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Lessons from the PRSA ICON Conference

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As an officer in the Boston Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) - I will be the Chapter President in 2022 - I had the privilege of attending the national organization’s annual ICON Conference. While capturing all the notes and what I learned from the many sessions I attended would be daunting to squeeze into a blog post, I would like to share my general takeaways from the event.

Soft skills are important

This session by Mark Mohammadpour, APR, was focused on career soft skills, but it applies easily to our daily work as well. While we all like to amplify our marketing and PR skills, there is so much more that goes into managing our work. The biggest word to apply is “Why?” Why are business decisions made, why are we making one recommendation vs another, and why are clients and colleagues prioritizing one way of working over another? The other phrase to take away is “problem-solving.” The more we add value to any response or request, which could be as simple as proffering a potential solution to any question you ask, or a potential next step to any information you share, the more value we get in return.

Convergence is all around us

As a public relations professional, I have long observed the convergence of media specialties: PR people do social media, PR firms do marketing, and even advertising. But convergence is so much more than that, and it is here already. Anthony D’Angelo of Syracuse University outlined several “Axes of Convergence” in his talk, including:

  1. Media Outlets: When anyone can publish, anyone can be “The Media.” Being able to publish and amplify your own message has for several years been a valid and vital option for companies who deal with a shrinking media world and an expanding online publishing one.

  2. Competitors and Collaborators: We are past the idea of sizing up “frenemies” within our industries, but now have to evaluate who is a competitor, and who is a partner, especially in an age where a PR firm and the content management arm of a major newspaper might compete for the same piece of business at one time, but collaborate on client projects on another.

  3. PR, Communications, and Advertising: I’ll summarize by saying it is worth digesting Gini Dietrich’s “PESO” (Paid, Earned Shared Owned) media model.

  4. Human and Artificial Intelligence: This can either wreak havoc on the media and news landscape or make it more dynamic and informative: it truly depends on how we use it, as it becomes more functional and available.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a major focus in the industry

PRSA’s national board and its individual chapters have had active DE&I programs and campaigns all through 2021. This is born of the reality that PR has long had a major diversity problem, and the industry needs to continue to actively seek ways to further not just conversations but action. Of all the tips given by the panel at ICON, I feel the most important one is to create opportunities for dialogue and feedback, to give people voices on how diversity is working, rather than making diversity hiring and “set it and forget it” checklist item. We cannot welcome people without being welcoming (and yes, I am aware that I am writing this as a white male).

Preparation for crisis planning

Dave Thompson, APR, presented a detailed session on crisis planning. He split planning into the following but equally important groups and phases:

  1. Ethics - Value statement (vs Mission statement)
  2. Teams - Internal AND External
  3. Partners - Vendors, and Consultants
  4. Threat/Risk analysis
  5. Action Plan

The broad takeaway is that crisis response is not an ad hoc, one-off activity whenever a crisis presents itself. Rather, it is a distinct and necessary part of any communications organization, giving them the ability to not only respond appropriately but anticipate all kinds of crises that could arise, even if they are unlikely.

There was so much more to the conference that I could have included here, but I thought these were the most interesting bits, and more than enough food for thought as we maneuver through an industry that is always changing, always vibrant, and always fascinating.


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