By Briana Cunningham
Hofstra University’s PRSSA chapter recently hosted its annual spring conference, “Unlock Your PR Potential,” a day-long event including panels of successful professionals talking about their experience in the field of PR, resume critiques, head shots, and a networking lunch. But the real highlight of the day was the keynote address by Ray Kotcher.
Mr. Kotcher is the former CEO of Ketchum, one of the leading global PR firms, and now works as a professor at Boston University. He is a PR veteran with invaluable insight into the profession and the potential that it harbors. As a graduating senior, the speech was the little nudge of encouragement I needed to think about the impact I could make, not only in the field of PR, but in the world.
The keynote began by revealing to the audience that every second, in just one heartbeat, 2.5 million emails are sent, 219,000 post are made on Facebook, 193,000 text messages are exchanged, 4,629 pictures are uploaded on Instagram, and 7,259 messages are tweeted. This is, as Mr. Kotcher describes, “a revolution in human communication.” The members of this generation of future practitioners are stepping into a profession where, as communicators, they have to do everything that has always been done, “but with greater skill, with greater speed and on a greater scale.”
We will be responsible for having relationships not only with our clients, but everyone that they may ever need to reach. We are required to have an in-depth knowledge of traditional media platforms as well as new. And we cannot afford to stay in our own little bubbles; we need to be global communicators, our messages spanning across oceans. All the while, we have to be sure that we don’t get so caught up in creating content that we forget to open our ears. “We know our discipline is about storytelling, but none of that can happen effectively without the first step- listening,” suggested Mr. Kotcher. And although us current students are looking forward to finishing our undergraduate education and moving into the professional world, each of us needs to remain a “learner for life,” always hungry for more knowledge. Listening and learning are the only ways to ensure that we approach the table with a new, rich and valuable perspective.
One idea that really struck a chord with me was Mr. Kotcher’s observation that, “Now more than ever, building belief is an awesome power and responsibility, and we must handle it with care.” In an era dominated by fake news and questionable ethics, we have a duty to keep one quality constant in our work: integrity. And it is important to remember that even with all of the new communication tools of today, Mr. Kotcher said, “the fundamental truths of human communication also remain as true as ever. Narratives can be powerful. Ideas can change hearts and minds. Ideas can change the world. It’s just that now that can happen in a heartbeat.” As young professionals we must stand for what is right, take pride in the field of communications, and not abuse the power that we have been given.
And finally, Mr. Kotcher asked this of us: “So as you consider this moment, as you work to define the future of communications and your place in it, make this commitment: do it the right way for your generation, our field, and the commonweal.” But there was one question he posed that has stuck with me and I want to leave it here for you to consider: “In the beats of your life, how are you going to make a positive impact on the world? What will be the pulse of your legacy?” Since the keynote I have been asking myself this question over and over again. I have been so worried about graduating that I hadn’t considered the influence I could have as a professional communicator. And although I may not make my legacy in the next month, six months, or even a year, I will keep that question in the back of my mind and always know what it is that I am working toward.