charmed by both of them? I found myself wanting to shout out Ooh-Rah (I know, Joe, that’s more for Marines) every time they made a point or explained all the acronyms they took for granted. (What’s a JIC people? Joint Information Center – didn’t your mother teach you anything?) But what they said spoke entirely to their competence in providing “maximum disclosure with minimum delay in getting out information people need in a disaster.

And Lauri made sure her audience of communicators knew they better not cry when waves of ocean water are approaching a mile inland or power poles are going down all around. “Perfunctory Function…perform with no emotion.” And for gosh sakes, ‘number your damn press releases.’

These folks are savvy social media communicators, too. They understand the importance of a tweeting public to get the word out about school closures, the status of roadways or the location of trouble spots. Social media rumor control is paramount, they let it be known. Be ready to respond — “this report we are hearing is not true; I am on the scene; refer to (such and such).”

And what’s a Command Message? Say what you want your target audience to remember. Tell them what you are doing to fix it. Tell them your position. And deliver it without reading, with head up. You hear that Mr. President?

Wrap it up, Fineman

In my previous reporting I left out some of the material and ideas I gathered in my session with Jim Lukaszewski. I am always hoping to gain new insights, and I certainly did that on the Opening Day in “The Strategic Advisor in Action During Crisis” session. While my first crisis principle has always been: public health and safety first, Jim said focus on the victims, and I believe he meant that twofold: 1. Focus on what matters most at any given time, people hurt for example and 2. Get a sense of who may be playing victim to help guide your communications strategy.

About the leaders we communications people report to, Jim said: “Remember, it’s their bus. Give them options, and always let them choose. Make sure, though, you make them aware of the option with the least number of potentially negative consequences.”

Ooh-Rah

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