PRSSA at ICON 2020

PRSSA logo left, ICON 2020 logo right, gradient background.

This post is part of PRSSA’s ongoing ICON 2020 coverage. Be sure to check out our student recaps on Progressions as well as other coverage on PRSay, the official blog of PRSA.

2020 has proven to be a truly special year. Worldwide pandemic. Social justice. Disinformation. For future public relations professionals, a ton of uncertainty.

ICON 2020, PRSA’s first-ever virtual International Conference, looks to address these issues and more as it gathers public relations and communications professionals from across the world via an interactive online experience. PRSSA, which represents the future of the profession, has been present at every step of the way at this year’s ICON. Here’s a look at what the students have been enjoying at this year’s conference:

Day 1– PRSSA Welcome, Champions for PRSSA Chat and more

The week’s festivities began with the PRSSA Welcome Address. The session featured a friendly introduction to the National Committee as well as remarks from National President Carolyn Lok, the various National Committee vice presidents, and the University of Memphis Conference Committee.

The National President’s Citation Award and Star Chapter Awards also were announced. The full results of the awards announced can be found here.

Next was the opening day general session. The session opened with a musical performance by Chelsea Crowell, the granddaughter of Johnny Cash and a Nashville native. She was followed by a welcome from Garland Stansell, APR, chair of PRSA. Stansell welcomed everyone to the Conference and invited Justin Green, president of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management, to give remarks. Green gave his remarks over video while sporting a PRSSA pin, a special nod to the future of the profession.

John Meacham delivered an insightful and powerful keynote that responded to many of the stressors 2020 has put on society. His powerful quotes certainly connected with students and professionals alike.

In the afternoon, PRSSA members were able to connect with professionals across various industries at the Champions for PRSSA chat. This year the event looked a little bit different but still allowed for face to face connections among student members and industry professionals.

Next was the PRSSA Living Legends panel presented by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. This session featured Tony Cervone (General Motors) and Joanne Bischmann (Harley-Davidson). Both offered plenty of advice for aspiring PR pros. When asked one piece of advice they would share with new pros, they both offered the following:

“It’s a long career. It’s not the end of your career. Let it go. Move on,”– Joanne Bischmann

“Trust your gut,”– Tony Cervone

Day 2– General Session on Diversity and Inclusion, PRSSA Keynote and more

Day 2 started off with a general session featuring Carolynn Johnson, CEO of DiversityMediaInc LLC. This session featured a panel of diversity and inclusion leaders from across the public relations profession.

PRSSA students may have recognized one of the panelists featured in the session: the inaugural PRSSA National vice president of diversity and inclusion Adriênne Bolden. Her responses and those of others are sure to have inspired students and professionals alike. Bolden went on to share a LinkedIn post recapping important parts of her career journey.

The next PRSSA-specific event at this year’s ICON was the PRSSA Keynote Address with Dr. Candice Steele Flippin. Dr. Steele Flippin offered her unique insight and advice to students as they look to launch their careers during this turbulent time. Her three main pieces of advice were the following:

  • Make it personal. At the end of every business decision there is a person.
  • Use the power of perspective and position to make the world better.
  • Don’t compromise your integrity. What will you choose as your integrity promise?

Following this was the PRSSA Awards Ceremony. This special celebration highlighted the students and Chapters that make our Society so great. To see the full list of award winners, click here. To read more about one of the award winners, check out this profile on Ron Culp’s Culpwrit blog.

Next was the Diversity and Inclusion Celebration: Transforming the Landscape. This event, sponsored by PepsiCo, featured a concert fundraiser to raise funds for the PRSA Multicultural Scholarship Endowment, which aims to further scholarships for diverse students in public relations and communications.

The concert featured remarks from National President Carolyn Lok, vice president of diversity and inclusion Haniya Shariff, and fellow National Committee members Zach Ferenchak and Zane Landin. The event was a huge success, with donations surpassing the original $50,000 goal.

Day 3- PRSSA Career Development Exhibition and more

Day 3 of ICON 2020 started with a general session discussing the Information War by Nina Jankowicz. The session highlighted the various ways PR professionals could aid in the fight against dis/misinformation and the growing importance of fact checking and journalistic principles in the media landscape.

PRSSA students had plenty of tips to take away from these sessions as they manage communications for clients, their Chapters, or perhaps in other activities on their campus such as the many student-run newspapers that exist at colleges and universities.

The conversation continued at the next general session featuring Lata Nott, a First Amendment expert and attorney specializing at the intersection of law, technology, and expression.

The PRSSA Career Development Exhibition allowed students to explore various graduate schools and organizations across a variety of industries. The expo hall also featured a PRSSA National booth for students to connect with and explore options for serving PRSSA at the National level. For those who still wish to connect with the National Committee, they can do so here. 

A huge part of the PRSSA year has been the ICON 2020 experience. There is a lot more to be covered though. For more coverage, stay tuned to Progressions and also check out our sister blog, PRSay, run by our colleagues at PRSA.


Zach FerenchakZach Ferenchak, 2020–2021 vice president of brand engagement, is a senior at Capital University, a private university in Columbus, Ohio. He is majoring in emerging media with an emphasis in public relations and minors in journalism and marketing. In his free time, Ferenchak can be found obsessing over the latest gadget or video game, exploring a coffee shop with friends, or going on a trail run. He hopes to elevate the voices of all PRSSA members through the organization’s various brand platforms. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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