Finding Graceland

Inspired by this flagging economy, I poured my Seattle-area PR practice into a Jeep and headed cross-country.

Inspired by this flagging economy, I poured my Seattle-area PR practice into a Jeep and headed cross-country. Joined by my husband/business partner and our two young children, we began our adventure June 19 with the goal of determining next career steps.

Options included: (a) relocate the business; (b) partner with another agency, or; (c) get a traditional J-O-B. To make it more interesting, we decided to meet with leaders in our industry, taking the pulse of PR along the way.

"If we're going to do this," I insisted, "we must visit Graceland.” Such an iconic slice of Americana, Graceland became a symbol of success for our journey.

At press time I've met 17 communications pros and seen 18 states. This has included everyone from Wal-Mart executives and global agency big wigs, to small integrated shops in Montana and even a stand-up comic. I've learned a ton about our industry and its people. Enough to make even the sketchiest motel rooms and the creepiest “free public showers” worthwhile.

The mobile office proves that technology is great. But—people are better. While we've stayed on top of projects on the road, this trip is only interesting because of the human touch-points.

And while we may still need to prove PR's value, that's not such a bad thing. It inspires us to come up with fresh ways to measure our impact in a discipline that is equal parts art and science.

We evolve.

So even if today “conversations” are more interesting than “stories,” you can't start a conversation across any platform without a good story.

But my most valuable lesson? In a word: “off-plan.”

When much-researched strategies and goals collide with reality (in the form of budget, timing, or, in our case, wild bison) we must reroute. The goals are still there, but in changing the process of reaching them we uncover new opportunities, new interests, and new definitions of success.

I have thousands of pictures. None of them include music-note gates. Part of me wishes I had a happy ending that could explain why.

I don't.

We still don't know what we are going to do with the business. My address is still a moving vehicle.

We are so off-plan.

But I wouldn't change a thing. I've never been more excited or proud to be in PR than I am today. We are a smart and resilient bunch, able to find humor in tragedy, eager to see obstacles as opportunity.

And eventually, we'll all find Graceland.

Heidi Happonen is the owner of Happonen Communications, a boutique PR shop currently in its third year and currently headquartered in her Jeep.

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