D. Armon revised and updated this post at 3:30 PDT.
When Michael Cherenson, APR, opened the largest United States gathering of the PR profession Sunday in San Diego, he called attention to the organization’s goal to “build the business case for public relations.”
“What is needed,” said Cherenson, is a “better informed perception” of the value of public relations for communications professionals to gain more influence, hire more staff and maybe even get the budget to hire a public relations firm.
Cherenson understands the very serious theme of a profession that desperately needs to quantify its contribution to business and society.
Fortunately, two substantive sessions delivered on that mission. Hufffington Post founder Arianna Huffington effectively described the contributions that impassioned Web 2.0 journalists and their public relations counterparts can make if they remain dedicated to just causes. “Touching peoples’ hearts is so much more important than touching peoples’ minds,” she said, urging public relations pros to be the moral compass for their clients and to “course-correct” when they stray.
A former syndicated columnist, California independent gubernatorial candidate and regular political commentator on TV news talk shows, Huffington took the tone of a mentor in her remarks about how stories can make more impact.
“We are all used to constant streams of information. For something to stand out, there needs to be drama,” she said, eliciting chuckles when she referred to the October “balloon boy” incident in Colorado.
“Even after we found the balloon boy, we never renamed him the attic boy, which we should have,” she quipped.
Huffington used the PRSA appearance to promote a newly launched “Impact” section of the Huffington Post blog, which includes case studies of people in need and offers widgets for fundraising. One recent story on a family in need netted $30,000 in donations in three days, she said.
On tools of the public relations trade, Huffington pointed out that those entering the profession have an advantage because they are “digital natives.” She acknowledged using press releases to announce major events like a new president of the Huffington Post, but showed a strong preference for more interactive forms of communications.
“You consume old media sitting on the couch and you consume new media galloping on the horse,” she said. “You are engaged with the (new media) information. The more of the social tools we use, the more important and powerful the interaction becomes.”
One veteran PRSA member, Marian Levitt, APR, of New York City, called Huffington’s address the best she has seen in decades. “It was practical and inspired,” she said.
Dave Armon, vice chairman, dna13, has been a member of PRSA for 20 years. Previously, he served as president and COO of PR Newswire, where he worked for 20 years. Dave’s first job was as a radio traffic reporter in his hometown of Rochester, N.Y. His favorite job was driving a Skippy Ice Cream truck. Connect with Dave on Twitter.
For coverage of the PRSA 2009 International Conference: Delivering Value, visit our Conference blog or follow the conversation on Twitter at hashtag #prsa09.