For three days, members from 15 chapters of the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Southwest District came together for a yearly conference centered around the theme “Launch.” Bringing together a varied group of speakers consisting of an astronaut, public relations experts and members of the media, the PRSA Southwest District Conference aims to further the professional development of members. As a newbie to the PR world, I felt like an eager sponge, ready to soak up any advice or tips that came my way. With multiple breakout sessions focusing on topics from leadership and management to diversity and inclusion, the conference was sure to provide a variety of topics of interest to all levels of PR professionals.
The major takeaways from the conference consist of the big changes currently happening in our field. Consider social media. Back in the day, when a crisis broke, corporate executives and their communications team would have hours to formulate a press statement, assemble a press conference and fully evaluate what happened. Today, minutes after a crisis happens, it will certainly be on social media before being picked up by news outlets everywhere. Executives need to be prepared to answer immediately. For every minute wasted there is another video or Tweet being shared, and the narrative of the crisis spins further and further from the company’s control. Including digital and social media teams in a crisis plan is critical.
There was also a lot of discussion from experts regarding the PESO model (paid, earned, shared, owned) of media coverage taught in all entry-level PR classes and how relevant it remains today. Some speakers suggested a stronger emphasis be placed on the “paid” segment of the model as influencers continue their rise in prominence and while the audience of traditional media decreases. Others suggested changing the PESO model into more of a Venn Diagram in which the value of each type of coverage is shared more equally. Although there isn’t a clear answer of what is right or wrong for the future of this model, one thing was certain – with the world of media changing so rapidly, we must make sure our approaches and professional standards are changing with it.
Multiple breakout sessions also looked into diversity and inclusion, emphasizing the importance of the female, POC and LGBTQ voice. In looking at recent PR disasters (Gucci’s offensive sweater design, Pepsi’s protest commercial, etc.), panel experts spoke about the need to not only have a diverse set of perspectives at the table but have them feel empowered enough to speak up when something isn’t right. Some speakers even gave the example of being asked to be in a room of company executives for “inclusive reasons” but instructed not to speak. When there aren’t varied points of view, your company can also risk falling into repeated PR backlash. For example, instead of learning from the negative public reaction to their offensive sweater design, Gucci just last week launched turban design priced at $800, causing yet another public uproar. Many took this as an insult to the Sikh community, calling the turban a sacred religious article, not a fashion statement. Perhaps with a stronger focus on inclusion, these mistakes could have been avoided.
As with any field, the need to stay updated on industry developments is essential for survival. Through gatherings like the PRSA Southwest District Conference, PR professionals are able to stay on top of trends and leverage progress to provide the best expertise to their clients.