PR Advanced 2021: Making “Virtual” Purposeful

Taken from BUPRSSA’s Instagram

Every year, the Boston University chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (BUPRSSA) gathers students from across campus in the BU Photonics Center for an all-day district conference, stacked with impressive speakers and unique networking opportunities to build the skills and confidence of aspiring public relations professionals. This year, however, due to the current global pandemic, the eight-hour conference was moved fully online. 

On Saturday, February 20, BUPRSSA was tasked with producing the same thought-provoking and opportunity-sparking experiences – but through computer screens. 

Guided by the theme, Powered by Purpose, the conference included an active Slack channel, a virtual networking lounge, a social media giveaway and 13 speakers who Zoomed in from various locations across the country to discuss how they found and perform their “purpose.”   

“Being unified with who you are [and] what you believe in is significant,” said BUPRSSA President Melis Basaran of the theme. “It may be challenging to find your own purpose or what kind of work you want to embrace yourself with, but once you find it, you get powered by that purpose.”

Conference coordinator Jali Griesbach was in charge of planning the conference theme and logistics and facilitating communication with the event speakers.“The virtual format definitely threw me for a loop,” admitted Griesbach, a junior pursuing a dual degree in public relations and political science. “The biggest challenge was. . .making sure everything was communicated and making sure everyone was engaged.”

The day started with a greeting from Griesbach and an opportunity to start making connections via Airmeet, a virtual lounge where attendees and speakers could socialize, network and get as close as possible to that in-person feeling. 

Following the morning welcome, breakout sessions and keynote panels commenced where attendees could learn from and get motivated by the outstanding guest speakers. 

Bridget Bartol, Vice President at public affairs and political consulting firm SKDK, stressed the importance of transparency and authenticity when managing crises, as well as her wide experience in sparking change by telling the stories of different communities. 

“Change begins with one person, one community and then it builds,” said Bartol.

Corley Kenna, director of global communications and public relations at Patagonia, detailed her path to sparking change in corporate settings, advising to consider purpose over pay. 

“Take a step back and ask ‘will you be adding value to the world in this position?’ If you believe so for every role you take, then you will have a fulfilling career,” said Kenna.

The words of Bartol, Kenna and every other speaker at the conference likely resonated with all guests in attendance, whether they were logged in from a Myles Standish Hall dorm room or their childhood bedroom.

Second-semester graduate student Clay Patrick was particularly inspired by Kenna’s words. “She highlighted something I had never thought about: how a business’s mission statement is what guides every decision and communication,” said Patrick. 

“Although I was worried that I wouldn’t feel engaged throughout the conference because of Zoom fatigue, I had an incredible time listening to all the speakers and interacting with attendees,” commented Maria Fernandes, Vice President of BUPRSSA. 

Interactive, engaging and encouraging, this year’s PR Advanced conference was deemed a virtual success, instilling a sense of purpose in future change-makers in communications right in the comfort of their own homes.   

“We got a lot of really good feedback,” said Griesbach, referencing the many LinkedIn posts and social shares of conference attendees. “I think it went really well.”

Daniela Tellechea, Staff Writer

Hailing from Chico, a small town in Northern California, Daniela Tellechea is a senior in the College of Communication at Boston University studying public relations and minoring in Spanish. Daniela is passionate about storytelling and music and is currently interning at BCW Global and the Recording Academy. In her spare time, Daniela enjoys finding new music artists, reading and (safely) hanging out with friends. 

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