Top Things I Learned at the PRSA Game Changers District Conference

July 27, 2018
Top Things I Learned at the PRSA Game Changers District Conference

Ellie Javadi, VP – Head of Brand and Marketing, Norwest Venture Partners

I’m super excited to share some of the truly inspiring information that was delivered at this year’s PRSA NPD Conference held in Seattle last month. First off, the speaker line-up was amazing! We heard from a diverse and heavy-hitting group of experts over a packed three-day agenda. Learning emerging trends is always relevant so the conference’s focus on forward-thinking strategies and tactics, as well as tools and skills, was right on target.

Kudos to everyone who came, participated, and led sessions!

Questions posed: What strategies and tactic are game-changing? What are some of the most important advances redefining the PR ecosystem? Attendees found answers to these questions, and more.

Topics covered included: staying ahead of change, environmental advocacy, data storytelling, crisis communications, diversity and inclusion and more. Tactical subjects included turning complex concepts into at-a-glance visuals, social media posts, and smartphone videos. A unique feature of this conference: most speakers made themselves accessible to attendees throughout the conference.

Across the dozen or so keynotes and panels, there was a common thread: the quality of our relationships, empathy, vulnerability, and EQ matter. On the flip side, hyper-competitiveness and ego moves are likely to negatively impact your career in the long run.

In addition, speakers including Frank Shaw (Microsoft), Oliver Roll (Cisco), Vanessa Yanez (HP) and Nicholas Thompson (WIRED) all echoed the importance of authenticity in our communications strategies.

On a personal note, I happen to be reading Fran Hauser’s brilliant book, The Myth of the Nice Girl. If you need any more fodder to get on the right track, pick up this book! It’s a must-read for anyone who questions the idea that you have to be cut throat to get ahead.

A huge thank you to Jacque Coe, APR and Taraneh Fultz, APR! You made this conference possible — thank you!  Alongside some very talented volunteers, Jacque and Taraneh dedicated long hours, worked weekends, and just generally hustled to get everything done. Clearly, it was a labor of love.

It was really refreshing to be in community with such a diverse and talented group of communications practitioners as we brainstormed future programs and offered our support to each other.

A shout out to Judith Cushman for her work on the conference, the fantastic conversation, and some terrific advice!

For those of you who weren’t able to attend, I hope this recap provides some measure of insight for you.

Key takeaways: Put people first; nice wins.


Creating Your Own Story
Presented by Oliver Roll, VP and Chief Communications Officer at Cisco

Cisco’s Oliver Roll delivered a heartfelt kickoff keynote that took attendees on an inspiring and personal journey. He discussed finding our soul work, living life fully, and focusing on what matters most. Roll asked, “as we all look to the future to stay ahead of the pace of change, how will we shape the path ahead for our own lives and careers? What do we want our future to hold, and what changes do we need to make to get there?”

He covered the following nine elements:

1. Find your soul work: Learn about what is “draining” work for you. Someone’s soul work is someone else’s “drain” work.

2. Listen to be wrong: suspend judgment, listen deeply, be authentic, empathize.

3. People don’t work for you: you work for people. Ask them: how can I help you succeed?

4. What’s your model?: will you galvanize, shock, or excite someone into taking action? The stories we tell are pivotal in moving toward game changer impact. Roll dove into the importance of these stories.

5. Align to the execution: determine the strategy and execute.

6. You don’t always need to win: sometimes you need to press pause and think about things differently.

7. Things will be messy and that’s ok: worries are destructive and it’s important to get rid of the inner critic.

8. Get the essence: think 6 months ahead

9. Just keep going: no explanation needed on this one!

Key takeaways:
Find your soul work. Work smarter, not harder. Positivity is infectious.


The Wired Future: Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Privacy, Social Media, Truth, Tech Companies, and More
Presented by Nicholas Thompson, Editor-in-Chief, Wired

Wired’s new editor-in-chief Nicholas Thompson offered the keynote on day two of the conference and offered a unique perspective on the impact of high technology.

The keynote addressed: how will AI and robotics change our devices, the way we work, earn a living, fight wars, solve problems—our very selves?

Thompson kicked off his keynote with: “What the hell is happening in Silicon Valley right now?”

Thomson detailed his recent interview with former Google product manager Tristan Harris in Our Minds Have Been Hijacked and offered this: “The system is better at hijacking our instincts than we are at controlling them.”

How will privacy, security, and cyber-espionage evolve in the coming years of interconnectivity (and how much should the average person or company care)? How will the world’s dominant tech corporations—Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft—interact with citizens, help write policy, and exert power over governments and citizens? And how can the media continue upholding the truth throughout, especially under an administration that’s declared war on journalists? No matter the subject—design, culture, media, tech, ethics, or our digital future—Nicholas Thompson is more than ready to break the news with big ideas and fearless takes.

Key takeaways: The future is certain – it will be uncertain.


D&I is Reinventing Marketing & Communications: Now, it’s Personal
Presented by Vanessa Yanez, Head of Print Communications, HP and (moderator) and Danny Chung, Chief of Staff, Military Affairs, Microsoft

This important session covered how the HP comms teams’ philosophies and core beliefs have driven a ground-breaking D&I agenda.

