I returned a couple of days ago to the DC area after a whirlwind trip to San Francisco and the 2012 PRSA International Conference. I hope I’ll have the time/mind space to write more about my experience(s) there, but this is something I’ve been thinking about, and wanted to share.
Crowded mart, crowded mind
There are a ton of conferences that take place. Way more than there used to be, and since time hasn’t expanded accordingly, we’re always having to choose which ones to attend, and which ones to drop out of or ignore (much like our target audiences, when we put on our “day job” hats, do).
But #prsaicon (the hashtag for the conference since last year) is one that I always look forward to. Yes, I’ve been presenting now for a few years, so I love being able to share what I learn with others, and learn from others.
But really, I think what makes it special for me is that it’s like coming home to my “PR family.” I get to see PR pros I may not see all year long, and catch up with what they’ve been up to, both with work and play.
Social bringing us closer
Social media has been a huge factor here; I think it was when I attended the San Diego conference a few years ago, having been active in social (particularly Twitter) for a while, that I realized what a “family” feeling there was thanks to us all keeping in touch via social… so when we bumped into each other on the way to/from a session, we felt like old friends, even if we weren’t, really.
That’s how I felt attending the conference this year in San Francisco. And outside of some absolutely amazing sessions, including Biz Stone‘s keynote (the man gave us Twitter, for heaven’s sake! He’s a God!) and Holly Nielsen‘s absolutely absorbing session on communicating through & beyond disability…
… what really made a difference to me was the one-on-one time I had with people I first got to know as “PR superstars,” and who then became colleagues, and who I’m now proud to call “friend.”
For example, on Saturday night, Heather Whaling, Deirdre Breakenridge and her husband, and another new friend and I had a lovely, quiet dinner together. Heather had to leave that night, but she made it a point to catch up with us and I can’t tell you how magical that time was (the last time we saw each other was at BlogWorld last year).
I was able to grab some quiet time with Chris Kemper (who I met for the first time last year) and Kevin Dugan (never met him before, he’s awesome and absolutely not frightening!). Ditto with folks I haven’t seen in years, including former friends and colleagues from the time I lived and worked in the Bay Area (here’s my Storify of Day 1 of #prsaicon for a fun look at it).
Johna Burke and I spent probably an hour just… chatting. She is so smart, it’s frightening. Ditto with Heidi Sullivan. And Pierre-Loic Assayag and Derek Skaletsky of Traackr (which y’all know I love and adore).
I was able to spend a little time chatting with Kirk Hazlett, who is a regular here on WUL, and Kathy Barbour. And the “measurati,” as Don Bartholomew calls those of us who are in love with measurement (Katie Paine, Richard Bagnall, Angie Jeffrey, er, me…!). And Martin Waxman.
I won’t go on, because I’ll leave someone out and then I’ll feel horrible, but the point is …
It’s not about content
The content at conferences is usually a mix of good, indifferent and excellent. Not simply for PRSA conferences, but conferences in general. And after you’ve been going to a few of these for a while, even though you are still hungry to learn, you tend to not see/hear a ton of presentations that are mind blowing, or earth-shatteringly new.
Simply because after you’ve spent some time in the field, there’s a lot of old wine in new bottles.
Let’s be clear, I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I’m just saying, that’s the way I think it is.
And over and above that, there’s at least 87.268% – a completely unscientific and arbitrary number I just made up – of the content that you will absolutely not get to hear/learn/absorb, simply because of the way conferences are structured. Because you can’t be everywhere at once.
So then, you might ask, why bother going? If 80% of the content is going to be “been there, done that,” what’s the point?
It’s about connection
The point is in the meetings. The point is in the people. The point is in connecting, reconnecting, and reveling in connection.
The point is in collectively sharing, and participating in, and learning about, and growing our industry together.
The point is in relating to each other as people, and not just as “networkers,” or “prospects.”
Because when we take the time to get to know the people behind the prospects, we learn what makes each other tick. We’re able to help each other out, even if there’s nothing in it for us.
Especially if there’s nothing in it for us.
And though we may not walk away with new business signed and sealed, I can guarantee you that the people we take the time to connect with – because we genuinely like and respect them, or we were just being nice – will remember us when someone asks for a referral, or has a job opening.
People do business with people they like. It’s as simple as that.
