Where did I go wrong with this presentation proposal?

istock_000006111221xsmallGive to get back

I try to give back to the communications industry by offering to speak at meetups, barcamps, schools, industry conferences and other gatherings that want me. Usually, I’ll speak about about social media, sharing what I’ve experienced and learned over the past five years.

I’ve never delivered the same presentation two times in a row. Social media changes so rapidly and there are so many new developments and issues that I’m constantly adding new material.

Don’t waste their time. Make it relevant

When I plan a presentation, I always try to approach the presentation from the perspective of the participants. What is their background? What interests them? What do they already know? What could I offer them that would make their hour with me a worthwhile use of their time?

Usually this approach works. I deliver what people are interested in. And they think their time with me was well spent. Occasionally, I miss the mark.

In the past few years, I’ve become active in the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms (In fact, I was elected Chair of the CCPRF in December.) And one of the topics of ongoing discussion among the PR consulting firm CEOs has been the need to ensure that new employees arrive in our firms with the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the era of social media.

Oops. This one didn’t make the cut.

So, when the Canadian Public Relations Society put out a call for presentation proposals for the CPRS National Conference scheduled for June in Vancouver, I thought that it would make sense to propose a session with a panel of CEOs of some of Canada’s leading PR firms talking about the knowledge and skills they believe that people should be acquiring in order to succeed in our evolving industry. The CEOs of three other firms – Palette PR‘s Martin Waxman, Weber Shandwick‘s Kerry Harris and Argyle‘s Dan Tisch – volunteered to participate in this panel. So, I thought I’d have a rock solid session that would be of interest to the members of the CPRS.

Oops. I was wrong. I received an email telling me that our submission had been declined. Clearly, I’d missed the mark with this proposal.

Fair enough. The conference organizers want to put on the best conference and I’m sure that they had many great presentations to choose from.

Doing better the next time

But, of course, I’d like my presentation proposal to be among the better ones. So, if I missed the mark this time, I’d like to improve for the next time. And I’m hoping that you can help me with that.

I’ve reproduced the presentation proposal below. If you are a public relations practitioner, please take a look at it and tell me how I could tweak it to make it something you’d find useful.

I can’t offer you anything other than my thanks. And my pledge not to waste your time if you find yourself at one of my presentations.

Building your Career with Canada’s PR Consulting Companies
What do the leaders of public relations firms look for in recruiting new employees and deciding who to advance? It’s about more than billings. In this era of social media, what are the skills that PR pros must acquire or develop in order to build a successful PR consulting career?  Four PR firm CEOs, Thornley Fallis’ Joseph Thornley, Palette PR’s Martin Waxman, Argyle’s Dan Tisch and Weber Shandwick’s Kerry Harris, will tell you what they look for and answer all your questions. This panel is co-sponsored by the Council of Public Relations Firms and the CPRS.

Anyone interested in a career in PR consulting, whether PR student, new job entrant, mid career or senior practitioner, will be interested in this session.

The objectives of this workshop are to alert CPRS members to how they can prepare themselves to succeed in today’s fast changing public relations discipline and to give them insight into how PR firms are trying to help them prepare for the future.

Participants will learn:

  • What PR consulting firms look for when recruiting new employees;
  • What skills and expertise PR practitioners should be developing to equip themselves to succeed today and tomorrow;
  • How PR agency heads are trying to help their employees acquire new skills and expertise that they will need to advance in their careers.

PR professionals will gain insight into what PR firm heads feel are the essential skills and expertise of tomorrow and how they can acquire this.

PR consulting companies will benefit by the exchange of best practices and corporate communicators will gain insight into the challenges facing their suppliers and what is being done to meet those challenges.

So, what do you think?

How could I improve this session proposal to make it more interesting and more useful to public relations practitioners and other conference attendees?

  • I’m at a loss. I’m surprised both by the denial and the fact that they didn’t give an explanation. Perhaps they don’t want panels or some other logistical issue is the reason for their denial. But given the stature of your panel, it seems they would have made it work. I don’t see anything wrong with your proposal. I wish we could bring you all here to San Antonio to present it!

  • Robert Shapiro

    Sounds like a presentation I would love to witness and particiapte in. Personally, as a young PR professional, I am curious as to how to best sell yourself for consulting work. With a lot of places on hiring freezes, there has to be a way to still get your foot in the door and find work (even if its not salaried).

    Maybe this is something that could be explored?

  • Where’s the sizzle my boy?

