Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Beantown Bemusement

For me, the trick at the international conference sponsored by the Public Relations Society of America is maintaining balance between the cornucopia of activities available: keynote speakers, breakout sessions, leadership assembly, student conference, networking and more. The event always leaves me bewildered but amused.

Nonetheless, we all engage with gusto, plying pedal to metal for the five-day hootenanny. This year’s PRSA International Conference, held in Boston, Massachusetts, featured top-flight speakers, a lively governance session, meetings with students, dinner on a boat cruise around the harbor and a tour of the Berklee College of Music.

Arriving at the Boston Park Plaza late on Thursday, October 5 after a six-hour flight, I immediately repaired to the hotel bar for a glass of limoncello before retiring. Joined by many, we collectively witnessed a good, sound thrashing of the locally beloved Boston Red Sox by those brutes, the Houston Astros, by a score of 8-2.

The next day, between skull sessions on strategy for the PRSA Leadership Assembly and grading papers for my two public relations writing classes at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, I explored Beantown Central. The PRSA International Conference hotel was a half mile from the Boston Park Plaza.

That evening, we had our annual PRSA North Pacific District dinner, an informal gathering of confederates from 15 chapters in nine states. The district, exceeding many countries in square miles, includes over 2,000 PRSA members and supports 24 chapters of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA).

We knew that fireworks were likely at the leadership assembly. Two amendments to the national bylaws were viewed by many -- especially out West -- as a threat to governance by the electorate. Representing the Oregon Chapter at assembly were (above, from left, Dianne Danowski Smith, Julie Williams and yours truly).

Thanks in part to a spirited campaign, including distributing teabags that read “No Administration Without Representation” to the delegates in attendance, both amendments failed. In a surprise move, the national board removed the most contentious amendment allowing the board to amend the bylaws unilaterally.

The other controversial amendment removing district representation as a requirement on the national board was defeated 117-102. While certainly not the type to perform a touchdown dance in an opponent’s end zone, it was nonetheless gratifying to participate in a successful grassroots effort in the name of democracy.

After the assembly, it was time for a quick two-step back to my berth at the Boston Park Plaza for a change into appropriate dinner wear prior to meeting with the executive team from the University of Oregon Chapter of PRSSA at the diversity mixer at the conference hotel: the Boston Marriott Copley Place. The mixer, an annual pre-function at the conference hotel, allows PRSSA students to network with public relations professionals of all stripes.
A highlight was the annual PRSA College of Fellows dinner aboard the Odyssey Boston celebrating the induction of friend and colleague Janelle Guthrie, APR, Fellow PRSA into our little guild of distinguished public relations professionals. Before the cruise around Boston Harbor, I symbolically tossed one of our teabags into the water.

Keynote speakers featured Morgan Spurlock, best-known for his critically-acclaimed hit documentary “Super Size Me,” Bea Arthur, founder and executive director of “The Difference” Think Tank, AmyK, former executive of a billion-dollar global consumer products company and Jay Baer, digital marketing strategist.

Another highlight: witnessing another friend and colleague Dianne “Triple Threat” Danowski Smith, a cancer survivor, win the Paul M. Lund Award. Founder of Answer2Cancer, a cancer support network, she also won the PRSA North Pacific District “Practitioner of the Year” and PRSA Oregon’s Ron Schmidt Award.

On my last day in Boston, I squeezed in a little time exploring the Berklee College of Music. The premier music college and performing arts conservatory in the U.S., alumni include Gary Burton, John Mayer, Donald Fagen, Diana Krall, Quincy Jones, Melissa Etheridge, Bruce Hornsby and many more. It was, ahem, yet another high note.

Editor’s note: Shortly after posting this blog entry, I received an email from Jack O’Dwyer, longtime PRSA antagonist with an axe to grind for perceived transgressions with the national organization dating back 40 years. In his email, he writes: “nice coverage of the conference. I hope you will email me. We could talk off the record.” 

Ha! Not a snowball's chance in hell. I have absolutely no intention of speaking with this corrupt curmudgeon with dubious journalistic credentials. Oh, the irony. His damning praise of our efforts to defeat two bylaw amendments at the PRSA Leadership Assembly makes me feel like blues guitarist Robert Johnson and his Faustian bargain at the crossroads. Better yet, Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) in Ghostbusters: “He slimed me.”