7 Tips from the PRSA Conference in D.C.

Communicators packed the basement of an upscale Washington, D.C., hotel, glued to their iPhone or Blackberry and frustrated by the lack of a Wi-Fi signal in the nation’s capital. From Gen Xers to Boomers, several thousand gathered, hungry for information. Yet as many scanned their tiny screens, great insight flowed from the speaker’s podium.

 At the Public Relations Society of America conference on Oct. 17, PR professionals from around the world –mostly the lower 48 –paused to learn and reflect on the state of their profession.

I think most wanted to learn a few new skills in the rapidly evolving social media space. The conference delivered with countless sessions on social media platforms du jour. Some I had heard of and others like www.cotweet.com were new to me.  

Organizers kicked off the conference with Bettina Luescher, the chief spokesperson for the United Nations World Food Programme, who shared stories of traveling the world and working with celebrities such as George Clooney.

Jim VandeHei, the executive editor and co-founder of POLITICO followed with a keynote on lessons learned from November’s elections. The former Wall Street Journal White House correspondent turned Web publishing entrepreneur shared how his website has become part of the national dialogue.

In a recent NBC News interview former President George W. Bush, told Matt Lauer that POLITICO is one of the news sources he visits on his iPad. “It is kind of like reading the box scores [in the sports section],” said Bush.

Talk about product placement. It doesn’t get any better than that unless you saw the recent 30 Rock episode with the Capital One product placement!

Back to the PRSA conference.

VandeHei also talked about the changing media landscape. “You better know the bloggers,” he told the audience. “Consumers are more fickle in the type of news they want.” He added more niche publications are filling the void left by shrinking news organizations; hence, the success of sites likes POLITICO.

My takeaways

After three days of sessions, panels and keynotes, my head was spinning. Thinking back, I’d offer the following as my favorite takeaways from the conference.

  1. Going viral doesn’t just happen it takes creative collaboration. Get inspired in new ways and with new sources to make your campaign, product or service stand out. Consider the success of the Old Spice campaign. They’vemade grandpa’s aftershave hip again. Why? It’s funny. It’s memorable. You know you're viral when Sesame Street parodies you.

    And Old Spice's success wouldn’t have happened without collaboration between the ad folks and PR/social media team.

    Toyota’s “swagger wagon” is another fun and wacky example.
  2. Use Google for all its worth. Don’t underestimate the power of the tools provided by this Web giant. Google Insights, Google AdWords, Google Analytics and Google Trends, can make your life easier  as you track, measure and promote yourself online.
  3. The news release isn’t dead – it’s just different. Unless you’re a publicly traded company, you might not need to issue a news release. Instead, a well-crafted pitch or backgrounder can be exactly what you need to communicate your messages. If you do issue a release through PR Newswire or BusinessWire, consider using just the state wire to target your reach and put the URLs up high in the release.
  4. Don’t tweet unless you have something meaningful to say. Make your 140 characters count, especially if you’re using Twitter for your business or a client. Use tracking URLs through services like http://bit.ly or ShortURL.com to measure your reach.
  5. There are alternatives to PowerPoint. Consider using a service such as www.prezi.com to make your new presentation stand out and be different.
  6. Keep your eyes and ears open. There are countless paid and free services to monitor what is going on in cyberspace. From www.TVeyes.com to the www.vocus.com to www.infoition.com to Dow Jones Media Relations Manager. Hint: You can download their “Monitor and Engage” ebook for free. My favorite paid service is www.ViralHeat.com, and they didn’t attend the conference.
  7. Focus on the message. Whatever the communication channel, focus on the message and refine it.

–Jonathan Rhudy, APR, loves technology but likes people to put their smart phones away during meetings.