PRSA General Session with Arianna Huffington

by Christina Binz

Students at the 2009 PRSSA National Conference got to see a glimpse of their future and attend the opening general session of the PRSA International Conference.

PRSSA members traveled a few blocks to mingle with PRSA members and hear esteemed professionals speak about the industry.  PRSA Chair and CEO, Michael Cherenson, APR, welcomed the professionals and students and introduced the advocacy campaign for PRSA, The Business Case for Public Relations. After a presentation from the San Diego Zoo, the main speaker of the session then took her place on the stage.

Arianna Huffington, founder of Huffingtonpost.com gave her advice and shared her experiences and opinions about the field of public relations and communications.  Her online blog, Huffington Post provides breaking news and stories on a variety of relevant topics.  The most important thing that the Huffington Post and any successful news outlet can do is to be engaged with the information given and with new media, emphasizing the impact and staying with a story.

Huffington also explained that for a story to stand out, it must be dramatic or framed in a dramatic way.  She focused on her frustration with the balloon boy story and how the dramatics kept it in the spotlight for far too long.

“There are half a million homeless children in the world,” she said.  “What if we constructed a giant balloon and put them in it for attention? Or we could just pretend to put them in the balloon.”

Huffington took this kind of information and helped launch a new section of the blog, called Impact.  The section profiles families and people in crisis, and allows people to give directly to them.  This kind of empathy can be one of the changes in communications fields today, as Huffington highlighted the exciting time for professionals and students to be involved in reinventing public relations and journalism.

“Touching people’s hearts is so much more important than touching people’s minds,” she said. “It is all about interaction and listening.”

After Huffington’s presentation, she interviewed an important and courageous professional, Wendell Potter, APR.  Potter previously worked for Cigna Health Insurance before risking his job and exposing his employer of misinformation and front groups.

“I think I lost my moral compass along the way,” said Potter. “I often was ashamed, quite frankly, about what I was doing.”

Huffington and Potter demonstrated the importance of honesty and integrity that is needed in the ever-changing industry of public relations, and they gave students a chance to see how they can choose a variety of career paths and succeed just like these two pioneers have.

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