Saturday, November 21, 2015

Peaches And Public Relations

Just returned from the hallmark event of the Public Relations Society of America, the 2015 PRSA/PRSSA International Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Loved “Hotlanta,” of course, having been there before for an American Public Power Association conference in the late 1990s. Also enjoyed connecting with all my PRSA and PRSSA peeps (below).

Arriving on Friday, November 6, we hit the ground running on Saturday morning with the PRSA Leadership Assembly. Always enlightening, and occasionally entertaining, the assembly includes the governance activities of the organization; my role involves representing the interests of the PRSA Greater Oregon Chapter as assembly delegate.

On Sunday morning, the PRSA North Pacific District meets for its only face-to-face meeting of the year to address the business of the district, including electing a 2016 slate of officers. The district, which includes Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Utah and parts of California and Nevada, is physically larger than many nations.

After business meetings, the conference was officially underway with "a few words" from the U.S. Congressman John Lewis (below), a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement. Lewis, like most preachers, was a powerful orator who commanded full attention from the nearly 3,000 public relations students and professionals in attendance.

Describing his childhood in rural Alabama, he discussed segregation and how he honed his oratory by preaching to the chickens in the farmyard. Some would pay attention and some were preoccupied with other concerns, he noted with wry grin and a raised eyebrow. At the March on Washington in 1963, he was a keynote speaker.

With compelling rhetoric, Lewis encouraged the audience to “stand up for what is right and what is necessary” to “redeem the soul of America.” “We must learn to live together, never become bitter or hostile, never hate for hate is too heavy a burden to bear. We can create a world community at peace with itself.”

Next up, another entertaining speaker: Jim Cantore (above), host and meteorologist of The Weather Channel. Like Lewis, Cantore was a lively and engaging. He cautioned the audience: “You can’t hide anymore, especially with TV and social media. Know your audience. What is your message? Expect the unexpected with social media.”

Cantore illustrated his discussion with various clips from The Weather Channel over the years, including some of his popular “thundersnow” segments and one particular Twitter incident that assumed a life of its own. “Do what you believe in, but also make sure that you know that once you put something out there, you can’t get it back.”

In years past, I've witnessed many notable keynoters at the PRSA/PRSSA International Conference, including Tim Russert, host of NBC’s Face The Nation; James Carville and Mary Matalin, political strategists for Democratic and Republican candidates, respectively; and politicians like Newt Gingrich and (egad) Donald Trump.

Loved Atlanta, as usual, and visiting with my PRSA and PRSSA colleagues. Aside from conference sessions, meetings and socials, I had the opportunity to examine the collection of The Great Speckled Bird -- one of the first and most successful counterculture newspapers in the U.S. -- at Georgia State University in downtown Atlanta.

Their mantra echoes the editorial approach of most "alternative" publications today: "These are our opinions and we are entitled to them, they are not written anywhere else. So, don't expect us to tell both sides of the story. The big newspapers, magazines, TV and radio do that all day long. Here you will hear our side of things."

Atlanta was a peach of a city and was home to the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and companies like Coca-Cola, The Home Depot, Delta Airlines, United Parcel Service. A major media center (CNN, TBS and The Weather Channel), the city has no fewer than 70 streets featuring the word “peach,” we were informed.