Detroit Regional Conference Recap

(This blog was originally posted on 3/21/2016)

When you think of Detroit, what comes to mind? Blighted neighborhoods? Bankruptcy? Crime? While these images have some bearing in reality, they do not tell the entire story. Currently, Detroit is undergoing major economic changes on an unprecedented scale. Businesspeople, artists, and young professionals are “revitalizing” the city, creating a welcoming urban environment for everyone to enjoy.

To share this story, the dedicated PRSSA chapters of Wayne State University and Michigan State University partnered up to host a regional conference held at Wayne State University’s McGregor Conference Center, located in the heart of Detroit. The conference was preluded by a mixer at the Punchbowl Social. Many local professionals, with varying backgrounds in public relations, communications, and journalism, were invited to discuss the role PR plays in Detroit’s comeback. The conference left attendees with a new perspective of the Motor City.

Without further to do, here the a few of my key takeaways:

  • PR is vital to the economic health of Detroit: PR shapes how others view the city of Detroit. For example, amidst the Great Recession, the Motor City almost exclusively experienced negative media attention. In order to tell the whole story, professionals from Detroit Homecoming aimed to change the national perception by attracting investors and entrepreneurs back into the city. Jeanette Pierce, Executive Director of Detroit Experience Factory, has also shown dedication to the city by offering innovative tours of Detroit. To date, Pierce has shown over 70,000 visitors the city in the past decade. These tours give people the chance to experience Detroit beyond the headlines. These are just two examples of PR affecting positive change in Detroit.
  • Be curious, be confident: The opening panelists discussed which skills were vital in the PR industry. Obviously, as you could imagine, strong writing and speaking skills were mentioned. However, curiosity was also named as a vital characteristic in the PR industry. The panelists encouraged the attendees to ask questions and read as many publications as possible (Crain’s Detroit Business newsletter was highly recommended). They also mentioned that managing expectations, feeling confident, and setting yourself apart from others were additional useful skills.
  • Detroit has so much to offer: When most people think of Detroit, the first thing that comes to mind is typically cars. However, as keynote speaker Katy Cockrel pointed out, “Now, I think [Detroit] is a very different animal.” While the automotive industry is, and perhaps always will be, Detroit’s gem, there are countless opportunities for PR professionals. Cockrel herself has made tremendous strides in the industry by volunteering as the PR director for a Detroit-based voter awareness initiative, Vote Detroit, and serving as a member of the host committee for Another Detroit is Happening, a week-long event launched in September 2012 to raise awareness about investment opportunities in Detroit. Additionally, she is a member of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy’s active professionals committee and the advisory board of Detroit SOUP, a micro-granting dinner that funds creative projects in Detroit. Cockrel is living proof that the Motor City is not limited to automobiles for PR pros, and it is no wonder why she was named Crain’s Detroit Business “Twenty in their 20s” winner.
  • Embrace Diversity: Jocelyn Allen, Co-Founder & CEO of the Allen Lewis Agency, spoke about the need to work with others who look or think differently than ourselves. She reminded the audience that diversity goes beyond racial and ethnic boundaries. In her words, “When you’re thinking of diversity, don’t limit yourself…Diversity can be of thought and experience just as much as it is gender and race.” In order to truly embrace diversity, she notes, we must be our authentic selves. If we cannot even embrace who we are, how are we to embrace others for whom they are?. The main component to successfully maintaining a diverse dialogue and culture is telling your story; the importance of storytelling cannot be overstated. According to Allen, “We can’t talk about diversity without talking about our experiences.” In short, being your authentic self and sharing your stories will ultimately create a diverse environment where new ideas and mutually beneficial relationships can flourish.

The Detroit Regional Conference was definitely one to remember. This conference left attendees with a fresh outlook of the Motor City. One could only imagine how PR will shape the city for years to come during this exciting time of revitalization.

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