Earlier this month, we attended the Midwest Regional PRSSA Conference in Des Moines, Iowa, Hosted by the Drake University Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. The conference’s theme was Expect the Unexpected. There were a lot of lessons learned, in conference planning, in Public Relations and life in general. Below are our biggest takeaways from the conference.
Build a theme around the subject matter and make it an experience
The reason that the theme was chosen was for various reasons; one, Des Moines is a pretty small town with huge opportunities, but not a lot of people are aware of it, and two; PR pros must always expect the unexpected! The theme related to the content of the conference itself, but it also related a lot to building an experience outside of the conference walls. The conference wrapped up at around 4pm each day, and attendees were from out of town, therefore, the organizing committees ensured that people had things to do in the city after the sessions ended. In their programs, there were interactive activities such as a scavenger of things that were unexpected about Des Moines, sites to see and facts that made Des Moines fascinating.
This same principle can be applies to other aspects of PR. When we are thinking about branding our clients, we have to make sure that the brand is an experience, and we have to carry through with a specific theme or tagline that encompasses the essences of the brand outside of the product and services offered.
There conference had very diverse speakers in different industries. Almost all of the speakers had some sort of connection with Drake University and over half of them were graduates of the university. Among the speakers included an account executive from Edelman, Communications Managers from Uber , The Walt Disney Company, John Deere, Wells Fargo, Mega Bus, as well as entrepreneurs such as Allyson Conklin who owns a boutique PR firm in Denver, Colorado and a couple of journalists, including Ron Fournier, former White House Correspondent for the National Journal and a Digital Content Editor from HBO.
The organizers were able to request, book and secure great speakers because of connections. Identifying people who have a personal connection with someone or with your organization makes those transactions easy, since they are more likely to adjust and make time in their busy schedules to accommodate such a speaking engagement. Therefore relationships must be fostered and nurtured.
The speakers invited to speak at the conference were able to touch on diverse topics since they also worked in diverse industries. For example, Ron Fournier shared about his work with the National Journal as well as tips that PR practitioners can use in order to get favor from journalists. There was also a Crisis simulation facilitated by crisis communication firm LS2 Group. Attendees were given different real life crisis scenarios that organizations have had to deal. They had to create messaging, participate in a press conference and create a plan to avoid that kind of crisis from happening again, within a short time period.
Conferences, unless really specific, attract a lot of people from different backgrounds; therefore, having different industries represented was very important for the success of this conference. Attendees were also able to pick and choose different sessions to attend that peaked their interest.
The biggest takeaway for this conference was the entire experience was incorporated into the overarching theme. Create an experience and your target audience will appreciate and remember your messaging, a concept that must be adhered to in all aspects of public relations.
Have you attended any conferences recently? What were your takeaways? Comment below!
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