A week and a half ago, GV PRSSA traveled to Austin, Texas, for the PRSSA National Conference. After a wild weekend down in the south, “Art of PR” had us fixin’ to spill the beans on our biggest takeaways!

Trevor Bryan: NetWORK

The most beneficial piece of PRSSA National Conference for me has been the opportunity to network with industry professionals, and especially other students in the same position as me from all corners of the nation- and even other countries! #PRSSANC provided me an excellent opportunity to put the “work” in “network” and not only swap business cards, but exchange ideas and best practices that I look forward to bringing back to our chapter.

Engaging in conversations with other chapters has broadened my understanding of what it means to be a PRSSA chapter; there are many unique needs and problems among all of the PRSSA chapters. That gave me some admitted comfort, for although our chapter is strong and amazing and altogether so wonderful, there are some areas of improvement. All in all, being able to connect, network, and exchange ideas with other chapters enriched my conference experience.

Emily Gagnon: There’s more than one way to bake a cake

PRSSA National Conference opened my eyes to the variance in chapters and their organizational structures. The exposure to different chapters made me realize just how beneficial it is to be part of an international association, allowing for networking and learning beyond our boundaries. This conference also proved just how naive I was to naturally think that all PRSSA chapters were structured the same. There was a workshop where members were able to bounce their chapter’s best practices off of each other and address issues they have come across. This was inspiring because we were able to brainstorm, problem solve, and come up with new ideas together. This not only strengthens our individual chapters, but improves PRSSA as a whole. Though this might seem like a minor detail, or second-nature to some, it goes to show that something will click in your mind. Even if it is small, you will learn something new at national conference and you will develop a deeper understanding of the public relations industry.

Sabrina Antcliff: A student-run firm’s perspective

Although I have been Chief Executive Officer at GrandPR for two years, PRSSANC18 was the first time I was able to attend a PRSSA National Conference. As a member of a student-run firm, national conference is a great opportunity to build support and connections with other PRSSA members and student-run firms around the country. National conference kicked off with yours truly sharing our first CreateAthon experience from last March. Starting out the conference in this fashion put Grand Valley at the forefront of student-run firms. In addition, one session during the conference was dedicated to the different roles we have as PRSSA members. This session was a time to ask questions and get advice from peers in the same positions we hold. Everyone was divided into different rooms and able to candidly discuss what they needed to in order to have greater success for the rest of their terms. Firm directors were invited to a luncheon with chapter presidents and regional ambassadors as a way to show appreciation for our services. This was another great networking opportunity where many relationships were formed. As far as general sessions went, as a student-run firm member, it was inspirational to think about the work we could be doing and to hear how people from a spectrum of different fields and specialities handled various situations. In the end, I was pleased to have gone and am thankful for the experience.

Amanda Hume: Advice from PRos

PRSSA National Conference provides attendees the opportunity to see and hear some high-ranked PR pros share their stories and experiences in the industry. These professionals not only freely handed out advice to us aspiring PR students, but talked about how they got to where they are today. Hearing each speaker talk about their journey to success opened my eyes to the many pathways we have once graduating college. One example is Gary McCormick, who had a session focused on strategic event planning. He shared that he never would have imagined he’d be an event planner, but his organizational skills and strategic planning lead him in that direction and allowed him to work with a big-name client, such as HGTV. It’s also reassuring that there is no right or wrong direction to take when heading into the “real world,” as there has been success shown in various ways and forms. Each person entering this field has/will have a unique story to share.  

Delaney Mackenzie: The art of conflict and crisis

The 2018 PRSSA National Conference exceeded my expectations. As a first time attendee, I was not sure what to expect. I was excited to network and listen to the keynote speakers, which all blew me away. I loved being able to pick which sessions I attended, and how it allowed everyone to have their own personal experience tailored to their interests.

One of my favorite sessions was “The Art of Conflict and Crisis” led by Dr. Raquel Perez, Aileen Izquierdo, and Heather Radi-Bermudez from Florida International University, which experienced its own PR crisis last spring when a pedestrian bridge on campus fell and killed six people. These three women led a powerful discussion on crisis, how it is inevitable, and how to recover from one. The best piece of advice they gave was to think of worst case scenarios, prepare, and make sure every employee understands the message. These three women delivered such a riveting session that I can still hear their words of advice echoing in my head. It was a presentation I will never forget.  

Allyssa Murphy: The fuel of emotions

One of the most interesting sessions that I was able to attend at National Conference was titled “Becoming the Change: Rising from Tragedy to March for Our Lives.” The guest speakers were Brendan Duff and Delaney Tarr. Delaney Tarr was a student when the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, occurred. Brendan Duff was a former student and was very involved in the public relations process helping the student activists spread their message after the tragedy they had been through. It had never clicked in my mind before that activism is a form of PR. This session blew my mind with all the exciting and innovative ways this group of young activists are gaining the attention of people around the world, and what they are doing to continue to hold that attention. Everything from “artivism” to “fashion activism.” Our chapter president, Trevor Bryan, had the opportunity to ask them a very important question, “How do you keep your emotions in check when going through all of these interviews; how does that affect what you do?” Their answer was perfect: “Emotions fueled our movement because it is about saving lives.” They went deeper into how their emotions helped their cause and everybody cried. I cried, Trevor cried, Delaney cried. We were all crying. We were simply in awe of their strength after everything they have gone through.

