This year's general session, however, was well served by the bookend speeches of Tavis Smiley, host of the eponymous program on PBS, and Newsweek's recently elevated editor Jon Meacham. Smiley promised to "unsettle" the assembled delegates, and while I'm not sure he accomplished that, he deftly tied the values of humanity to the role of the PR professional in a credible and meaningful way. The parallel goals of love and service, when articulated by someone as passionate as Smiley, sound like plausible ideas for the industry, which is pretty incredible given the excess of trite rhetoric that can flavor many PR-related speeches.
When Smiley calls for authenticity, as he did, and for PR professionals to embrace the ups and downs of navigating treacherous ethical terrain with courage and a sense of what is right, he elevates everyone in the room.
Meacham, now five weeks in at the top job at Newsweek, focused more of his time on dissecting the themes of the recent mid-term election results. "The vote this week," he said, "was a cry for the much-maligned and underrated American center." He bemoaned the media construct of blue state versus red state in political coverage, calling it "A shorthand that can turn into a self-fulfilling prophesy." The critical factors going forward in public life are, according to Meacham, "courage, candor, and cooperation."
Keith Burton, who is chairing this year's meeting, is one of the contributors to a PRSA blog during the conference. Burton is head of Golin Harris' InsideEdge, and he's brought Al Golin and Fred Cook to SLC to contribute to the program this year.
Keep checking this blog for other views and news from SLC. I'll have more later from a press briefing held with Meacham following his speech.