PRSA International Conference 2019

Erin Dubots / November 18, 2019

From October 20-22, 2019, I attended the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) 2019 International Conference (ICON) in sunny San Diego, California. ICON 2019 brought more than 2,500 public relations professionals and students from countries across the world to one location to discuss the PR industry and best practices for the upcoming year.

This was my first ICON experience, my first notable networking event on the West Coast and my first time representing Fearey at a major PR event. I was excited to hear from and meet many prominent voices in the PR industry.

This year’s theme was Inspire, Innovate, Engage, Influence.

During the keynote speeches and general sessions, I thought about how each speaker applied to this theme. In my notebook I jotted down ways to be #fearless (The Fearey Group’s motto) in my professional career.

Inspire

Inspiration and creativity are at the heart of PR. As PR professionals, we are in a position to inspire others through the stories we tell, the content we write and the people we meet.

Communications is a creative field; we need to allow room to let ourselves create.

The advice from ICON was to set aside time each week to refresh your mind. Maybe that means changing up your desk space or working from a coffee shop one day a week. Maybe it means a brainstorm lunch session to bounce ideas around with your coworkers. Maybe it goes as far as an internal policy change.

For me, it means sitting on one of our office bean bags or listening to a different genre of music. When I need a touch more creativity, it means journaling or drawing.

Whatever it looks like for you and your company, find time to be creative. Find what works for you and prioritize it. Without our creativity, we lose what differentiates our industry.

Innovate

In today’s tech world there is a heavy focus on innovation and finding the next big thing. It’s crucial to innovate. And in PR, it’s important to know what innovation looks like.

As we need to inspire our creativity, we also need to think innovatively.

Just like there is the left brain and right brain or Type A and Type B personalities, there are two prominent worker types in a company: hunters and gatherers. Hunters, who symbolize leaders in the workplace, and gatherers, who symbolize followers.

Leaders and followers are often considered opposites. Leadership qualities are admired and taught, but we are not to underestimate a follower.

Vicente Fox, former President of Mexico, referenced the timeless analogy during his keynote speech. He recognized the value both types bring to the table.

“There is no divide between leaders and followers,” Fox said. “We need to be both depending on the moment. Leaders are not better than followers, but a good leader knows how to be a follower.”

No one person is as strong as a team. Both leaders and followers think creatively. When we combine the two mindsets and look at a situation in both regards, we are thinking innovatively. It goes beyond trends and technology; innovation is flipping a situation upside down and thinking about in a way no one has before.

Whether you’re a hunter or a gatherer, your opinions and ideas are critical to your company’s success. Only through collaboration and understanding both types of workers is a company in the position to truly find success.

Engage

PRSA ICON kicked off with keynote speaker Bob Woodward, Associate Editor of the Washington Post. Bob has been working with the Post since 1971 and is most widely known for reporting on the Watergate scandal in 1972.

Before Bob left the stage, he gave us a piece of advice from his own experience as an investigative journalist: “Show up. In person. Do the research; know the person.”

When his calls and emails went ignored, Bob would show up in person – literally. Bob would go to the doorstep of an interviewee and ask to come inside.

We might not always be able to physically knock on the door, but as PR professionals we are responsible for engaging with those we communicate with. When pitching reporters, networking with business partners, attracting new clients or chatting with colleagues, we have to remember there is a person on the other end of the email chain. We have to do the research and know who we’re talking to.

When emails go unanswered, it means picking up the phone. It means keeping in touch and following up. It means building connections deeper than our inbox or voicemail. It means scheduling face-to-face time, even if it’s as simple as grabbing a cup of coffee together.

 At Fearey, we’re all about building trusting and enduring relationships, one conversation at a time. We look for big and small ways to find human connection, whether it’s hosting Fearey Unplugged or handwriting a card to someone each week. It’s small behaviors like these that make our team #fearless, and why I enjoy working with The Fearey Group so much.

Influence

One of the general sessions was a military panel of communications executives from each branch of the military: the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. During this panel, the officers explained how the military has a duty to the truth, which guides their work and the messages they send. They then noted how not everyone has this duty.

Fake news, misinformation and disinformation has been an increasing problem in today’s media. Many attribute its start to the 2016 presidential election, but there have been examples of misinformation since the media was first created.

Bob Woodward related his time reporting on former U.S. President Richard Nixon to the spread of misinformation. When Nixon’s press secretary found an article painting him in an unfavorable light, Nixon would have the story denounced. While this is not spreading false information, this did set a dangerous precedent of what can be classified as alternative facts. Not having all news is as dangerous as having false news.

As Woodward said, “Every lie that is told incurs a death to the truth.”

As PR professionals, and especially for members guided by the PRSA Code of Ethics, we should have a duty to the truth.

“We’re at a pivot point in history,” Woodward said.

PR is at the forefront of change – it’s up to us to be the catalysts for truth in today’s media frenzy. We help decide what is news. When faced with the decision, we must choose truth.

PRGN partners at PRSA ICON.
I was grateful to meet so many of our PRGN partners. From left to right: Abbie Fink, HMA Public Relations; Erin Dubots, The Fearey Group; Amanda Hill, APR, Three Box Strategic Communications; Jenny Barker, APR, Reed Public Relations; Chuck Norman, APR, S&A Communications

Leading up to PRSA ICON 2019, I was anxious with anticipation. I knew there would be members of the Public Relations Global Network at the conference and I was excited to meet them. I was blown away by their friendliness and charisma. I found such value in networking and building connections with people I had previously only met virtually. Going into ICON 2019 I was nervous, but excited to challenge myself. I never could have imagined how much I would learn while there and all the incredible people I would meet.

PRSA ICON 2020 is scheduled for Nashville – see you there!