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ICYMI: PRSSA National Conference Recap

Posted At: November 5, 2013 1:30 p.m.

by Christi Rich

On October 25, more than 1,100 public relations students from across the world gathered in Philadelphia for four days of networking and professional development sessions at the annual Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) National Conference. This impressive number caused the conference hashtag #PRSSANC to trend worldwide on Twitter multiple times. As only 10 percent of the society’s 11,000 members were in attendance, I’ve compiled my key takeaways from the experience for the 90 percent unable to attend.

On getting the job

“Different is better than better,” Cass Bailey, principal of Slice Communications, said. She emphasized that proving to a potential employer that you are better than all of the candidates is a hard task, but standing out is just as effective. What is it that you want your interviewer to remember about you?

HR wants to hire candidates who will be good teammates and co-workers with a positive attitude. Jessica Noonan of Burson-Marsteller, Joe Clarkson of Taylor Strategy and Nick Lucido of Edelman answered attendees’ burning questions about juggling life at an agency. They also reminded students that it is completely acceptable to ask your supervisor which of your projects should take priority if you begin to get bogged down.

On doing the job well

Everything comes down to your writing. Christopher Brown, the director of marketing and communications for Washington Hospital Healthcare System, discussed several of the most interesting opportunities he has come across in his many years in health care, but he reminded students that writing skills are often the make or break factor in a crisis.

Brown also described a circumstance where the press wanted to invade a patient’s privacy to get a compelling story. His response to the press in this situation was to ask them to put themselves in the shoes of the patient: Would they want a camera in their face in such a private moment?

The United States government is legally not allowed to “do PR” on American citizens. Instead, the government must educate and inform the citizens. Commander Brooke Dewalt, APR, PRSA Fellow, gave a colorful account of his time in the Pentagon, overseas in Pakistan and in Guantanamo.

Thrive, not survive. Morghen Johnson and James Robinson from APCO Worldwide’s NYC office noted that entry-level employees should always be learning and growing. Recognition and rewards will eventually come for those who remember this advice.

Remember to keep your presentations jargon free. (Referring to “PRSSA” is considered jargon to most!) Joseph Trahan III, president and CEO of Trahan and Associates, explained that the body of your presentation needs to be logical and clear to keep your audience engaged.

And last, but not least, I think the most important phrase of the conference came from the Plank Center’s keynote session with Mary Beth West, principal of Mary Beth West Communication, and Keith Burton, partner of Brunswick Group. Public relations practitioners should absolutely sweat the small stuff! You are hired for a reason, and the details are vital.

If you couldn’t make it to conference this year, go next year to Washington, D.C. The experience is irreplaceable. If you’re graduating this year, take advantage of the opportunities PRSSA provides closer to home before you leave your university, such as a regional conference or PRSA meetings. These moments of professional development are what can set you above the rest.

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