In 2009 Annual Conference, Tuesday

FPRA Annual Conference

Public relations professionals represent a multitude of stakeholders. No matter what area of public relations, we are the face of our organization or employer. What happens when you or your employer suddenly become the focus of the media or community? Suzanne Sparling, APR moderated a panel discussion where three prominent public relations practitioners addressed challenges they have faced within their industries. It’s all about demonstrating the value of public relations and the bottom-line return to their organization and employer.

Suzanne Sparling, APR kicked off this session with a powerful message! PR isn’t always ON fire…sometimes it is UNDER fire.  We often face the issue of relevance when it comes to the public relations profession and may be challenged with our own crisis situation. When faced with budgetary cutbacks and under the watchful eye of the media practitioners are open to becoming the target. We owe it to ourselves to impress upon our audiences the value of what we do and our positive impact on the bottom line. Establishing relationships internally and externally are a few of the keys to success! It’s about taking responsibility for our actions, attitudes and response to challenges.

Lauri-Ellen Smith, APR started the lively session by speaking very candidly about the Florida open records laws. Faced with legislation that does not leave anything to the imagination presents challenges, but when dealt with head-on, a positive message can be the outcome. Lauri-Ellen learned early on to make an arrangement with local reporters – they refrain from calling her a spin doctor and she does not call them bottom-feeders.

Dierdre Breakenridge followed by talking about breaking out of the sometimes distorted image of public relations professionals. Social media is a way to reinvent who we are. Suddenly we have new tools and we are creating new content and educating our audiences. Public relations professionals are so much more than they ever have been before! Listening is the key! The bottom-up approach is hearing what audience wants and bringing it to them.

Jack Levine loved being flanked by the dynamic PR bookends at the panel table. He learned about his destiny at an early age while reading aloud to his father who was blind. Before he knew it was happening, he became an advocate that helps the blind to see. Isn’t that one of the main components of PR? Helping public officials and the working media see the triumphs and good deeds of the day should be part of all practitioners’ objectives. Jack’s passion and positive attitude was the perfect dose of motivation toward the end of a long day!

Lauri-Ellen recommended Pixel as a secure platform for electronic networking for governmental agencies. She also highly endorsed finding what makes you passionate and going for it with gusto and having the chops to make the difficult calls. What is your avocation and what is your vocation? Merge the two!

Dierdre went on to talk about companies who are hesitant to delve into the social media world. She stressed that even if you don’t participate…you have to go out and listen. It is critical to find all the social networks that might apply to your business or situation. Finding the time and dedicating the time is a commitment that must be made.

Jack stressed the delineation between contact and communication. The real elements of communication include speaking and listening. Contact and relationship development is another thing altogether. It takes time and it is work but the payback is worth it.

Questions you should ask yourself:

Why are we doing what we are doing? Who brought us here? What path did we travel to get us to where we are today? Who was there for you when you needed them most?

You may think you don’t have time but if you invest five or two percent of your time in introspect you will improve your output and the calendar will slow down.

Lauri-Ellen shared the story of about when she was in the health-care industry and was accepted into the Leadership Jacksonville program and met a man in her class who was well-informed and she advised him to run for sheriff. Four years later he calls out of the blue and he won! He started his first term and Lauri-Ellen was making great money in the corporate world and left to work as a consultant for Super Bowl. The money stunk although the experience was great. At the end of a year, her boss asked for a 25 percent pay increase for her. News hit the front page while she was out of town. Her boss defended the request and asked if the media knew the fair market value for a professional of her caliber. It was a defining moment!

Jack told the group about a state senator not prepped for a visit to a children’s facility and he said to a very tall girl, “What’s a big girl like you doing in a place like this?” She decked him! Not the best method of communication. Once he got up, he apologized to her. We have to watch what we say in certain circumstances, but if you come to a realization that you should have done or said something different…own up to it.

About the Panel:

Jack Levine, founder of 4Generations Institute, is a communications and public policy consultant. Levine’s expertise is in developing and delivering messages to the media, public officials, and a diverse network of advocates on the value of preventive investments in children, parent leadership, grandparent activism, and dignified services for elders. Through public speaking, seminar and workshop leadership, and an array of community advocacy events, Levine shares information, provides inspiration, and leverages advocate enthusiasm in the direction of public policy action.

Lauri-Ellen Smith, APR, Special Assistant to the Sheriff of Jacksonville, Florida. A twenty eight year veteran of the Public Relations industry, Smith has spent her career advising employers and clients on their internal and external communications and public policy strategies. From creating and interpreting public opinion polling, to designing and implementing communications and branding strategies based on those findings, she has been recognized for her ability to raise public awareness and consciousness and shape public opinion on a myriad of topics and issues.

Deirdre K. Breakenridge is President, Executive Director of Communications at PFS Marketwyse.  A veteran in the PR industry, Breakenridge leads a creative team of PR and marketing executives strategizing to gain brand awareness for their clients through creative and strategic public relations campaigns. She recently finished her fourth Financial Times business book, “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations,” co-authored by Brian Solis, published in March 2009 and available in major bookstores.  She has also authored: “PR 2.0, New Media, New Tools, New Audiences,” “The New PR Toolkit” and “Cyberbranding: Brand Building in the Digital Economy.”

About the moderator:

Suzanne Sparling, APR, is an Accredited Public Relations Professional with more than 17 years of experience and a strong foundation in communications, public relations, project management, investor relationship management, marketing, media relations, fundraising, writing, and event coordination. Sparling serves as the Vice President of Investor Relations at United Way of Brevard County where she has been employed for more than 12 years.  At United Way, Sparling is responsible investor relations, major gifts development and planned giving, serves as organizational spokesperson, helping the organization achieve a more visible position in the community through professional public relations, media relations and reputation management.

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