So What Did You Learn at Conversations 2013?

A few weeks back I had the chance to volunteer at the CPRS National Conference. I made sure to listen, learn and take note of everything I could especially during all the insightful workshops and conferences I was able to attend. Throughout Conversations 2013, the conference doctrine was the need to add new dimensions and change PR by being smarter, better, and constantly ahead of the game in order to be able to critically assess and solve issues. The conference was planned to bring together and recognize industry people and their hard work. A sense of unity and hope was prevalent during the conference, as I listened attentively to each story.

The conference also re-enforced the need to overcome the age-old PR stereotype of labelling individuals as “spin doctors*”. This stereotype often forces young PR professionals to constantly defend their actions and deflect negative publicity and feedback. The creeping fear had created a common cause and enemy during the conference, whereas the only apparent solution was to develop new skills at an unreasonable pace. These unrealistic goals of workers trying to please everyone will, I suspect, lead to overexertion. I was both amazed and terrified by this common fear that created a feeling of camaraderie amongst the group. Instead of becoming robots, I propose we admit that we are human and aim for rational and attainable objectives. This push forward from our past to being truth-tellers is important. We must be open rather than complacent and teach others about our past experiences to grow in the future. Truth-be-told, I admit to having learned more about the spin doctor criticism during Conversations 2013 than in my actual classes. We can shake the spin doc image by owning up to our past and promoting our roles in the workplace.

In my opinion, after attending Conversations 2013, below are a few solutions to solidify our presence in the workplace:

1. Honesty – it’s not about promises, it is about delivery. If you are not genuine, it does not matter how smart you are – you won’t win anyone over. If you can’t handle your workload, don’t promise to “do more or be more”. It is better to be realistic.

2. Consideration and perception of the people you work with (co-workers or clients alike) add to the honesty factor.

3. Keep up with the spirit of good will and unity. It can’t just come and go at a conference. Continuous support makes things exciting on all fronts.

4. Create and implement a universal code of ethics for PR professionals. Teach it to students alike in our Media Ethic’s classes. Proper training leads to proper etiquette and even better performance.

5. If you want something you’ve never had before, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done before. CPRS achieved this through their insightful Mental Health Panel discussion.

6. Stress the need to monitor the content we post. One downfall from the conference I found was that it was more on social media itself than programs in measuring the value we give to companies.

7. Keep students interested. Whenever I use uOPRA as a channel to reach out to professionals, I keep tabs on the ones who raise the dialogue with me, and the companies that have a great work culture. As I’m sure most professionals do with potential employees, I flip the scripts and keep my options open. In a few years when we graduate, we’ll be attracted to the companies who are doing well and who we can challenge ourselves professionally with. The quality of our work is a reflection of not only of ourselves, but of our leaders. By helping us develop a sense of consciousness and deep understanding of the industry, our own roles as students or interns we remain interested.

At the end of the day, to me, Public Relations is a method to facilitate conversation, to spark or promote an idea, a company or an individual. CPRS was successful in delivering this in a conference jam-packed with great food and even better conversation. It was essential that I learned what stage we are in our industry, and even more important, to critically think for myself what options there are to move forward and defend my future career. I applaud the planning team for the seamless event, as it was a great introduction into the PR world. Overall I enjoyed the volunteering and the knowledge I’ve retained. I’m excited for the upcoming year!

Written by: Sharon Cheung

* Note: The term spin doctor is often used to describe public relations experts as well as political or corporate representatives whose job it is to put a “positive spin” on events or situations. If someone controls the spin, or direction, of an object, he is showing the sides of it that he wants to show while not shedding light on the rest. This is an old stereotype that most PR experts are not fond of. (

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