Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dues Dilemma

Made my annual sojourn to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Leadership Assembly, this year in Orlando, Florida on October 14-18. That exercise in governance was followed by the PRSA/PRSSA International Conference, both held at the J.W. Marriott at Grande Lakes (above), a chic facility and convention center adjacent to the Ritz-Carlton near the headwaters of the Everglades.

The "elephant in the living room" at Leadership Assembly was a hotly-debated dues increase for members, always a tough proposition but particularly gnarly in a down economy when small chapters struggle to maintain membership. Sentiment among smaller chapters favored a "no" vote in discussions on North Pacific District conference calls, while larger chapters favored the increase, the first in 10 years.

Despite the apparent split, the proposal passed by a nearly 4-1 margin (209-53) and will raise annual PRSA dues by $30 in 2012. Most delegates appeared to understand the rationale for a dues increase, thanks to a lot of front-end work by the national board. Discussion of the proposal lasted a mere 10 minutes.

The only sideshow -- per usual -- was Jack O'Dwyer, purported journalist and self-appointed watchdog of PRSA. For the first time, Jack was refused a press pass to the PRSA Leadership Assembly and, needless to say, he was not happy. He nonetheless lingered nearby for the remainder of the conference, badgering leadership in the hotel bar at the J.W. Marriott at Grande Lakes.

The Leadership Assembly also expeditiously approved the slate of national PRSA officers and amazingly adjourned by 3 p.m. -- a new record for early conclusion in my six years as an assembly delegate representing both the Greater Oregon chapter and the North Pacific District of PRSA. Delegates could hardly contain their delight, gleefully scattering to the pool for a lawn chair and a Cuba Libre.

The next day, the PRSA/PRSSA International Conference began with a theme of Imagine, Create, Inspire. The opening ceremony featured Disney's Voices of Liberty (below), considered the finest a capella singing group in the world. As you might expect, Walt Disney World was a major sponsor of the conference.

Following the opening ceremonies, the conference featured two amazing keynoters: CNN anchor and special correspondent Soledad O'Brien and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation, Peter Diamandis.

O'Brien, who has worked at CNN since 2003, reports breaking news from around the globe and has produced documentaries on many important stories affecting the world today in her In America series. She noted that, like journalists, public relations professionals need to be good storytellers for their client or company: "we both deal in stories. Humans have always been connected to stories. Storytelling is more than just a compelling fact or statistic."

Diamandis was also a dynamic speaker; I first learned of his X PRIZE Foundation when reading Paul Allen's memoir, Idea Man. An international leader in the development of the personal spaceflight industry, Diamandis founded the educational non-profit institute with a mission to affect radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity.

"True breakthrough ideas don't come out of large corporations or organizations with top-down structures," he noted, saying that it was smaller teams consisting of diverse and non-traditional individuals -- isolated from the whole -- who have found success. He cited Apple and IBM as examples.

"The 'expert' is the one to tell you why something cannot be done, not the one with the crazy idea," he says. "The fact is that it's the crazy idea that will lead to a breakthrough." In other words, he seemed to be saying: "Why not go out on a limb? Isn't that where the fruit is?"

For the remainder of the conference, I spent time in professional development seminars on the use of social media in public relations, research and measurement and the like, as well as hanging with my peeps from the University of Oregon chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (below).

Otherwise, I could be found sipping a Cuba Libre by the hotel pool.

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