As Eastern Michigan University’s Eleanor Wright chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America opened its 14th annual Student Development Conference on Friday, Dec. 4, all were unified by the year’s theme: “inspire your passion.”
“It’s about bringing professionals of today to inspire the professionals of tomorrow, which is us, the students,” EMU PRSSA President Cherese Colston said. “That’s why I’m happy so many of you are here for this opportunity; we hope you go to one of these sessions and see something, hear something or meet someone who ignites that light in you and inspires your passion, whatever that may be.”
The audience featured diversity of public relations students from EMU, University of Toledo, Wayne State University, Grand Valley State University and University of Michigan Dearborn – a massive crowd compared to last year’s conference.
“The University of Toledo was invited last year but it was the same day as their Relay for Life so they couldn’t make it,” said Emily Vontom, EMU PRSSA special events coordinator. “We try to invite PRSSA chapters from across Michigan every year. A few came from University of Michigan Dearborn last year but we haven’t had this many in attendance from so many different chapters in a while.”
A wide range of student participants from across Michigan gave attendees a chance to network with other PR students in a professional environment. Students agreed it was a valuable opportunity to meet with students and professionals alike.
“I thought it was really beneficial experience,” GVSU PRSSA member Kristina Green said. “It was cool to come out for the afternoon and network with other PRSSA chapters in Michigan.”
The day’s schedule opened with a PR Q&A panel featured Domino’s vice president of communications and EMU journalism undergraduate Tim McIntyre, EMU public relations professor and faculty advisor Regina Luttrell, Kelli Laski of Laski Communications and Holly Myles and Susan Aumiller, both undergraduates from EMU with public relations degrees.
“I loved the PR panel because it was just so fitting for everything we do throughout the day,” said EMU PRSSA Treasurer and R.J. Conlin PR intern Hilary Cupp. “The speakers covered from how you approach looking for a job to what they liked best about their jobs. It was great to hear it directly from the professionals in their own field.”
In addition to highlighting what the professionals loved about their careers, the panel gave students a chance to learn more about the crisis communication aspect of PR.
“The conference allowed students to see the crisis communication side of PR and help inspire them to see there’s more to PR than just press releases,” Vontom said. “We don’t really have classes that deal with crisis communications [but there will be one next semester with Luttrell]. It was great for students to see that this communication serves a helpful purpose and to hear from different professionals from different fields that there are whole other spectrums of PR: non-profit, agency, corporate and more.”
A presentation by Walter Kraft, the event’s keynote speaker, followed the PR panel and featured 10 tips every PR professional should follow. Advice ranged from watching what you post on Facebook to being prepared for the worst-case scenario.
“I loved what Kraft said on preparing for an emergency or crisis since I’m not very good at thinking ahead,” Cupp said. “He reminded me that I need to do think ahead on events you’re going to have as well as planning for a potential problem that might arise, because that’s when I get tongue-twisted. It’s about being prepared, studying the policy beforehand and knowing about it ahead of time so you don’t look like a dummy.”
A separate presentation was given by McIntyre on crisis communication to handling a crisis in a timely and effective manner.
“My favorite part was the crisis communication workshop with McIntyre,” Nardozzi said. “It was really cool to see the inner workings of how Domino’s rebranded after an unfortunate scandal, how they bounced back and how they’re on top of pizza chains now. I was impressed with how honest he was about everything.”
Bourgque said, “You could tell McIntyre wasn’t trying to impress us. He was very humble and showed us what it’s really like. He showed us what to do to get real results.”
McIntyre wowed participants with his calm demeanor with a touch of humor and commitment to honesty.
“The thing I liked most about the latter was his ‘apologize’ stance: just admit it and move on,” Cupp said. “I also liked his advice on being a real person and to ‘be how you want to be perceived.’ ”
Following McIntyre’s speech and lunch break, communications strategist Jennifer Brown and Luttrell led a Q&A session regarding internships, interviews and resumes. Both gave their own perspectives on being professional and prepared for whatever the real world of PR has in store.
“Luttrell was very enthusiastic and made sure everyone had their questions answered,” Bourque said. “It was one of the most informative parts of the conference.”
The final event for the conference was an internship fair featuring tables for PRSSA, Cleary University, Brandworks Detroit, IABC Detroit, Quicken Loans, Dossin Great Lakes Museum, Detroit Historical Museum, Ann Arbor Radio and R.J. Conlin Inc.
“For [Green, Nardozzi and I], we all go to GVSU but we’re from the east side so it’s nice to come back and see opportunities on this side of the state since most of us will be moving back here,” Bourque said. “It was a good thing for us to do for a quick day trip, for us it was only two hours. Also, it was a free event so it was fun to visit, get some extra tips and network with new people.”
The development conference left attendants and the event’s planners impressed, inspired and helped push students one step closer toward success in their fields.
“I really thought the guest speakers this year were phenomenal,” EMU PRSSA Secretary Scott Mullin said. “I definitely saw the passion just by hearing them talk, like how Laski was passionate about her job and her family and how McIntyre showed how his bosses were passionate when making the video responding to crisis. The way the speakers spoke about their careers really inspired me to improve myself professionally.”