Division C - Audio/Visual Tools of Public Relations
Category 11 - Other
FPRA 2006 Annual Conference Blog
Chris M. Gent, Josh Hallett, Bob O'Malley, APR, Jennifer Wakefield

Judges' Award

Research/Situation Analysis: In March 2006, the Florida Public Relations Association officially launched FPRABlog, http://www.fprablog.com. The collaborative blog was developed to publish articles written by multiple users while rallying around a single uniting theme: public relations. With nearly 60 million blogs being tracked worldwide, it was high time for FPRA to have its own place in the blogosphere.
The first test for the blog came in March 2006 during a newly-created event, FPRA Blog Week. The weeklong event met with good success and introduced many members to the blog experience.
As FPRA’s Vice President of Communications, Chris Gent introduced a proposal to FPRA’s state board to spearhead the first-ever blogging of an FPRA annual conference. The concept was enthusiastically embraced by FPRA’s executive committee. The blog, however, received some resistance from several long-time members of the association. It was clear from the beginning that this blog project would not only provide coverage of the annual conference but would serve as a tool to educate and change perceptions and attitudes about blogging.

Objectives: Our objectives included: (1) to provide interactive coverage of the FPRA Annual Conference on the Web for both Association members and non-members; (2) to publish at least 50 articles from the conference; (3) to attract more than 750 unique visitors to the blog during the three-day conference; and (4) to gain acceptance among FPRA membership for conference blogging.

Implementation: Chris assembled a small team of bloggers that included himself, Josh Hallett of Hyku, LLC, Bob O’Malley, APR of Ron Sachs Communications and Jennifer Wakefield of the Metro Orlando EDC.
The group held a series of brainstorming meetings to discuss and map out how to effectively blog the conference. We identified the tools needed to accomplish our objectives. The hardware would include laptops, connectivity to the Internet, digital cameras and a digital audio recorder. The blog would be powered by Moveable Type software that the Association already owned. We established a free Flickr photo account which would allow us to upload photos throughout the conference and link them back to the blog. To promote the blog, we advertised it in our statewide member newsletter and sent out an email messages to members in advance of the conference.
Just prior to the start of the conference we received an email from FPRA State President Adrienne Moore, APR, CPRC expressing the concern of several members about the conference blog. Her email read “I have received an email from a long-time member objecting to the blogging of conference. He has indicated that several other long-time members are opposed to it as well. Their reasoning is that they have paid $500 a piece to hear the speakers, while those following the blog have not. These individuals are concerned about the “giving away” of conference material to individuals who had not paid the $500 conference fee.”
I responded to Adrienne with an email addressing these concerns. I told her that the blog wasn’t supported by these individuals simply because they did not understand it. I went on to explain that the conference blog was designed to encourage dialog from the entire public relations community – both those attending the conference and those who were not. I also noted that the benefits of the blog would last well beyond the conference dates because the session notes and comments would be posted indefinitely as a resource for blog visitors. I asked these members to give us a chance to prove the value of the blog. We were given the green flag to proceed.
We kicked off the conference blog with coverage of the golf tournament. We mapped out a general schedule to make sure we had a blogger and photographer to cover each session of the conference. Each of the four bloggers contributed articles throughout the conference. To add excitement and fun to the blog, we included elements like photos, podcasts featuring hallway interviews with conference attendees, and much more. In addition, we linked presentation material, videos and presentation papers to the blog to provide added depth to the coverage.

Evaluation: The annual conference blog was a tremendous success. Here’s a snapshot: 1,264 unique visitors to the blog during the 3-day conference generated 4,775 page views. In the week following the conference we drew an additional 575 unique visitors. The blog boasted 69 articles, 82 visitor comments, 363 photos in the conference Flickr account and 11 hallway interview podcasts.
We received many comments both on and off the blog praising our efforts, including: Love the blog and it is great to see all of the photos… What a great resource!... Thank you for adding an exciting and interactive element to the conference that gently eased dozens of first-time users into the wonderful world of the blogosphere!
The real icing on the cake was the personal emails I received immediately following the conference from those members who had initially rejected the idea of the blog. Through the course of the conference these individuals saw firsthand the value and benefits of the blog. In fact, both of these members posted comments on the blog and acknowledged that it was their first-ever blog response! How’s that for changing perceptions?

Budget: All the equipment (laptops, cameras, digital recorders) used to develop the blog was equipment
already owned by the participating bloggers. The only cost associated with the blog was the purchase of hotel Wi-Fi accounts for the bloggers at a cost of $800 or 44 cents per unique visitor.