Q&A with Judy Phair: Words of Wisdom to Help You Prepare a Session Proposal

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It’s that time! The call for sessions for the 2014 PRSA International Conference is now open. We spoke with Judy Phair, APR, Fellow PRSA, who provides valuable advice and suggestions from her perspective and experience as a session reviewer, organizer and panelist. Read this before you submit that session entry!

Q: What are your top three suggestions for organizing a session?

A: First, you must connect your topic to the overall theme of the conference and decide the appropriate track that most closely matches your session; your proposed session must be relevant to the audience and fit within one or more of the tracks. Second, the focus of your proposed session must be current and relevant and apply to a broad audience (unless it’s targeted to a specific section, such as travel and tourism). The session proposal must be timely and valuable with a clear statement on the expected outcome from an attendee perspective. Lastly, choose the right panelists that are most appropriate for the subject matter—people who have relevant stories and experience to share.

Q: Can you share suggestions on how to put together a winning proposal?

A: Get to the point quickly, and keep it simple. You need to address why the topic is important and how it relates to the field today, and elaborate on the expected outcome or takeaway for attendees. Illustrate why professionals should care about this topic right up front.  Remember that the devil is in the details, so don’t forget to proofread before submitting. Also, make sure that you choose the right track that is most appropriate for your proposed session topic to make sure the proposal reaches the right reviewers.

Q: What do you believe is the true value of organizing and participating in a session at the International Conference?

A: There are many benefits to organizing and participating in a session, but most importantly, you are helping public relations professionals expand their skills and expertise, and advancing the profession. In addition, you are building on what you know and enhancing your own skills and expertise, and therefore, adding value to your clients and/or employer. I believe it is important to stay focused on growing your career by constantly building on your level of knowledge and expertise within the field and presenting at the PRSA International Conference is a great opportunity for all PR professionals. Best of luck to you!

 

Judy Phair is president of PhairAdvantage Communications, LLC, an independent consulting firm founded in 2002.  She is a seasoned public relations executive with extensive experience in strategic planning, branding, global public relations and marketing, media relations, fund raising, and legislative relations. Judy was 2005 President and CEO of PRSA and a recipient of PRSA’s highest individual award, the 2010 Gold Anvil Award.  It is considered PRSA’s Lifetime Achievement Award and is presented to an individual “whose work significantly advanced the profession and set high standards for those engaged in the practice of public relations.”  In late 2013, PRSA-NCC inducted Judy into its Hall of Fame.  Earlier, the Maryland Chapter of PRSA honored Judy with its Lifetime Achievement Award, and her work has been recognized with numerous other awards in public relations, publications, marketing, and crisis communications. Judy is a frequent speaker on public relations and marketing issues, with appearances in China, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Croatia as well as the United States. She also writes extensively in the field.

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Thoughts On Our Profession, Past and Future

Judy Phair, president of PhairAdvantage Communications, LLC and a former president of PRSA National, was inducted into the National Capital Chapter Hall of Fame on September 18 during the annual Thoth Awards Gala. Below is an excerpt from her acceptance speech. She can be reached via Twitter and LinkedInAJ4A1052-2775787939-O

The National Capital Chapter Hall of Fame is one of the most esteemed in our profession, and I want to express my deep and heartfelt thanks for this honor.  With your permission, I’d like to take just a few minutes this evening to share some thoughts on our profession, past and future.

The members of the Hall of Fame have inspired me with their accomplishments, their integrity, and their advocacy for our profession.  Looking at their names leads me to reflect on what a difference their accomplishments and those of many others in our profession have made – and how much more there is to do.  Here are a few examples:

Equality and diversity – As a woman who was a teenager in the Mad Men era, I benefitted from wonderful parents who instilled in me the belief that it was possible to pursue and succeed in the career of my choice.  That was very different from the experience of many of my friends.

Bill Novelli Judy Phair Samantha VillegasWomen have come a long way since then, but, while there are more women than ever in our profession, they are still scarce at the very highest levels – and continue to make less money than their male peers.  Ironically, while men may predominate at the highest levels, fewer and fewer men are entering our profession – and that’s not good, either.

In addition, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans are underrepresented – and we suffer from it.  So, we also have some work to do in this area.

  • We must all be ambassadors for our profession – I think the reputation of public relations – our brand, if you will – has improved. However, I still hear the term spin-doctor more than any of us would like.  All of you in this room have helped build a better reputation—and will do so in the future.

PRSA offers us one important way to work together for our profession.  Like so many in my generation, I came to public relations from journalism. I’m not sure that I really knew much about the profession then, but I quickly fell in love with public relations and its potential to make a positive difference.

I connected with PRSA, and found a special community of others who shared my passion for our profession.  I believe even more today than I did then that this is indeed a higher calling.

PRSA has helped me advance my career, work with an incredibly talented group of colleagues, and learn the joy of mentoring others.  I’ve also come to understand that recognizing what you don’t know is always more important than what you do know.  Education is a lifelong process.

  • Every one of us must speak up when the practice of public relations is misused and work tirelessly for the highest standards of ethics and excellence in our profession.   In today’s fast-paced world, where information – accurate and inaccurate, beneficial and harmful – can circle the globe in seconds, we must conduct our work in an environment defined by ethics and excellence.  It is crucial to economic progress and human rights.
  • I hear a lot about how much public relations is changing, but I wonder – it seems to me the technology and the tools may be different, but some things remain the same. Developing an effective strategy, based on research and understanding, remains at the core of our craft.  And no matter what technology we use, relationships – built on trust — are the currency of public relations.

We must effect and enhance all communication – whether it’s a blog, a tweet, a Facebook post, an op ed, a You Tube video — in an atmosphere of respect and trust for our audiences.

  • We are an increasingly global profession.  Some of my most exciting work in the past 15 years has involved learning about new cultures such as India and China – and also learning that the same basic tenets apply to effective communication in these regions.

You can’t communicate if you don’t take the time to know and understand your audiences. For example, in helping some colleges in the Midwest attract more students from India, we did some research that reinforced some pretty basic principles:

  • Personal contact is more valuable than electronic outreach
  • Generic doesn’t work
  • Messages need to be targeted for specific audiences and cultures
  • And, authenticity and transparency are non-negotiable.

Whether in Mumbai or Baltimore, the audiences we are trying to reach want to be served, not sold – involved, not told.

  • A few other observations:
    • If I were entering the profession today, I’d grab every international opportunity I could – we really are in a global marketplace.
    • I’d be sure I knew sound business principles and practices – we need to speak the language of our employers in order to effectively communicate with them.
    • And if I were just starting out I’d probably be a whole lot better at touchscreens than I am today.  When you begin your career with a typewriter, it’s hard to get over the need to pound those keys!
    • Finally, perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that no one succeeds on his or her own.  Each of us owes so many others for what we are able to accomplish, and I strongly believe that each of us has a responsibility to give back to our profession – through volunteer work in PRSA and other organizations, through mentoring, through sharing our passion, our knowledge, and our connections.

In fact, becoming a member of the Hall of Fame makes me feel that I have an added responsibility to work harder for our profession, and to help future leaders achieve their dreams.  Our daily work offers us all an opportunity to make a difference.  I hope that we all grab that opportunity.