Reflecting on an Excellent Adventure @ PRSA09

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I spent just 72 hours at the PRSA conference in San Diego last week, and I tried hard to be a good blogger. It didn’t work.

My most popular post, the one about Mike McDougall’s 24-second news cycle, drew just 5 human comments and 111 views. Key message in that post was about ethics in media relations, but I buried the lead. You sometimes make those mistakes on deadline.

My post titled “A Tale of Two Assemblies at PRSA” cries out for perspective. I should have called PRSA Chairman Mike Cherenson to get his take. And I should have talked with a handful of Assembly delegates and included their views. A good reporter would have done that.

I’m a writer, not a journalist — at least not anymore. Real reporting is best left to professionals, as gathering and presenting information on deadline is a skill few have mastered. I was damned good at it once — back when Jimmy Carter was president.

The conference was valuable and the content solid. In my role as “student,” I was reminded how tough it is to earn and retain the attention of several hundred people in a large room, about 20% of whom never get off their damn BlackBerrys.

I’m not a big fan of PowerPoint, but the presenters served up some quality slides. I hope they’ll post their presentations to SlideShare so everyone can see them. Or maybe PRSA will put the slides on the public section of its own website…you know, do a little sharing in the spirit of 2.0.

I learned more from the sessions than expected, and I wish I could have seen more of them. The program was a little too weighted toward social media for my tastes, but SM is the topic of the hour for most PR pros.

Advocacy for PR. PRSA has again launched an advocacy program for the profession, but I can’t get excited about it. “PR for PR” has been a priority of the Society long before I joined in 1983. But let’s be honest, the mainstream media don’t have much interest in covering this business, and I expect the same is true for bloggers.

I tend to think the whole “PR for PR” thing stems from our industry’s massive inferiority complex. We need to get over that. On the other hand, PRSA’s Business Case for PR in the C-suites has potential for some payoff. I’ll support it where I can.

What was missing at PRSA09? Pat Jackson. Pat last spoke at a national conference in 2000, about 6 months before his death. For some 20 years, Pat’s sessions at the national conference drew standing-room crowds, sometimes necessitating double sessions to accommodate demand.

Pat was the “Prophet of PR” — one who showed us how to operationalize symmetrical practice and to harness real 2-way communication. And he did it all without social media.

Pat knew that without behavioral outcomes, PR would never win a seat at management’s table. Pat’s lectures and writings changed the way thousands of PR professionals do their jobs. No one, but no one, has come close to replacing Pat as PR’s thought leader. You  can learn more about Pat Jackson here.

I’ll close this post with a thank-you to PRSA’s Arthur Yann and Diane Gomez for offering me a view of the conference from the media room. I enjoyed the perspective, even if my readers didn’t much care. Before my trip, I was planning to end my 27-year run with PRSA, but now I think I’ll hang around another year or two — if only to stir the pot!


PRSA’s invitation to cover the conference came just two weeks before the event. While the media pass gave me access to the conference sessions at no cost, I paid all travel and lodging expenses. PRSA picked up the tab for 2 margaritas on Monday evening in the exhibitor’s hall. Gracias.

5 Responses to Reflecting on an Excellent Adventure @ PRSA09

  1. Great post. I was going to argue about Pat Jackson, but Chester Burger is the DEAN of PR, not prophet.

    Noticed you did not blog about Ms. Huffington. That’s pretty much the reason I did not go. PRSA had people like yourself, Curt Linke and many more PR pros to choose from. Went too far afield with Huffington.

    The true PR pros can be found in the Arthur Page Society. Check ITS news page compared to PRSA

  2. Bill Sledzik says:

    I didn’t get there in time to hear Ms. Huffington, but I would disagree with you about how she fits with this audience. HuffPo may be the best example of news moving from the traditional mainstream channels to something — well, something else. It’s not really a blog, but it’s “news with attitude.” Her message is an important one for PR professionals, and I can tell you that Ms. Huffington had the whole conference buzzing by the time we all started drinking on Sunday night aboard the U.S.S. Midway.

    I think we’re all familiar with the Page Society, and it is home to some top-notch professionals. But APS also exclusionary — a good ole boys club of sorts. Influential? Sure. But APS isn’t terribly useful to most of us. But they sure thing they are!

    And yes, Chet Burger was one of the “deans.” But to use a modern-day cliche, Pat Jackson was a “game changer” who redirected the practice of PR into an entirely new paradigm. It took 25-30 years for folks to get it. But many have. The traditionalists didn’t like it much, since Pat de-emphasized the role of media relations. “Go direct,” he said. I did, and I never looked back.

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  4. Kami Huyse says:

    It was great to see you at PRSA09. I really wish I could have heard Pat speak.

    As for Arthur Page, I was lucky enough to attend their conference this year as the token social media person. I will have to say that when they said I couldn’t tweet or blog I had to sit on my hands. The content was great there, but like anywhere else there were some things that were ridiculous.

    What I have learned is that any organization that has people in it is necessarily flawed. I prefer to work from teh inside out, but you already know that…

  5. Diane Gomez says:

    Hi Bill,

    Many thanks for covering the PRSA International Conference. I hope to see you at next year’s conference in Washington, D.C.

    I also wanted to share with you that PRSA 2009 International Conference attendees can now download session presentations from the conference Web site ( Available presentations are listed under the session descriptions (log in required). If a presentation is not available, please check with the conference presenter.

    Additional conference presentations can be found on Slideshare ( Thanks!

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