In 2016, HP made Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) issues a bottom-line initiative which, according to the Holmes Report, “stunned the industry.” Antonio Lucio, HP’s CMO, directed the company’s marketing agencies to take steps to improve diversity and awarded contracts based on their performance.

Studies show teams with various experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives have higher rates of creativity, collective critical thinking, and overall success. How, then, can a startup ensure they’re building diversity and inclusion into the fabric of their company?

“Inclusion is being valued, respected, and supported; it ensures that each and every person is able to participate and bring their whole self to work, and every day, maximize their personal contribution to our organization.”

How has HP made good on this vision when other companies could not?

Yanez stated, “Mandates are key to changing the industry. Essentially, you’re underscoring the importance of your vision by putting it into action. You’re not just paying lip-service to the importance of D&I initiatives — you’re living it.”

These efforts have reinvented marketing and communications both internally and externally (at HP and its agencies). HP continues to make a huge impact on the industry — serving as a D&I thought leader.

Yanez further encouraged attendees, “If you’re not in the room, you don’t matter. Push to be heard. Push to be included.” Attendees discussed during the QA section how securing a seat at the table may not come easily.

Her talk further outlined the steps you can take in your organization to drive D&I as a bottom-line initiative and create a culture of “yes” at the same time.

Check Out HP’s List of the Top 5 Reasons Why D&I Matters:

1. D&I Drives Business: D&I has the potential to help organizations more effectively build products for and market to consumers from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientation, living with disability, and women.

2. D&I is Important to Partners: it’s important to demonstrate (through actions) the organization’s commitment to responsible Diversity & Inclusion practices to retain customers and win their support.

3. D&I Fuels Innovation: Innovation and invention are the by-products of an inclusive, diverse workplace. Behind every breakthrough is a diverse team of individuals who examine challenges from every possible angle.

4. D&I Improves the Communities We Work and Live In: It’s important to apply talent, technology, and partnerships to improve communities and drive positive social change around the globe.

5. Attracts and Retains the Best Employees: Leveraging shifts in the global talent landscape allows us to attract well-educated, highly ambitious talent in developing and mature economies. Businesses that foster inclusive workplaces see lower turnover rates than businesses that do not value a diverse workforce.

Key takeaways: Make life better for everyone, everywhere. Lean on your peers. There is much strength in your network.


Looking Ahead: The Communications Strategy Behind Defeating the Trump Travel Ban
Presented by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson

Seven days after his inauguration, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority nations, launching nationwide protests. Within 72 hours, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and his legal team swiftly filed suit in federal court arguing the ban amounted to religious discrimination, as well as other constitutional and statutory violations.

But unlike other individual challenges, Washington’s strategy argued harm to the state’s businesses, universities, tax collations and its very citizens. With statements of support from global tech giants Amazon, Expedia, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, and others, Ferguson successfully argued the case; landing a stunning legal defeat and political blow to a new president within weeks of taking office. An international chess master, Ferguson is a keen strategist. In this fascinating case study, hear how planning, communications, strategy and message factored into the court victory and the narrative, and how Ferguson leveraged a national spotlight to shape an important public conversation amid a historic period of conflict.

To state the obvious, relationships matter. Attending the conference, I was able to network with scores of top influencers and experts in my field. What an honor! Within the span of a few days, I was able to solve several problems, form a partnership, identify new vendors, resources, and identify several new hires for my portfolio companies.

Key takeaway: “Things worth doing are tough. The fear will be there. Do it anyway.”


Know Your Brand
Presented by Nicole Leverich, Senior Director of Corporate Communications, LinkedIn

Nicole Leverich’s presentation was one of my favorites. It was practical and accessible. She covered how to build your personal brand, and not surprisingly, how to expand and refine your Linkedin profile for maximum exposure.

Not surprisingly, this was a well-attended talk and attendees were eager to better understand how to better leverage technology to augment their personal brand image.

Leverich offered: “It’s likely that you know your company’s brand, but can you communicate your own brand in five words or less?”

Creating a personal brand that stands out to the right audience is your key to success. What do your clients, associates, teams or peers say about you?

“If we don’t manage our personal brand as diligently as these companies manage their company brand, people will assign a default brand to us. And this may not serve us well.”, says Bruna Martinuzzi, author of “How to Build an Unforgettable Personal Brand.” Now more than ever, your professional network can be leveraged to fulfill your career vision, create strategic relationships, demonstrate thought leadership, and build deeper connections with customers and colleagues.

Leverich shared how LinkedIn became a game-changing platform that is helping shape highly targeted business communications and message delivery to help you build our personal brands and strengthen our communication strategies.

Key takeaway: Make sure your Linkedin profile is spotless and, publish on the Linkedin platform.

About the North Pacific District
PRSA’s North Pacific District serves one of the largest geographic areas of PRSA, with 15 chapters in nine states – Alaska, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming – representing nearly 2,500 PRSA members in monthly District Council meetings and each year at the PRSA International Conference and Leadership Assembly. Our District also boasts 24 PRSSA chapters throughout the region.

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