For the past week I’ve been on the road. The first stop was the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) conference in Philadelphia. Second stop was the International Foodservice Editorial Council (IFEC) in Portland. Both of these are important for different reasons, yet also based on a common core. I’ve been attending the PRSA conference for at least 15 years. Prior to that I regularly attended IFEC. I’ve served in leadership positions for both organizations, building relationships at each step of the way.

Key Takeaways from PRSA

  • Doug Spong, CEO of Carmichael Lynch Spong, won PRSA’s Gold Anvil Award. In his acceptance speech he talked about how PR programs can move heaven and earth. It made me think about the importance of the work we do, and whether the work I’m doing is really important. If the work we’re doing for the community isn’t important, maybe it’s time to do other work.
  • Brain Solis, Altimeter, reminded us that everything we know isn’t everything we need to know. He reminded us of the importance of relationships and I really learned that this week too. I’ve spent years building friendships and professional relationships with colleagues around the world. Even after 22 years those relationships remain strong. See my posts earlier this month about the power of relationships.
  • Another Solis tip is to make sure our programs and especially communications with our customers are emotional. That’s an element that’s easy to forget as we’re too focused on selling. Making that emotional connection with our audiences will help improve loyalty. One way to get that emotion into our programs is to think of our brands as people, not products.
  • Then there was Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour. What a trip to wake the crowd up at an early morning session. The first African American female Marine  pilot is an energetic ball of fire full of one liners that made you think: acknowledge your obstacles; don’t give them power. Consider that how you engage those challenges is really up to you. We can embrace them or let them take over us, and as a supervisor it’s important to understand what motivates your audience. If you’re pushing peanuts when they want crackers, you’re in trouble.

On to Portland for the IFEC conference, a group I chaired and last belonged to in 1991. It’s a wonderful group of food publicists and trade magazine editors who work together on partnerships and programs for the common good. They help products get to restaurant tables and really to any place where food is prepared away from home.

Takeaways from IFEC:

  • Personal relationships that were strong in 1991, based on trust and the common good are still strong. I saw people I haven’t seen and many I had completely lost track of since then. We caught up on our lives and picked up as if it was 1991.
  • The strong bond between publicist and trade editor that existed in 1991 is as important as it is today. The partnerships created to help strengthen the foodservice industry are critically important to both parties doing their jobs.
  • This conference has opportunities for companies to share food trends and teach about products. I tasted different kinds of honey and learned how they can be used in various dishes as sweeteners. (Buckwheat honey is dark and viscous; almost like molasses.)
  • When it was time for the American Lamb Council demo I felt as though I had gone back in time to the early ‘80s as the audience questions hadn’t changed. I really liked the new theme from shepherd to table and partnership between the sheep grower and restaurateur. They build long term relationships that ensure both parties are satisfied. That evening we dined at the chef’s restaurant, The Country Cat. What a fun evening and great food, especially the onion rings and fried chicken.

As I reflect on both meetings, I am struck by the notion that the power of relationships creates the foundations for most successes in our world today. It’s never been more true for public relations professionals than today. And, with social networks the power of the personal relationship will only grow. Without the relationships, the learning would not have been nearly as much fun or meaningful.

At the same time, as much as I enjoyed the meetings, and being on the road, I am also anxious to sleep in my own bed!

How are you ensuring your relationships remain strong? How are you putting that emotion into your programs?

More on building and maintaining relationships: