ICON 2020 gives tips for ‘Navigating Public Relations During A Disrupted World’

by: Hannah Klaassen

What does PR look like in 2020? That’s the main question answered at the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) first virtual conference, ICON 2020, held Oct. 26 through 29. I had the opportunity to represent Cal Poly’s Public Relations Student Society of America’s (PRSSA) chapter at the event, which focused on strategic communications and navigating the public relations field during a time of great uncertainty.

Throughout the conference, we were invited to choose from more than 50 breakout sessions of and 100 speakers. My favorite keynote session, led by Candace Steele Flippin, focused on how the extreme uncertainty in our world impacts the public relations profession. She challenged listeners to channel three important behaviors while navigating the industry:

  1. Reject the idea that business is not personal. Everything we do as a human directly impacts others.
  2. Use the power that we have to make the world a better place. Even though, individually, we may not feel like we can make an impact, each person does have an influence on society.
  3. Don’t compromise your integrity. Sometimes in our careers, we may be asked to stretch the truth. Others count on us as reliable sources, so it’s imperative that we not put our personal and professional integrity at risk.

Another breakout session, led by Gerard Brand, taught me that the most critical component of crisis response is being proactive. PR professionals must act swiftly with the information that you know. This is crucial because a crisis can negatively impact an organization’s revenue, reputation and brand. You need to prevent fallout with a fast and timely response.

It was fascinating to learn skills that are incredibly relevant to current events at this conference. This pandemic has added a whole new dimension to the field of marketing and I enjoyed learning more about how to navigate the industry during a world interrupted by change.

This was my first experience attending a conference hosted completely online. I was impressed with how well PRSA adjusted their event to fit the virtual platform. As part of the conference, they built an entirely new portal that consisted of a virtual lobby, exposition hall, general sessions theatre and various lounges. The design of this portal was based off of the footprint of the building at which the conference was originally going to be held in Nashville, Tenn.

As a perk, since we were unable to physically be in Nashville, PRSA hosted receptions that transported attendees to the Music City. We had the opportunity to learn new cocktail recipes from a Jack Daniel’s historian, we heard songwriting tips from award-winning writer Alice Randall and more. I thought it was great that they offered these sessions and it added some variety, which is hard to achieve on a virtual platform. I’m already looking forward to attending the 2021 PRSA conference, which hopefully can be held in person!

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