May 9, 2021

Suburban Ohio boy takes on Austin: Capital University at PRSSA National Conference 2018

A great way to get involved on campus is by joining a student organization. Last year, I joined the Public Relations Student Society of America because I had an interest in communications. Today, I write as the president of the pre-professional society, coming off of an amazing trip to Austin, Texas for the PRSSA National Conference, the largest gathering of public relations students in the country. Below, I document my experience of the conference, as well as a few key takeaways.

My view of beautiful downtown Austin from the Hilton Austin hotel balcony

This past weekend I was able to be a part of a very special event. Students from all around the country and Western Hemisphere flew into Austin, Texas for the annual PRSSA national conference. To say that the conference was life changing would be an understatement. Below, I will try to put into words what the experience meant for me, a self-proclaimed “Suburban Ohio Boy” who rarely travels but is eager to experience new things.

View from my first ever plane ride!

The weekend started with me hopping on my first ever airplane for a flight to Dallas, Texas, where I would then hop onto another plane to get to Austin. I was definitely a little nervous, to say the least. I had never flown before and going alone the first time can be a little nerve-wracking. Luckily, I made it there fine and was able to see my beautiful hometown of Columbus, Ohio from a view I never experienced before.

After landing at my final destination in Austin, it was time to get to my hotel, the Hilton hotel in downtown Austin. There, I was able to meet with some friends from Ohio Northern University, who graciously allowed me to stay with them. A special shout out here to Dr. Alisa Agozzino, APR. She was the one that arranged for me to stay with the ONU boys, and her support made the entire conference experience less intimidating.

My first day consisted of opening remarks, followed by networking opportunities and workshops. The most noteworthy event of the day was the president’s workshop, where chapter presidents from all across the country came together to share best practices and advice for how to be better leaders. It was here that I was able to meet and exchange information with other leaders of smaller chapters, many of whom faced similar problems to me and my chapter here at Capital University. It will be interesting to see the respective oaths our chapters take after this conference experience.

Next was “Far Out in Austin,” an opening night celebration featuring complimentary food and drink, networking, and dancing. I hadn’t danced since my high school’s prom, so I was a little rusty. Also, the DJ never played my request of “Nice for What” by Drake, but I still had a blast.

Day two started with opening remarks and a chapter roll call. I was impressed and entertained by the various chants of the other PRSSA chapters. When it came to me, I tried my hardest with a “representing the CapFam!” chant that was met by much applause. Mission accomplished.

President’s networking lunch and keynote. Featuring students from various parts of the country

Next, there was an exclusive presidents lunch. I was greeted by a spread that was way fancier than I had ever seen before (suburban Ohio boy, remember), but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I also got to hear some inspiring words by Micah Mingo, a communications specialist from IBM. Her speech moved me to embrace the weird, and to embrace my passions.

Following lunch was some more breakout sessions. This is where I attended a session titled “CEO of You 2.0- Analyzing Your Digital Brand for Future Success,” by Jason Mollica, veteran in the PR world and professor at American University. His lecture really caught my attention and taught me so much (my two page document of notes backs that up). Thanks to his advice, I will be rebranding my social media presence over the next few weeks, merging all of my passions into one, unified page.

Also a recognition to the Art of Conflict and Crisis panel, which taught me to embrace conflict head on as it approaches me in my career, as crisis communications activities provide huge room to grow as a communications professional. I want to shout out Dr. Raquel Perez from Florida International University here. You could feel the energy and passion coming off of her as she spoke. She was very inspirational.

The next part of conference that I want to pick up with here is the PRSA general session Sunday, Oct. 7. The guest speaker was Jonothan Mildenhall, former CMO of Airbnb and founder of 21st Century Brand. His life story as a communications professional of color from the United Kingdom making waves in American media was very inspiring, to say the least. He taught me so much, namely to follow what my passion is, and to do everything with humanity: trying to be the very best human being that I can be.

Chatting professional things with Adrian from Dell’s Executive Communications team

Next, I was able to roam around the PRSA exhibit hall. A very strong passion of mine is gaming, and I really wanted to find some professionals in the gaming realm to network with and learn more about the industry. I was told by many to check out the Alienware booth in the exhibit hall, and I am so happy I did. I was able to try Virtual Reality for the first time (It is indeed worth the hype!) and chat with professionals from Dell. Here I want to acknowledge Mr. Adrian Rios, a marketing analyst from Dell’s executive communications team. Adrian and I talked for about an hour about everything from blogging (shameless plug for my personal blog here), to tech, to how overly formalized some of the networking training for students can be (I actually gave him my business card, which I was told before is a no-no, as you are supposed to ask for the professional’s business card first). I am looking forward to growing my personal brand and blog with the helpful insights Adrian provided me with.

The Capital Gala Awards Ceremony and Dinner

To conclude the conference that evening on Oct. 8, I went to the fanciest dinner I have ever had in my life: “The Capital Gala” awards ceremony and dinner. I was able to experience my second three course meal of the trip, and be inspired by all of the wonderful awards handed to members of other PRSSA chapters. I hope to hear Capital’s name being recognized for such an award next time.

This was just a little sneak peak into what my PRSSA National Conference experience was like. The friendships made on this trip I will remember forever. The experiences have had an astounding impact on me personally and professionally. I will never take opportunities like these for granted, as they don’t come around often. If you ever have a chance to represent your PRSSA chapter at a National Conference, please do, I promise you will not regret it. A huge shoutout to the PRSSA National Conference planning committee who put this on (especially the National Conference Director and fashion icon himself, Alejandro Garcia of Texas State University for all of his efforts. It was wonderful meeting you!). My biggest thank you has to go to my school and faculty advisor, Dr. Lois Foreman-Wernet, APR. Dr. Lois was the one who encouraged me to go to this life-changing conference, and her support means a lot to me. Also, I would like to thank Capital University for funding my trip. If it wasn’t for them and their financial support, I simply would not be there. I am so excited to carry this energy and renowned passion for PRSSA back into my chapter and to further my professional development. Follow your passions, embrace the weird, and do everything with humanity and ethics.

  • Zach Ferenchak is the Managing Editor of The Chimes and a current senior studying Emerging Media with an emphasis in Public Relations. He is also heavily involved with the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), where he is the National Vice President of Brand Engagement. Upon graduating in May 2021, Zach plans on pursuing a career in the greater communications and media industry.

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