When thousands of PR pros come together, what do you get? Not the setup for a clever punchline, last week in San Diego the answer was the Public Relations Society of America’s International Conference (#PRSAICON).

Coming from across the country, my communications colleagues and I met to discuss the state of the industry, what’s necessary to lead today, and most importantly, what tomorrow will look like.

While focus topics included diversity and inclusion, big data and AI, crisis management, fake news, and impactful storytelling, the below were my top five takeaways:

 

1. BE A FARMER, NOT A HUNTER.

During a “Shark Tank-style” media panel, USA Today columnist Ruben Navarrette (@RubenNavarrette) made a great analogy about PR professionals today and how they should look to secure results for clients. Watch the video below to learn the distance between hunters and farmers.

“(With media and PR Professionals), there are hunters and there are farmers. A hunter tracks its kill, grills it, and eats it. Others are farmers. These are relationship builders, not knowing how relationships are going to work out. One day I might need you and vice versa. PR professionals today are 90% hunters and 10% farmers. We need more farmers.”

 

2. KNOW WHEN TO STOP TALKING AND START BEING. 

As tragedy can strike at any time, crisis communications has become an increasingly important practitioner skill set. PRSA brought together leaders who have endured different types of disasters from hurricanes and wildfires to mass shootings both in the U.S. and abroad. Leaders discussed the need for community-building communications.

Fiona Cassidy, from the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand (@PRInstitute_NZ) said the following about the Christchurch shooting, “We didn’t talk about what happened. We talked about the people. The people were at the center of everything we did.”

Poway, CA mayor Steve Vaus (@stevevaus), perhaps summed up this sentiment best with the need for less “thoughts and prayers” language and more direct, emotional appeals.

He added, “You can’t control when hate crosses your threshold. But you can control your response. Know when to stop talking to the media. It was time to stop talking and just being.”

 

3. WE ARE IN THE DISINFORMATION AGE.

During the Monday keynote session, Microsoft’s Frank Shaw (@fxshaw) talked about the future of media in today’s “fake news” society. Some of Shaw’s most searing takeaways:

The Age of Misinformation

 

4. BRANDS LIVE ALONGSIDE THEIR CUSTOMERS NOW. 

A panel discussion of multi-national agency leaders covered a wide-ranging variety of topics from agency management and culture, to what is needed for success today. rbb is in lockstep with some of the most memorable points, and we think the future of the industry is bright:

“Brands live in the world alongside their customers. Conscious marketing means you have to understand issues exist. Even if brands don’t engage, you need to acknowledge they exist.” – Jim Joseph, Global President, BCW (@jimjosephexp)

“Digital isn’t a channel. It’s the way things are done.” – Jennifer Gotltlieb, President, W20, (@jenngottlieb)

“Culture is not a nice to do, but a must to do.” – Barby Siegel, CEO, Zeno Group (@barbysiegel)

“We have to understand business. If you understand what the CEO and Board are being asked to deliver, then you can create a plan to help achieve that.” – Heather Kernahan, President, North America, Hotwire (@hkernahan)

 

5. GET READY FOR THE ALPHA GENERATION. 

While many conversations focused on how to reach millennials and soon Gen-Zer’s, presenter Stephen Dupont (@stephendupont) went a step further in talking about the Alpha generation (those born after 2010). His most memorable point, “Alpha generation is going to YouTube camp. How are you going to engage them to help you create content? The Alpha generation wants stories and visuals from their peers, not “old people.”