And if we – as people in business, and business owners – continue to remember that, business will take care of itself.
Seriously. It’s that simple.
@kathikruse @KarenPilling @geoffliving @TheJackB @KDillabough @samfiorella @barrettrossie @BrennerMichael @jkcallas Belated thank you!
Thanks for the shout-out, @Shonali. You have absolutely captured the spirit and intent of #prsaicon...and my exact sentiments regarding the opportunities that present themselves at these events. As I've been telling my students since I returned, I'm awfully afraid my head's going to explode from all the information that I stuffed in it before, during, and after the conference.
Let's keep on learning!!
@KirkHazlett Have you had a chance to recover yet? And thank you so much for saving a seat for me, not once, but TWICE. I so enjoyed seeing you IRL after a year!
@shonali thanks for including me on your #PRSAICON story! You're an inspiration to me. Cc @KirkHazlett
HI Shonali - thanks for this thoughtful post. I certainly feel a sense of conflict when contemplating whether to make the not insubstantial investment to go to any of the big conferences. For example, I pined to go to the AMEC/IPR measurement shindigs in Barcelona and Dublin - not only were many of my Measurement Commission colleagues intimately involved in the creation of landmark principles and foundations for standards of measurement, but the chance to learn from people from outside the North American bubble were a powerful draw.
However, with resources just flowing from lil ol' me, it was not possible - especially in context of client obligations.
I find that the smaller conferences offer not only less taxing financials, but an easier scale. I spoke this week at IABC's Heritage Region Conference in Pittsburgh and feel like I got quite a lot of networking qi there. I'm also speaking at IABC/PRIME in NYC next month, another sort of specialty conference that may offer smaller, more focused networking.
Internationals just kind of wear me out - my last was PRSA in DC in '10 - and it was a bit overwhelming... Now, perhaps, with my burgeoning reputation and no doubt soon to be massive social media presence, I might have had better luck on the connections front in San Fran.
One thing is for sure, however - we all need to get out more, myself included. Cheers!
@commammo Thank YOU for stopping by! I remember when I used to tweet/chat with you often and I don't that much these days, and I miss it. How are you?
So... up until this year, I always paid for the conference myself too (this year, my employer covered it). But I did get a comp registration, so at least I didn't have to pay the registration fee (didn't this year either)... but certainly, the airfare, hotel, etc., is not cheap. But it's worth it to me for all the connections I make, how many people get to know/hear from me, and of course, most importantly, for all the friends I get to see again. I just can't replicate experiences like watching the presidential debate with @kdpaine and @richardbagnall and then having a small, intimate dinner later... and I wouldn't miss them for the world. Or having a quiet chat with @pierreloic or @dskaletsky ... I could go on and on but won't, since I already did. :)
I completely know what you mean about the value of smaller conferences; I remember, the first year I attended IPR, I was blown away at how wonderful it is. But I have to pick and choose, and the fact is that a PRSA gives me exponentially more opportunities than some of the smaller conferences. I've also seen an industry trend towards consolidation - eg this year there was an entire day of AMEC-presented content, *at* PRSA. Now, you had to pay quite a bit extra for it, which is why I didn't do it (also my flight got in later), but still, attendees had the opportunity to at least meet some of those people.
So I think one could make the conference experience as large as one wants, or as intimate as one wants.
@Shonali GREAT times at PRSA! Thanks for including me in your "tour" and in your roundup. ALWAYS fun, but never enough time to plot world domination.
@shonali I love that post, Shonali. So glad we were able to grab a delicious dinner and catch up. Hopefully our paths will cross again soon!
Grt seeing you MT @shonali Thoughts after #prsaicon on networking & making connections http://t.co/fyznnRuS @DBreakemridge @gojohnab @prtini
What a wonderful post! I do believe that, at times, we all think "been there, done that." However, this year, I met more than 20 people that I previously only knew through social media! Not to mention all the fabulous PR pros I only see once a year at the conference -- like you, Miss Shonali ;)
@tressalynne I too met folks I've so far only interacted with on Twitter/in SM (mostly Twitter), and I love that part of it. But I really enjoy seeing my friends I only see once a year, if that... and you're definitely in that category!
Now I'm bummed I made the decision not to go. The timing was terrible...and I really needed a few weeks at home without interruption. Next year!