After the Journey: My Priceless Experience at the 2009 PRSSA National Conference

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As promised, I am reporting back to Platform readers to highlight my trip and experiences at the 2009 PRSSA National Conference in San Diego, Ca. Five days come and go too fast, especially when you are busy learning, networking and having the time of your life.

First of all, what a success! I have to applaud the PRSSA National Committee (including Rebecca Timms, National President, and Nick Lucido, National Vice President of Professional Development; both have contributed to Platform in the past). This committee, comprised of eight PR students from across the nation, worked so hard to ensure that this conference was the most valuable it could be for its one-thousand-plus participants, and did they ever succeed. Besides the occasional hotel elevator getting stuck with participants inside (OK, it was more than occasional, but we survived), the conference went off without a hitch. We appreciate all of the hard work and dedication that went into providing us with such a valuable experience – thank you.

So, were my expectations met? Exceeded? I had mentioned several hopes and goals in my previous blog. Some of these were: meeting and networking with other PR students; gaining resources and knowledge from the sessions; and promoting Platform Magazine to students, educators and practitioners, as I was the sole representative of Platform. Missions accomplished.

As I mentioned, there were over 1,000 PR students from around the country, and being PR students, most were talkative and eager to meet people by nature. I met so many wonderful people, and it was so much fun getting the inside scoop on their goals and plans, and even how their PR departments and PRSSA chapters run. We were instructed to bring business cards to network with and that was a great idea! I now have countless contacts from around the country that will be entering the real world in May, just like me, and I plan to keep in touch with as many as possible.

I not only had the pleasure of meeting some of the amazing, talented, soon-to-be graduates who may be my competition for jobs in the near future, but I was also fortunate enough to meet some of the most highly respected PR professionals. Following each session, we were invited and encouraged to ask questions and introduce ourselves to the speakers, which I took full advantage of. I can proudly say that people like James Holtje, Senior Manager of Leadership Communications for Siemens, and Rana Kay, PR Manager for the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego, now have my business card (even if it is among hundreds of others). The opportunity to meet some of these people, whom I aspire to be like some day, was priceless.

One of the best experiences of the conference was a special panel called “A Conversation with PR Legends” and included: Joe Epley, APR, Fellow PRSA, Founder and CEO of Epley Associates; John Paluszek, APR, Fellow PRSA, Senior Counsel at Ketchum; and Jerry Dalton, Jr., APR, Fellow PRSA, Retired Director of Public Affairs of U.S. Air Force. The panel was moderated by UA’s very own Dr. Bruce Berger, Professor in the UA Department of Advertising and Public Relations. This panel, which was sponsored by the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, was a discussion based on student questions, with topics ranging from the biggest change witnessed in PR, to the skills most important for a career in international PR, to what can be done to encourage diversity in the field. It truly was an honor to hear these four highly esteemed PR professionals give their words of wisdom to the future of PR.

One portion of the conference was a career exhibition, with companies such as Edelman, Fleishman-Hillard, Up With People, CW Network, 2010 U.S. Census and Ketchum. These companies, among others, set up booths, held short informational interviews with students and accepted resumes and business cards. Students were given a great opportunity to explore companies more in-depth and ask those tough questions that might not be found on a company’s FAQs. I and other UA representatives got the chance to tell PR students about the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and to encourage them to read and contribute to the Platform magazine and blog.

It was a long, tiring trip and San Diego is rough on a college kid’s budget, but in the end, attending the PRSSA 2009 National Conference was one of the most valuable experiences I could have asked for. Not only did I meet amazing people, learn lots and have fun, but I have a more clear vision of what I want for my future and the tools and resources to get me there.

By Amanda Aviles

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