The 2014 Communicators Conference: A Behind-the-scenes Look

By Megan Bauer

The Hoffman Agency, Vancouver

“Honor the small wins.” – Lou Hoffman, 2014 Communicators Conference

The 2014 Communicators Conference in Portland brought together public relations professionals from all fields ranging from nonprofit and government to consumer and tech. What tied this diverse group together is something that each of us experience every day: storytelling, storymaking and storydoing.

planning a PRSA conference

This year’s conference broke attendance records and featured some truly amazing speakers, including our own CEO, Lou Hoffman.

But rather than recap what was said and done at this year’s conference, I’d like to take a step back and discuss the other side of the event – the planning process.

Conferences and large events are a compellation of many moving parts. While the planning that goes into them is unseen in many ways – because everything went well (CHECK) – there are a few takeaways that are worth sharing.

Practice What You Preach
As public relations professionals, we are always encouraging our clients to communicate. Communication is especially important when planning a huge 300+ person conference.

There are multiple pieces to a conference: venue, food, speakers, guests, programs, sponsors, etc. While these tasks may seem to function on their own, they actually all work together to create the conference as a whole.

For example, speakers could affect the food that is served, based on allergies, preferences or the company they work for. Sponsors affect what goes into the event programs and how they are laid out.  

If all these pieces are moving, but not in sync, many of them can’t be complete. But having clear and open communication keeps it all together.

Assign Ownership
When it comes to taking on the above tasks, organization is key. Much like how an agency or in-house PR team operates to complete projects, a conference committee works the same way.

Assigning ownership is the best way to ensure that nothing gets dropped by the wayside. There are multiple ways to do this. In the case of our committee, we created an Excel spreadsheet with every possible job imaginable and assigned owners.

While one person was in charge of accomplishing each piece, it doesn’t mean that the person was in it alone. Giving someone a lead on the project is a way of pushing it forward, not handing off the workload.

Appreciate Each Perspective
Bringing together people from multiple backgrounds and disciplines will always deliver a mix of opinions on how to run the show.

Much like passing around a talking stick in a circle, the trick is to let everyone have a voice. It may mean that the discussion on a certain subject runs a bit longer, but hearing from everyone can really bring a unique perspective to the table.

Of course if you’re working with a committee of 20+, letting every single person talk might become a bit tricky — the important part is to allow a variety of voices to chime in to the planning process.

The next time you find yourself planning an event with so many moving pieces, keep these tips in your back pocket for reference to ensure that everything comes together in a cohesive and (almost) stress-free way.


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