The next generation of PR stars speak out

PRWeek's NEXT Conference started off the morning celebrating the industry's 40 Under 40, PR professionals who have made significant contributions before their 40th birthday.

PRWeek's NEXT Conference started off the morning celebrating the industry's 40 Under 40, PR professionals who have made significant contributions before their 40th birthday. Some of that elite group took the stage in the early afternoon to talk about their roles and highlight some of the key topics that will be examined during Wednesday's breakfast roundtables.

Lisa Passe, senior manager of global consumer PR for Starbucks, kicked off the discussion noting that the PR business was very different even just five years ago and that tomorrow will bring more change. She touched on the joys of working in the "amazing dot.com bubble" a number of years ago, but that today's success means that "we need to continually push ourselves to be smarter and leaner" and that "it's not the breadth of coverage, but the smart work behind it."

Daniel Diaz, VP of corporate affairs, America, for Western Union, agreed that change was an industry reality and that change can come from a number of areas, including consumer behavior, the global markets, or even CEOs who take the stage and say things that "we PR execs have to respond to later."

One area that Diaz was looking to create discussion around was the evolving reporting structure of the communications and PR role and how it varies within companies. More CCOs are reporting directly to the CEO while many are layered under the CMO function. Diaz was also expecting a healthy debate over social media and the most effective ways to use it.

Cameka Crawford, manager of multicultural comms and community relations at Verizon Wireless, had come to the conference to create debate among her peers and challenge what multicultural means today. Authentic multicultural outreach must "go beyond Black History Month."  Crawford was also looking for insight on the best practices for using technology to evolve community relations and outreach, citing Verizon Wireless' use of texting to help the Red Cross raise money for Japan's tsunami victims.

Noel Ryan, executive director and head of corporate comms and IR for Delek US, believes that PR and IR will be more strongly linked in the future. "Numbers can tell a story faster than words. PR pros should become intimate with the company's financials "even if their core duties don't mean getting down and dirty with numbers," he says.

Making sure that PR is integrated throughout a company was an area Shawn Turner, PR manager for Disney Store North America, was looking to examine more closely. Her role at Disney entails working across licensing, retail,and product development. "Every company has so many stakeholders. We must work to maximize the message more easily across the organization," says Turner.

All panelists agreed that one topic that was on the minds of all NEXT attendees was the need to mentor, and learn from, the next generation of PR stars, many of whom may make their marks as next year's 40 Under 40.

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