ComPRehension

Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
October 26, 2008

Keynote Impressions


PRSA International Conference is officially underway, and what a way to launch the event! The Sacred Heart Choral Ensemble welcomed a full house of PRSA members as they filed in for the opening session. The ensemble’s passion and soul could motivate professionals in any trade—we should all love our jobs that much.

Detroit Mayor Kenneth V. Cockrel Jr., PRSA Chair and CEO Jeff Julin and WDIV reporter Paula Tutman followed with their own inspired speeches. Mayor Cockrel sold the room on Detroit’s progress and amenities, while Paula Tutman provided her accounts with this city’s residents. Both were a great representation of Detroit’s spirit.

With the opening remarks aside, keynote presenter Craig Newmark finally took the stage. He began with a self described “nerd-to-entrepreneur” story—complete with taped glasses and pocket protectors in high school. Ten minutes into his presentation, it was clear that Newmark is a humble man who is in touch with both his strengths and weaknesses (and a little bit of cheesy comedy mixed in). After founding Craig’s list, he soon discovered that management wasn’t his strength. Instead of treating the experience as a defeat, he simply stuck to his strength—customer service. Imagine calling a customer service line and connecting directly to the company’s founder. It’s his strength, and it’s “what feels right”, a theme he’d repeat often in his remarks.

PRSA members questioned Newmark about Craiglist itself, future developments and his personal experiences. The user content-driven nature of Craigslist interested me in particular, as the PR industry transitions to more interactive forms of communication through social media. I asked how Craigslist handles questionable user content. The site has built in self-policing methods for users to clean up any offensive material. I wonder if PR professionals can trust the same form of self-policing for corporate blogs or Facebook pages. There is a fine line between managing reputation and encouraging open discussion, one that many companies are still figuring out. 

Afterward, I spoke with Craig and asked about how the media reacts to the company’s user-guided policing policy. “Positive, for the most part,” he replied. “Negative examples are bound to pop up due to the nature of the site though.” He stated that some reporters even comb through Craigslist posts for story ideas—an approach I never would have imagined. This serves as a reminder that anything public is fair game for coverage, including negative customer reactions or blog posts that we may face in PR.

Craig and the opening session’s supporting cast kicked off the Conference with quite a bang. More to come about the sessions ahead.

Kevin Saghy is an assistant account executive at Ketchum Public Relations and is a member of the PRSA 2008 International Conference committee.

For coverage on the PRSA 2008 International Conference: The Point of Connection, visit www.prsa.org/conf2008.

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