After the session concluded, our group hung around to introduce ourselves to Delaney and Brendan to express how grateful we are for everything they are doing. We told them we truly believed they were changing history. Also, Delaney Tarr had these really amazing red boots that had “feminist” written on them, and they were the coolest boots I’ve ever seen. I will never forget the things I learned and the words that were spoken during that session.

Group photo with Brendan Duff and Delaney Tarr from “Becoming the Change: Rising from Tragedy to March for Our Lives.”

Courtney Fogle: Working in music & entertainment PR

The city of Austin was a phenomenal location for the PRSSA National Conference. I was excited to explore the profession of public relations in a city known for its live music and art, since I plan to go into music and entertainment PR. I made sure to tailor my experience at the conference to my future career and capitalize off the resources Austin provided.

One of my favorite sessions from this conference featured Brett Cannon, Senior Publicist for SXSW. SXSW is a large music, film, and technology conference and festival. Brett spoke about some big names he’s worked with, event planning, communicating with the press, and how he makes such a huge event run smoothly. I was thrilled to hear from a professional with a successful career in entertainment PR and ask him for some advice about my future endeavors.

For an episode of our PRSSA podcast, PR Hangover, I met with Ryan Romana, the founder of a music and entertainment public relations firm called Press Junkie PR. Having another opportunity to network with and learn from a professional in the music industry was such an amazing experience. I learned so much about media relations, working with artists, and how to be successful in the entertainment industry from both of these intelligent men.

Madison F-T: Turning a crisis into a bonus

As a first-time attendee, the PRSSA National Conference was an exciting and amazing opportunity to not only learn more about PR, but to listen and gain real life insight from PR professionals who were gracious enough to share their own stories and company experiences with each of us. There were many PR professionals that were very informative, but one speaker stood out most to me: Jonathan Mildenhall.

Mr. Mildenhall is the current co-founder and CEO of TwentyFirstCenturyBrand and former CMO of Airbnb, as well as a former leader in the marketing initiatives for The Coca-Cola Company. His presentation about his experiences with both previously mentioned companies was truly a memorable moment for everyone. One of my favorite lessons Mr. Mildenhall shared with us was a crisis situation that he was able to quickly turned around and use as a positive marketing component for Airbnb. So, unbeknownst to him, Airbnb was targeted as a racist brand after the media revealed a lower percentage of diverse backgrounds staying in Airbnbs. This was discovered when reports showed that Airbnb hosts denied them the ability to stay in their homes. Quickly, Airbnb released a campaign that wrote “#WeAccept,” stating that no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, you deserve to belong. This campaign took that crisis and turned it around in full swing. Lessons such as these is what made the national conference informative, exciting, and memorable, and I’m very honored to have been a part of it!

Alexandra Closser- The art of networking

‘The Art of PR’ was a colorful experience with each aspect contributing to a work of art, a true masterpiece. This masterpiece is key in shaping our PR savvy selves, with a chance to learn, network, explore and bond.

The canvas, or the chance to expand our knowledge, is where the artwork begins but never truly ends as we are encouraged to continue to grow well into the profession. During conference, we immersed ourselves in sessions with amazing speakers that remind us why we love PR, and who taught us the infinite opportunities that we can turn into realities for our own future. The ability to form relationships, or colorful paint splatters full of experience by way of networking, was at our fingertips each and every day. Networking at conference is special and makes an event with thousands of people much more personable.

We cannot forget the chance to explore the trendy city that is Austin, Texas. The cultural flare that filled the space around us with wall murals being painted as we walked by, and donuts that were artwork themselves (yum! @Voodoo Doughnut), added to our canvas with each brushstroke. Once our artwork from conference was completed, GVSU’s PRSSA chapter was able to take a step back and marvel at the memories made together; the bonding, and of course, the millions of laughs shared that shaped our experience at the ‘Art of PR.’

Sofia Anderson: Curiosity led to best decision of my life 

Just hours before I left for Texas, I was second guessing even going to the PRSSA National Conference and was wondering why I decided to go in the first place. I am just beginning my PR classes, so I don’t have a lot of knowledge to contribute or even understand. I do not hold any leadership positions in PRSSA or GrandPR. I recently joined GrandPR and only have one semester of experience in PRSSA, and I did not know anyone who was going. So why go? What really got me on that plane was number 1, I had already purchased the plane ticket, and number 2, I was curious. Curious to learn more about PR and curious to get to know my peers better. All those worries about going seem so silly now because this conference was one of best decisions I could have made for my future career. Going to the conference encouraged me even more to pursue this career. This experience has reassured me that I have chosen the correct major for me. I am more motivated for my classes as they are preparing me for my career. I never felt undeserving or unqualified to be there, but rather felt my lack of knowledge and experience actually worked in my benefit. Because I am just learning about this world, I was able to act as a sponge and soak up everything and learn so many new things. I also thoroughly enjoyed meeting members from other chapters and creating connections, crossing not only national but international borders. The new friendships and memories I made with my fellow chapter members are ones I cherish. I am grateful to have had this opportunity to not only learn more about PR, but get to know them. I am back from Austin feeling more excited to pursue my degree in PR and am even more excited to see where it will take me. To any members out there believing you’re unqualified or do not have a reason to go to national conference, take this as a PSA that there is no such thing as having no reason to go. You become more knowledgeable about your future career and you’re inspired to see where it can take you. Become excited to grow in this field by first being curious to learn more.

Overall, PRSSA National Conference 2018 truly lived up to its expectations. We were all so fortunate for the opportunity to go, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year’s convention!