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Jumpstarting a new generation of PR pros Events, PR musings, PR tips

With nearly 90,000 miles on the original battery, I knew I was playing with fire. “But why today?” The clicking sound coming from my car’s ignition on Monday prompted this reaction. So much for my plan to arrive at work early and practice my presentation for the PR Now symposium.

Sponsored by the RIT Department of Communication and the School of Hospitality and Service Management, PR Now was created to serve area colleges students seeking insights into various aspects of the public relations field. Organizers of the daylong event scored a great lineup of presenters, and it means a lot that former students of mine recommended I be included. And, of course, I am happy to take part.

Sitting there in my car, frustrated, I have yet to connect just how fitting these circumstances. Part of my message for students deals with success in PR through one’s ability to improvise.

Presenting at the PR Now symposium

Presenting at the PR Now symposium

It doesn’t happen often at RIT, thank goodness, but crisis situations are inevitable, and they force PR professionals to immediately break from the routine and pursue a different plan of action. My presentation referenced our ability at University News to address a robbery and shooting incident on campus four years ago. Certainly it threatened to undermine a sense of safety among members of the campus community, but our ability to manage the flow of information certainly helped to prevent that.

So time to improvise. While a dead battery hardly approaches crisis levels, a new plan of action is put in place. With no one nearby to provide a jump, I contact a local towing service. The hour or so spent waiting for help to arrive was ample time to review my presentation notes. Then, with my jumpstart secured, a drive to the dealership points me toward a resolution to my car problems.

By the time I take to the PR Now stage, I admit to still feeling a bit flustered. But surprisingly, looking out at the large audience, I find myself growing more at ease. I rarely feel far removed from today’s college students, even though one look in the mirror at the lines around my eyes always reminds me otherwise.

I talk about my career path through television news and into PR, the lessons I’ve learned and the techniques that have served me well. I talk about the importance of good writing and always striving to “tell a story.” And I touch a bit on ethics. Do what’s in the best interest of all your constituents, not just your own. It always plays to your benefit in the long run.

The remarks seem well received, and I hope they can have a positive impact. I only know they represent a philosophy that will carry me another 90,000 miles. As for my new battery, I can only hope.

  1. Andrew James
    Dec 12

    I can totally sympathize with your car analogy. It's actually rather ironic! I was running late that same morning and also headed to RIT for the PR Now event hoping to catch as many of the sessions as I could before class. I hurriedly grabbed my things on my way out the door and threw them into my back seat. As I sat down behind the wheel I felt the car leaning rather awkwardly back toward me; as if I was suddenly really heavy? I got out and checked and sure enough, a driver's side flat tire. Suffice to say I missed everything but class that day after spending the whole morning at my dealer rounding up a replacement tire. Who knew that my car required "custom" tires? I think it's just dealer talk for "we're going to charge you an arm and a leg". At any rate, I asked my friends that attended and they said your talk was fantastic and that you did RIT proud!

  2. Wilma King
    Dec 12

    Paul, you did the profession proud as well. Thanks!

  3. Justin Thorp
    Dec 12

    Paul, in regards to crisis management and "managing the flow of information", what techniques do you guys use to do that? In today's social networking/media society, it'd seem really hard to do that because people (well students) aren't getting their information from the media any more. They're getting their information from each other. Do you guys get amidst the online communities (facebook, twitter, blogs) and talk to the bigger voices on campus to make sure that the right info gets disseminated?

  4. Paul Stella
    Dec 14

    Andrew and Wilma, thank you for your kind remarks! Justin, a question was raised during the event asking how our response would be different to today. Even four years ago, many of the traditional media outlets were inadequate in reaching students. During the past year or so, the university has introduced RIT Alert, which is a multimedia alert system that includes text messaging. This is been an important step toward improving crisis communication with the campus community, most specifically students. We're still experimenting with various forms of social networking, particularly Facebook, but we're a long way from perfecting that. I'm not sure that any institution has found the ideal strategy for maximizing the power of social networking.

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