As I sat in on eight panel discussions during the regional conference “Start Spreading the News,” hosted by Hofstra’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter this weekend, I thought back to the valuable advice I received during my quarter-century as a PR practitioner. I also thought about how lucky our students are to have learned from more than two dozen professionals this weekend, each generously sharing words of wisdom. I wondered which words created “light bulb moments” for the 150 student participants. What resonated with them as they listened?
Good advice has stuck with me through the years. One example: When I was just 29, I became the head of communications for the Town of Babylon and spokesman for Supervisor Arthur Pitts, the top elected official in a town of 220,000 residents. I was young and pretty naive, and whenever we’d talk about strategy I’d find myself thinking in terms of how we could quickly and effectively achieve our immediate goals. However, I’d sometimes neglect to regard the motivation, attitudes and concerns of those who would be affected by our actions. Supervisor Pitts, who was just a few years older but was far wiser, advised me to carefully consider others’ motivations, concerns and perceptions, and ultimately how our actions will be perceived and reacted to before decisions are made. Of course, this was a fundamentally sound public relations approach, but it was a light bulb moment for me.
Fraser Seitel, the PR guru who authored “The Practice of Public Relations” advises PR students to “plan from the outside in.” It was my former boss’s approach re-stated: Always begin your PR strategies by examining how your publics may react and respond.
There’s no question that lasting advice can come from anyone. Putting yourself in places where you can meet practitioners and really listen to their experiences and life lessons, creates a huge advantage for your own professional development. Sometimes just a few wise words can stay with you, influencing and informing your entire career.
If you were there, what was your “light bulb moment” at the PRSSA conference this weekend? Your thoughts?