Last month I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Public Relations Student Society of America National Conference, “Foundation for Innovation,” in Philadelphia. Missing some class and taking off a few days of work, I flew to PHL with 15 other members of the MSU PRSSA chapter for an amazing five days exploring, learning and networking in “The City of Brotherly Love” (and sisterly affection as Desiree Peterkin Bell said, during her welcome to PRSA and PRSSA).
Friday started in style – we had Uber pick us up at the airport (I hadn’t ridden in a big, black SUV since summer in NYC) and drive us to the Loews Philadelphia Hotel. With no time to waste I attended two sessions in the afternoon, filled with tips on planning a regional conference. Myself and the other girls on the planning committee for “Electing Excellence: Public Relations in Government and Politics” were excited to talk to other chapters for planning and hosting tips.
PR people work hard and play hard. This was no exception being at a conference; “The Ivy Lee Club Opening Night Celebration,” was Gatsby themed, after the wildly popular movie remake had been released earlier this year. Friends dressed up in their 1920’s best – we even got feather boas and fedoras as party favors! A live band followed by a DJ had us dancing more than anyone probably expected.
It was a struggle to get up Saturday morning, I will admit, but after grabbing a Starbucks and heading to Roll Call I was instantly awake. Each chapter did a funny, lively chant or song to show their attendance at the conference. We did a loud “Spartans, what is your profession?” followed by the “Ah ooh, ah ooh, ah ooh,” chant from the movie 300 – something everyone at MSU loves yelling during football games.
Mary Henige, APR, was the keynote speaker for our first full day, Saturday morning. Not only did I enjoy all the advice she had to share, but hearing the references to working for General Motors, in our home state of Michigan.
For lunch, I had to try a famous Philly cheesesteak. My sandwich from Steve’s Prince of Steaks was delicious.
Tweets were staying at a steady peak with the hashtag #PRSSANC all day long so that while you were in one session you could see what others were talking about. The engagement, conversation and networking just over social media were incredible.
Across the street at the Marriott and overlapping some days in Philadelphia with us, were all of the professionals at the Public Relations Society of America International Conference – PRSA ICON. When we were invited to sit in on some of their sessions I honestly never realized the true impact of the speakers I would be hearing and overall energy in the room. With all the PRSSA students and PRSA professionals there were more than 3,000 attendees gathered to hear keynote speaker, Brian Solis. With Mickey G. Nall, APR, and Desiree Peterkin Bell’s enthusiastic welcomes I was already fired up to hear Solis speak. Legitimately scared my iPhone might run out of battery thus making my tweets stop, I was hanging on every word. So inspired by the “Future of Business” keynote, I rushed back to hear Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour speak the next morning. Her incredible story of flying in the middle of combat, to sharing her “breakthrough mentality,” was relatable for everyone – I found my eyes getting watery and applauding like crazy at the end.
In between our jam-packed days of sessions, networking and even homework one night, I enjoyed exploring Philly’s nightlife and history. Fortunately the girls I went sightseeing with didn’t care too much about reading the facts either, but rather just taking pictures by all the sights. We made all the hotspots: Reading Terminal Market, the Liberty Bell and Independence National Park.
The conference concluded with a formal dinner and awards ceremony to recognize the next generation of PR stars. No one wanted the night to end and it was bittersweet hearing a senior send-off.
Even without free wi-fi in our hotel or conference rooms, social media was buzzing with minute-to-minute updates all weekend. Twitter successes that couldn’t excite anyone else as they do PR Stars unfolded before our eyes – #PRSSANC and #PRSAICON were both national trending topics. I also reached my 10,000th tweet, which I was ecstatic about!
I wish that I could re-live national conference every month, but in the meantime I know one question I’ll be asking during upcoming full-time interviews: does your company support and encourage employees to attend PRSA ICON? The answer better be ‘yes.’ 🙂
10 key takeaways I got from attending national conference
1. It is acceptable and expected to stare at your phone and live tweet during PR gatherings.
2. Before you hit send on an email, remember that people can hit forward.
3. You’re going to utter the phrase “Do you have any specials tonight?” a lot. – Nick Lucido, Edelman and fellow MSU graduate, on entry-level wages.
4. When you accept your first job offer, write yourself a letter about why you love PR and pull it out in 10 years when you need to remember the passion and rejuvenate your career.
5. There are more than 32,000 members in PRSA and PRSSA. This is your family.
6. You can’t see the picture when you’re in the frame. – Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour on engaging in your life and watching it take flight.
7. Brands are now people and people are now brands.
8. As a PR professional you will most definitely be talking about AP Style over dinner at some point.
9. Relationships are about mutual value.
10. I AM IN LOVE WITH PUBLIC RELATIONS – I FOUND WHAT I WANT TO DO! 🙂