Earlier this month, industry professionals descended on DePaul University and the Union League Club in Chicago for The Plank Center Summit. During the Summit, three research studies were presented. These studies focused on different areas of leadership within public relations and communications.
After the Summit, The Plank Center held a dinner to honor mentors and leaders in the field. The dinner was a wonderful opportunity to meet people in the industry and to build relationships. The whole experience was one I am grateful I got to be a part of.
For starters, let me give a few key takeaways from the information provided during the Summit that gave me, as a student, a better picture of what the “real world” of communicating looks like.
1. Look inside the organization first.
Dr. Ansgar Zerfass, from the University of Leipzig, spoke to us on the effects of managing CEO reputation and the impacts that can have on the company’s image as a whole. Good internal communication has to occur between the C-suite and the employees for a company to be strong. While social media and newsletters are great, nothing beats face-to-face communication between these two groups.
2. People really do care about the quality of leadership communication.
Open, transparent communication is the most highly desired trait in an effective leader, as reported by Rod Cartwright of Ketchum. Open lines of communication position your company as an organization that can be trusted, which in turn impacts the company’s bottom line. However, a company that can’t bridge the “say-do” gap and turn communications into actions will still ultimately fail. It’s our job as communicators to also bridge gaps within our organizations by providing value to the C-suite in their terms. Also, sometimes the most important leader is the first follower.
3. It’s looking good for the newbies.
Dr. Bruce Berger, from The University of Alabama (Roll Tide), conducted the largest leadership study in PR history, so while I can’t begin to approach all the information given, he gave five key points revealed from the second half of the research:
1. The hunt for talent at all levels keeps PR leaders awake at night. This is good news for those of us who are starting out. New talent is in high demand, and companies are looking for it.
2. Digital magnifies the sensemaking role of leaders. Our information stream is constant. This cuts down on the time leaders have to make decisions and respond to crises. It also drastically expands the number of audiences leaders work with and craft messages for.
3. Cultures and structures diminish the power of strategic communications. Making messages work across culture lines is a struggle that leaders face, especially when that leader doesn’t understand the culture.
4. Leadership development in public relations is under developed. There may be new talent out there, but how do those in leadership roles develop that raw talent into the great communications leaders of tomorrow?
5. Future leaders come from other planets; they are bigger than life. The expectations leaders have of those who are going to follow them are pretty lofty; leaders of today are looking for people with a varied skill set who are also capable of fighting fires, understanding business functions and seeing the role of communications work globally.
Like I said, those few points only hit the high notes on what was very interesting information about what we do. You can hear more about the studies by watching the archived version of the Summit.
The best part about being at the Summit and the dinner was feeling like I belonged. These people, who are industry rock stars, are also just people, and they treated me like an equal. Instead of talking about her amazing job, Julia Hood of PRWeek magazine told me about her family. I would have loved to talk to Shelly Lazarus about her incredible career, but instead, I heard some of the backstory on how she came into it.
The professional world can be an intimidating place, especially when starting the career search. However, intimidation was the last thing I felt Thursday night as I sat among some of the biggest names in our industry. Excited? Definitely. Honored? Absolutely. But scared? Not even a little. These people who work for world-renown companies took time to learn about me. They were impressed with my internship experience. I sat there thinking, “Really? You think MY job is cool?”
Not only were people interested in me, they were willing to help me solely based on the fact that I was associated with the University of Alabama and The Plank Center. The reputation of this group is so much more far-reaching than I knew before I came to Chicago. It exists to recognize great people in public relations and to cultivate “rookies” who can someday be great, both of which were accomplished this past week.
The Plank Center Summit and dinner were both invaluable experiences that anyone would benefit from, not only because of the incredible networking opportunity, but also because of the empowerment the conference provides. Our field has incredible breadth. I met people who worked in digital communications, the sports industry, print media and insurance, and those were just the people sitting at my table. The possibilities are endless, and I can’t think of anything more inspiring than that. Like I said before, this group honors those who have laid the groundwork for those who are just starting their careers in this field. It also provides its own groundwork for new professionals by inspiring them to want to be named among the greats one day.
That’s what happened to me, anyways. But maybe you shouldn’t take my word for it. Join us next year in Chicago. I’ll be there.
Gillian Richard is a senior communications major at the University of Alabama. She was student editor of Platform Magazine last year and currently serves as an intern at the Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports Commission.