PRSA ICON Day 1 Recap

For PRSA, the International Conference, or ICON to those in the know, is the single biggest event of the year. It is usually a time of gathering, for honoring new PRSA Fellows, for awarding Silver Anvils, and celebrating together, with colleagues across the country and indeed the globe, our profession, and for professional development offerings to make us all better and well-informed communicators.

This year the conference was disrupted by COVID-19. But, with a quick pivot, the event, theme and planning transitioned to a virtual platform. This year’s theme, and appropriately so, is “Strategic Communications – Navigating a World Disrupted.” And what a year it has been. Many of the professional development sessions addressed the many forms of disruption that have dominated our world recently and which affect us all as PR practitioners. From sessions on diversity and inclusion to civility in discourse, this year’s professional development sessions were practical, timely and well done.

On day one, award winning historian and writer Jon Meacham, gave a thought-provoking talk and history lesson that lit up the chat room.

Two important points in thinking about and communicating about what is going on politically today were:

  • Avoid Nostalgia. The sense that somehow things were better in the past is not true and he gave many different examples that things have not always been great for all people.
  • Narcissism of the Present. The sense that the troubles we are experiencing today are unprecedented. Many periods of time have created great threats to our nation and world.

Jon spoke eloquently to the issue of history to put our current disruption and situations in perspective. Regarding the rampant distribution of disinformation, he says, we are in a long cultural cold war, we can only end the war by employing patience, openness, and taking chances on diplomacy and finding the center of the Venn diagram and finding common ground.

PRSA has created a Civility Taskforce.

It is recognized that the adversarial nature of on-line conversation is causing problems with clients and co-workers alike. It is effecting our profession and we as PR professions are on the front lines and in a position combat it. This group debuted their new whitepaper, The Corrosion of Civility: How Communications Professionals Can Put the Civil Back in Civil Discourse. The whitepaper can be found here.

The whitepaper discusses how the incivility of discourse has permeated our culture. It identifies many ways that PRSA members can get involved in fostering civility and civil discourse in our professional communities. It gives us the opportunity to put our stake in the ground to model and promote strategies that promote civility. People who are seen as civil are more likely to be leaders and be respected. And, it is not about being polite, it is about having – “radical candor,” care passionately and challenge directly to allow discourse and decision making in a democracy. There is a workplace toll to incivility. It creates a psychological stress to those who witness incivility. This stress is costing companies up to $14,000 per employee in lost productivity. Workplace violence can also result. We don’t have winners and losers in discourse. Incivility causes our whole culture to degrade, when this happens, we all lose.

Many of us in PR, including me, are now at the forefront of hosting on-line meetings and planning for remote conferences. Participating in this year’s ICON was great experience into the different technology that has emerged to make our new virtual world more inviting and engaging.

Top 3 things learned from today using a virtual platform.

  1. Hosting an orientation that walks through all aspects of the platform and how to navigate across and what to look for and what you can do.
  2. Making the site easy to navigate to and having an inviting presence or main room from which to navigate around the conference.
  3. Not having to download any special software to engage in the conference. One click entry and menus for accessing all content, rooms, and networking interaction.


Jennifer Day is the Great Lakes Regional Coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a long-time member of Detroit PRSA and will be joining the PRSA national board in 2021.