Insights from a National Conference Attendee

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Posted on February 9, 2016, at 10:32 a.m.
by Bridget Burkley, Guest Contributor.

The annual national conference for both the Public Relations Student Society of America and the professional Public Relations Society of America took place at the Marriot-Marquis in Atlanta, Georgia, beginning Friday, Nov. 6. The buzz and excitement were noticeable at the larger-than-life hotel while the building hosted a five-day span of seminars, sessions and networking among both students and professionals.

As a first-time PRSSA conference attendee, I was amazed by what I learned from splitting my time between listening, responding and practicing my newly learned networking skills. The ride to our room on the same elevator where “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” elevator scene was filmed was pretty exciting, too.

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Day one began with “Chapter Development Sessions” run by members of other successful PRSSA chapters. These sessions proved a great warm-up for the upcoming senior speakers; however, the kick-off to the long weekend was the “Night of the Premiere” opening celebration that provided a great mixer and networking opportunity. After the celebration ended, many students went out to explore Atlanta. I found myself walking down Peachtree Avenue in search of live music, and was not disappointed when I came across Tin Lizzy’s, a cantina with $3 tacos and a great Friday night act.

Saturday morning began with awards and school-specific roll calls. Though the activity was time-consuming, it lightened up the mood to kick off the first speakers’ sessions. Among these were “It’s All in the Details: Planning a Successful Event” and “Building Personal Experiences.” The afternoon wrapped up with a session on “Perfecting the Pitch” by Dr. Joseph V. Trahan. He was a flawless speaker who used funny anecdotes about his life to prove exactly what perfecting a pitch entails.

For most, sharing dinner with fellow chapter members and other friends topped off the evening. I joined a few fellow conference attendees for dinner at a phenomenal Turkish restaurant, Truva, down the street from the hotel. It was there that a belly dancer shimmied around our table as we discussed the future of Loyola’s own PRSSA chapter using what we had collectively learned that day.

Sunday’s beginning keynote address was auspiciously titled “Meet the Living Legends of Public Relations,” and both speakers were excellent. Ellen East, the executive vice president and chief communications officer of Time Warner Cable, relatedly discussed challenges for women in the male-dominated C-suite of corporate public relations. Her valued insights both inspired and gave energy to the audience as East is living proof that women can exceed expectations in any realm of public relations.

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Following the address was another series of sessions, including “Strategically Executing Your Nonprofit Communications Plan” and “Global Messaging and Rebranding.” Between the two was a general session hosted by Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel, who entertained a charmed crowd as we watched Cantore’s most embarrassing moments on air. The attendees also got an inside look at how he handled his very own crisis communication incident via Twitter.

Monday began with another PRSA general session that led to the highly anticipated “Career Development Exhibition.” The exhibition targeted students interested in looking for opportunities that could lead to an internship, job or graduate school. This session had to be split into two parts in order to accommodate the large number of participants. This event was followed by the last few sessions of the conference, including a talk on “Political Public Relations.”

The night consisted of a Coca-Cola sponsored awards ceremony and dinner at which Loyola proudly accepted our first-place Bateman Case Study award for our renowned Bateman team, all followed by a “Dessert with Perks,” providing the final chance for PRSSA and PRSA members to network.

Tuesday’s events were lightly attended, as most attendees were traveling, but those remaining enjoyed an excellent farewell breakfast and final PRSA general session.

Overall, the conference was an inspiring weekend. As a first-time conference attendee and college freshman, the event exceeded my already high expectations. Most memorable were the contagiously energetic atmosphere, helpful sessions and scheduled networking events. Despite the clamor of a hotel full of extroverted communications students and professionals, the conference ran efficiently and was instructive in how to prosper in the ever-changing field of public relations.

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