Professionals and pre-professionals gathered in sunny San Diego, California on Oct. 18-22 for the 2019 PRSA International Conference. The conference featured speakers like Bob Woodward, Laura Ling, Richard Dreyfuss, former President of Mexico Vicente Fox and more. Attendees of the week-long conference experienced breakout sessions, keynote speakers, a visit from the U.S. Navy Band and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. More than 700 students and 2,500 professionals from across the world, including Peru and Argentina, gathered to network, enhance their education and learn about trending topics in the industry. While there were many exciting sessions at PRSA Icon, five key takeways stood out.

Five key takeaways:

1. Journalist Bob Woodward discussed the polarization of society and how the failure to agree on facts stymies dialogue.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist for the Washington Post Bob Woodward spoke on moral responsibility, comparing Nixon’s Watergate scandal and today’s media and political landscape. His discussion in the first half of this General Session surrounded moral responsibility and “the centrality of truth.” This centrality of truth is the basis of fact and is best summed by Woodward:

“How can we have useful dialogue and citizen understanding when there isn’t a common agreement of what a fact is?”

Woodward emphasized the importance of humility in a Q&A session with a fellow General Session speaker, journalist Laura Ling. He shared this advice to communicators today, encouraging them to be honorable in all circumstances. He also stressed that journalism in 2019, more than ever, needs to focus on the facts because, in quoting HBO’s Chernobyl: “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid.”

2. Academy-award winning actor Richard Dreyfuss spoke about the importance of getting civic engagement back in society.

Dreyfuss spoke about the importance of civics in the classroom and teaching children “how to run our country, before they are called upon to run our country…”

“Until we get that civic engagement back, we will be dragged back and forth from one partisan passion to another,” Dreyfuss said. “We need to remember that due process is the process due to any human being in any decent society.”

He created the The Dreyfuss Civics Initiative to “revive, elevate and enhance” the teaching of civics in public education. PRSA awarded Richard Dreyfuss its inaugural Civic Engagement Award.

3. Corporate VP of Communications of Microsoft Frank X. Shaw offered suggestions to help build disinformation-resistant communication.

Microsoft’s Vice President of Communications Frank X. Shaw spoke during the conference’s lunchtime keynote session. Shaw discussed the three ages of communications, from 1920 to present day.

Three ages of communications:

  • 1920-1960 Age of Propaganda
  • 1979-2009 Age of Exploration
  • 2010- today Age of Disinformation

Shaw said that communicators need to follow three things to build stories resistant to disinformation:

  1. Understand how stories travel. Ask yourself, “How are they consumed and by who?”
  2. Synthesize the complex. Tell complex stories simply.
  3. Show then tell. He says, “We need to build stories that can’t be untangled and used against us.

4. Journalist Laura Ling offered a message of hope and the importance of gratitude while recounting her imprisonment in North Korea.

Laura Ling, writer and journalist for Current TV, spoke at the General Session about her shocking experience being captured and imprisoned in North Korea for five months while working on a story about trafficking women for the Current TV documentary, “Vanguard.” Ling shared her story about her darkest hour and the strength of gratitude.

Her story reached headlines around the world. Ling was terrified, unsure if she would ever see her family again. “I felt as though I was living this out-of-body experience,” she said.

Originally sentenced to 12 years in a North Korean labor prison, Ling was full of hope during her captivity and practicing gratitude kept her hope alive. After 140 days in captivity, she and her colleague Euna Lee were released with the help of former President Bill Clinton and her sister, journalist Lisa Ling.

“It’s something that I continue to do to this day. I have found that it can not only bring a sense of peace, but also of purpose.”

5. Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico, says you can change your situation in life with a strong sense of purpose.

Speaking at the General Session, former President of Mexico Vicente Fox shared his journey of becoming president through the power of self-determination and purpose.

From a Coca-Cola truck driver and salesperson to the company’s CEO, Fox said it’s important to realize the leader within you. Fox told himself he had the capacity to be successful: “You were not born to be poor. You were not born to be a migrant. You were born to do great things in your life.”

His focus as President was on global trade and industrialization efforts, but through diplomacy and kindness. The former President now runs a non-profit foundation, Centro Fox, with his wife, former First Lady of Mexico Marta Sahagún Fox. The foundation’s purpose is to develop young leaders in Mexico and Latin America.

2020 PRSA ICON Conference
Invest in your future next October in America’s Music City for the 2020 International Conference. The conference will highlight the intersection of media and technology on October 25-27 at the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center in Nashville.

Brittany Higginbotham is a junior public relations major and history minor at the University of Florida. She is a Communications Assistant at the Institute for Public Relations and Vice President of the Public Relations Student Society of America at the University of Florida.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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