SunCon23 Scholarship Winner Muffet Robinson Shares Key Findings from Conference

By: Muffet Robinson

The drive to Miami and back in less than two days for PRSA SunCon23 was well worth the trip, even though my GPS steered me off the turnpike WAY too soon!

This wonderful experience was mine thanks to the scholarship from PRSA Orlando. I am more than grateful for the experience and want to share a bit of what I learned.

First, I got to feel like a college student on the FIU campus…the perfect state of mind to take in new concepts. Then I found my peeps from Orlando at the opening reception, letting me know I had family there if I needed them. Shy person that I am (not), I met new people and asked questions to further my understanding of topics.

Jennifer R. Hudson, APR was the opening keynote speaker. She left me with some very real takeaways in terms of our communications role and value in an organization. Jennifer stressed paying attention to the underdog (aka Hermione in Harry Potter) and helping to make their voices heard, understanding the company’s core values, and using our PR frameworks – such as RPIE – to keep us macro. By doing an environmental scanning of sorts, we are best situated to be a trusted advisor and must GET LOUD! When we take the reins to do this, we get consistency, impact, clarity, confidence, and revenue growth.

I wanted to know what I Need to Know about Navigating the Intersection of AI and PR. Some of my takeaways from this interesting panel were:

  • To never show a client a piece of work that’s AI,
  • To use the tool as a way to think of new ideas,
  • That it is “creepy but useful,” and
  • That it can’t achieve strategy, tone and emotions.

Interestingly, I heard a lot about bias, ethics, risk, and having all work checked by two sets of eyes, yet we need to stay on top of AI and embrace it. The panelists agreed that AI is not a threat to most of us, as it doesn’t portray the human element. However, it might replace some junior PR people who then will not become senior.

My next session paired Social Media and Creator Tools. Getting everyone’s attention with Barbie slides in which the doll in pink seems to be integrating with everyone and every brand to promote the movie, Demi Bakatselos pointed to the mastery of learning to leverage social media influencers, and having social media teams and PR teams collaborate. (Two teams? Wow!)

Demi talked about several influencer campaigns. One was the “Coasting the Keys” Toyota campaign in which Toyota gave a major influencer a Toyota Hylander for three days to visit the Keys and post about his experience. Another campaign involved a beach clean-up; and a third was a Toyota giveaway to a longtime customer. (This tugged at the heartstrings!) My biggest surprise was that they did not pay the influencer! Can you say relationships, aligned goals and trust?

Michelle Eagan, APR, Fellow PRSA, Board Chair was our Keynote Luncheon Speaker. Michelle talked about PRSA’s three-year strategic plan. One takeaway is our “North Star” – that we are a community of ethical professionals. Another is the three pillars of the plan, which are Build, Influence and Evolve.

PRSA is committed to building PRSSA, we must influence the environment on which communication is built and have the power to use our voices, and we will evolve the organization by building members, chapters and districts.

Michelle talked about the importance of ethics and our Code of Ethics, watching out for mis- and dis-information, being careful of the built in biases of AI, speaking up in your company, using PRSA professional development sessions as a resource, and more.

Our Orlando Chapter members cleaned up at the Radiance Awards, co-chaired by our own Jaylen Christie! Wendy J. Roundtree, APR was honored as the Trailblazer Professional of the Year! (Congrats, Wendy!) The Geri Evans Award for Distinguished Service was won by Connie Crowther. (Geri was very happy!)

The BEST OF SUNSHINE Award for External Communications Campaigns went to Rollins College for “Non-Speaking Valedictorian Speech Goes Viral.” For Social Media Campaigns, the Award went to Orange County Government for “Hurricane Ian Response.”

These two organizations each won several awards. They were joined in the winner’s circle by Orlando Chapter members Curley & Pynn, Orange County Convention Center, Orange County Environmental Protection, and Toho Water Authority. Congratulations to all these local pros! To see the complete list, please click here.

Packing even more into my day, I attended a panel on crisis communications in the modern era. “Modern,” of course means digital and the speed at which information gets out there. Some takeaways were to make a plan, involve your legal counsel in the planning stages (“have it out”), separate facts from messages, start with a place of empathy, take responsibility (“but check with legal”), and tell what the company is doing/has done to make the situation better.

They cautioned that, though leadership should be “out there,” the CEO is not always the best spokesperson.  There was discussion about reputation and taking the pulse of your public through social media, etc., and there were suggestions to have digital fact sheets and landing pages. The bottom line? Although every situation is different, having a plan is a must!

After the new APRs were introduced, my final session consisted of a panel of six journalists from a variety of digital and print outlets. The topic discussed was forging stronger bonds between PR professionals and journalists. Some very interesting takeaways were not to call them in the middle of the night, be mindful of their deadlines, and be willing to evolve your pitch and the story. Interestingly, only one newsroom has established guidelines for AI and another reporter only uses it for transcription. Several want to know more yet didn’t seem ready to jump on the AI bandwagon.

The day was well spent, and the long drive home gave me time for reflection. Again, I appreciate the opportunity to help represent the Orlando Chapter and share my takeaways through this article. I learned a lot and have some thoughts that might help us as we plan for SunCon24.

Next year in Orlando!