“Hawaii is not a state of mind but a state of grace.”
That quote by novelist Paul Theroux perfectly sums up the feeling I have upon returning to San Diego from the PRSA Western District Conference, hosted in late April in Honolulu, Hawaii.
I am so grateful to the PRSA Hawaii Chapter for hosting this event on the magical island of Oahu. For many of the PRSA members in attendance from throughout the Western United States, it was our first in-person conference since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Public relations (PR) and communications professionals rarely suffer from a shortage of words, but I found that most of us had even more to share than usual. This was separate from the outstanding keynotes and sessions we attended. After two years of uncertainty, loss and managing personal and professional crises, it seemed as though the shared experience was exactly what we needed to heal.
Conferences are known for their professional development opportunities that allow us to stay on top of the ever-changing world that is public relations, communications and marketing. And this conference delivered all of it.
But what I appreciated the most was our own personal storytelling. Those of us who get paid to shape conversations, provide guidance and counsel to our organizations, and always know just what words to say – instead sought out ways to be heard. “What was it like for you?” was a question I was asked a lot. And it was always reciprocated.
In addition to the sessions, this one-on-one personal exchange was well worth the price of registration.
I talked to nonprofit leaders, medical communications pros, agency leaders and educators. To me, this experience in the magical setting of Hawaii was about new beginnings.
The world we knew in February 2020 isn’t where we are in May 2022. Here are a few takeaways of mine from two of the keynote sessions I attended.
Peter Shankman, founder of Help a Reporter Out (HARO), spoke about the future. While the topic of his keynote was the Metaverse, my takeaway was one of getting back to basics. My favorite quote of this session was, “Having an audience is a privilege, not a right.” Here are some notable nuggets:
- He reminded us to be transparent. Own your mistakes and explain how you will fix them.
- Ask your audience what they want and how they want it. Maybe they’d prefer a text and not an email.
- Brevity is important. Especially when the average attention span is now 2.7 seconds.
- “The five most underutilized words in the English language? How can I help you?” This helps to ensure you become top of mind.
- He also gave some very good advice in terms of social media. “Embrace the concept, not the brand.”
The other keynote that really stuck with me was delivered by Brandi Boatner, manager of digital and advocacy communications at IBM. Brandi introduced us to a new acronym: DEIB, which stands for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging.
The “B” was the a-ha moment for me personally. While I will never be able to do her presentation justice, I will leave you with some of my favorite parts:
- Brandi referenced the recent Census data, which if you haven’t looked at for our region, you really should. It is the snapshot of the current state of who your audience is.
- At any given moment we are confronted with 11 million pieces of information. You can only retain 40. And during all this, we form 150 different implicit biases.
- Bias is your brain’s way of wiring together similarities and differences. But “No matter where you go, the other will be there.”
- The new skill for the modern world is cultural competence. This is a journey rather than a final destination.
We, as PR and communications professionals, need to think globally. Our organizations will succeed if we are culturally competent, create community (a sense of place) and engage in sometimes uncomfortable conversations.
PR professionals are empowered to lead in this space. I am proud that our Chapter, just last year, led an important conversation about “Communicating with Pride,” where we discussed being mindful of inclusive language and imagery. If your creativity doesn’t match your community, you are not doing it right.
Brandi’s keynote contained this important quote from Edward L. Bernays, which our Chapter’s awards ceremony is named after, “The three main elements of public relations are practically as old as society: informing people, persuading people or integrating people with people. Of course, the means and methods of accomplishing these ends have changed as society has changed.”
The “B” in Belonging for me stands for what PRSA is. It’s a place to have these conversations and a place for us to grow as a community.
About the Author
Barbara Cosio Moreno is an award-winning senior communications professional. Her passion has always been telling a good story and overcoming a challenge. Barbara has served as a lead on crisis communications plans, security planning for high-profile civic events and provided counsel to C-Suite leadership and Board of Directors. She currently serves as Public Affairs Manager for Caltrans.