Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fearless Futures

The theme for the 2014 PRSA International Conference in Washington, D.C. was “Leading The Way: A Fearless Future for PR," though it could have been subtitled “To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before.” Changes in communication technology continue to hurtle the field of public relations into new dimensions at lightning speed.

The annual conference is held in tandem with the Public Relations Student Society of America, so students from the University of Oregon chapter of PRSSA were in attendance for sessions at their hotel, The Omni, and for the keynote presentations at the 2014 PRSA International Conference at the adjacent Marriott Wardman Park.

For me, the conference began just as I arrived at the Marriott, joining my colleagues from other chapters in the PRSA North Pacific District for dinner at a nearby eatery on trendy Connecticut Avenue. Many of us would rise early the next morning for the PRSA Leadership Assembly, which promised to be livelier than usual this year.

The PRSA Leadership Assembly is both a deliberative body with governance responsibilities, including the election of PRSA directors and officers, and the ability to amend bylaws, endorse chapter dissolutions and approve the Society’s dues structure. Chapters, districts and sections all send representatives to the annual meeting.

This assembly included a bylaw amendment to designate two board slots as non-accredited positions, rather controversial because of ongoing efforts to promote the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) designation, and a floor challenge from a candidate vying with the nominee recommended by the PRSA National Nominating Committee.

Following comments from some delegates in attendance, the bylaw amendment passed convincingly. Later, the candidates competing for Chair and CEO of the PRSA had their opportunity to make their pitch to delegates. Both candidates were polite and deferential to one another -- not always the case at these elections in years past.

The conference traditionally has stellar keynoters: “Good Morning America” news anchor Amy Robach; author Walter Isaacson; magazine editor Polly LaBarre; and “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd. As an aside, the late Tim Russert, a former “Meet the Press” moderator, was a keynoter at the 2007 conference in Philadelphia

Robach related her story about the importance of mammograms and learning of her own breast cancer, and the support she received after her diagnosis. During the Q & A session, a student asked: “What’s the one key ingredient for success?” Not surprisingly, she replied: “Hard work. Show up. Be the first to arrive and the last to leave.”

Isaacson, a former chairman and CEO of CNN and Managing Editor of Time Magazine, has penned biographies of Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger. He emphasized that most innovations are the result of working together collaboratively on a team. “You know this; this is what you do every day.”

LaBarre, editor at MIX magazine, says it’s “not about old media or new media but about filling the space between you and your audience.” She advised engaging others in seeking innovation: “Invite a weirdo to lunch.” I like the sound of that; perhaps I’ll start receiving more luncheon invitations from my colleagues.

Todd recently assumed the reins of “Meet the Press,” the longest running show in the history of television. Despite being an election year, he says, many politicians don’t practice the art of politics, and we have “a system where gridlock is the easiest way.” Unfortunately, he says, “pragmatism and compromise are seen as vices, not virtues.”

Breakout sessions ranged from tools and techniques to strategy and measurement. 2014 Chair Joe Cohen, APR, summed up the focus of the conference, saying that “in today’s media environment, constant change is the norm, and public relations professionals must work harder than ever to stay at the top of their game.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Catalonia: Random Ramblings

Reflecting on Catalonia, several memories stand out. Arriving at the Barcelona airport, only to be “taken” again by moneychangers claiming “no surcharge” but getting hosed with a nine percent fee. Rolling into the city after 26 hours of travel to a see a “super moon” rising while discussing jazz guitarist Pat Metheny with my cab driver.

Arriving at the Hotel Axel Barcelona, dumping my bags in my room and sucking down my first cerveza. Then hitting the streets in search of German beer and spotting Paulaner at a nearby restaurant. Eventually finding a Spanish beer worth its salt in Voll Damm (below), brewed right in Barcelona, though unavailable in the U.S.

Receiving a warm welcome by two million of my closest Catalan friends on La Diada (September 11), the 300th anniversary of the region's National Day as they hit the streets of Barcelona to protest for a right to vote on independence from Spain -- turning the annual celebration of Catalan culture into a politically charged event.

Ironically, unlike Independence Day in the U.S., La Diada marks the occasion of a military disaster. Catalan troops fighting Spain were defeated after a 14-month siege of Barcelona, marking the dissolution of the autonomous Catalan institutions, the removal of Catalan as an official language, and new laws from the newly centralized Spain.

Braving the crowds at La Sagrada Familia for a picture of Gaudi’s unfinished cathedral, and learning that the goal is to have the magnificent structure completed on the 100th anniversary of the architect's death in 2025. Enduring 90 degree temperatures with 85 percent humidity while walking the streets of Barcelona.

Absorbing the spirituality of Montserrat while marveling at the wonderment of rounded rock weathered by millions of years of wind, rain, snow and sand. Hearing the beautiful voices of the lads who comprise the choir of L’Esclonia and hiking the trail along the life-size statues of the Stations of the Cross adjacent to the cathedral.

Fretting about clouds on the bus ride to Costa Brava, only to experience the most sunny Mediterranean climate on a September day one could hope for. Riding the waves on the tour boat to Illes Medes and witnessing the sort of natural environment that Alexandre Dumas must have imagined when writing The Count of Monte Cristo.

Marveling at the steep pitch of the grade and rocky outcroppings along the path of the funicular from Queralbs to Vall de Nuria. Chatting it up with the Aussies about politics in the U.S. and Australia while walking down from the top of the chair lift, then having them help me find the right size shirt for Rebecca in the lodge gift shop.

Hiking up to the top of Montjuic to view the site of the 1992 Olympics at the crack of dawn while much of Barcelona still slept after a night of partying and revelry -- and thereby having virtually the whole place to myself. Sneaking into the Olympic Stadium with two full busloads of Japanese tourists for a picture.

Sitting in front of my favorite restaurant -- El Secret Dell Tall, Bar Brasseria -- where the proprietor, Alan, would cap off my Paulaner with a free shot glass of peach liqueur. Watching all the people walk by in the neighborhood know as Eixample, the district of Barcelona between the old city and surrounding small towns.

Witnessing a typical Monday morning at the Barcelona airport on my way back, with everybody looking like they hate their jobs -- from the check-in attendant to the barista, and even the gal in the gift shop who sold me a couple of refrigerator magnets. Retreating to a quiet spot to watch incoming planes landing while listening to my iPod.

All told, a fantastic trip to the Mediterranean side of Spain that I would recommend to anybody. Barcelona had the feel of Genoa, Zurich and Munich -- all hip, urban spots in their respective countries. While the food in Spain was very good, I still have to give the nod in the cuisine department to Italy for both variety and taste.