    “What PR consulting firms look for when recruiting new employees;
    What skills and expertise PR practitioners should be developing to equip themselves to succeed today and tomorrow;
    How PR agency heads are trying to help their employees acquire new skills and expertise that they will need to advance in their careers. ”

    Doesn’t leap out at you with the basics of a good story you will tell attendees and or the narrative that will capture the audience’s attention.
    While you do have to sell the selection committee, a good committee member will put themselves in the audience and try to hear it and imagine how it will hold their attention.

    You sucked the life and the passion right out of your pitch.
    Must be all the time you’re spending in hotels and airplanes !


    • Mike, are you sure you weren’t on the CPRS selection committee? It hurts to hear this. But that’s what I asked for. And do you know what? I agree with you. I was trying to give the CPRS what I thought they’d want. And I’m just not that passionate. I guess it showed through. You’ve pointed me in the right direction to make sure I don’t make that mistake again. Thanks, my friend.

  • Christie and Robert, Thanks for your encouragement. In fact, Martin Waxman has pitched the panel idea to the Toronto chapter of the CPRS. Hopefully, they’ll find it more interesting than the national CPRS did. So, we may see you in Toronto. San Antonio? A bit of a stretch. But I appreciate the thought!

  • Every once in a while we all need to take a step back to say what WE want to say – not what we think people want to hear.

  • Did they provide feedback? It might be more valuable than anything any of us write 🙂

    Note that this is my immediate reaction to your proposal; it may or may not be relevant, given that we/I don’t know the entire context in which this was done:

    I see the conference is called “On the Edge” — gearing your proposal to that theme, even if only in name may have helped. “Careers on the Edge” or something along those lines that immediately connects to the overall tone of the conference would be useful; similarly a description that references the theme would work in your favour — “Is your career in PR teetering on the Edge? Learn how to firmly plant yourself on solid ground in the PR 2.0 world with the talents that leading PR agencies are looking for in today’s fast-paced, ever-changing world of social media. Arm yourself with the skills and knowledge that you need to get caught up, stay caught up, and then get ahead in your craft of PR. You’ll benefit from the breadth of experience of 4 of the PR industry’s top CEOs. They’ll walk you through [insert bullet points here]… etc etc…”

    I’m sure it would have been an excellent workshop; feels a bit like you undersold it, though.

    • Carleen, Unfortunately, the reply letter I received was a simple form letter. No information was given about the shortcomings of my proposal. I immediately replied to it asking for some feedback. So, far, I have heard nothing back.

      Derek, Seeing your rework of the description along with Mike Spears comments, I realize I could have done so much more to earn my place at the podium. Thanks for your suggestions. You can be sure that I’ll refer to them the next time I prepare a presentation outline.

  • Carleen Carroll

    I don’t know, Joe. It sounds like a good pitch to me. If it’s any comfort mine was declined as well with the usual thanks but no thanks letter. It would have been nice to have received feedback about why it didn’t make the grade.

  • MichelleCliffe

    Perhaps how you framed it could have been more impactful. Focused more on the message ‘how to get the job, and be a better PR pro, in a new era of social media’. While you gave the learning outcomes, you didn’t give any clue as to how the next generation of PR pros will have to be savvy about the changing landscape. We’ve all heard time and again what skills we need to work in an agency. What’s special about your presentation is that you’ll discuss how understanding social media can give you an edge. That just didn’t come through.

    • Thanks for your comments Michelle. Like those of Mike Spears and Derek Featherstone, you have given me great coaching. And as I look at my proposal through your eyes, I now see why it was something that the CPRS felt comfortable turning down. Thanks to the comments I’ve received, I’ve gained a clearer view of what I need to do to deliver a winning proposal next time.

  • Joe, if you flip through the current CPRS member directory (to where members are categorized by industry), aren’t you always surprised how few members come from the agency world? “PR” agency members represent a very small percentage of the CPRS membership. You are more likely to see people employed in government, non-profits and corporations. Based on past year’s observations, I would suggest that the conference audience is an even smaller percentage of delegates come from PR agencies than you find in the percentage of the overall membership.

    Ergo, perhaps this session (and its proposal) was “envisioned” for the wrong audience. (Based on last year’s conference in Halifax, I’d say that the number of students and “young” public relations professionals who have the resources or desire to attend are minimal.)

    Think like demographer David Foote: propose to the expected conference attendee market.

  • My first comment here, but have been enjoying your blog and will be a regular reader.

    Not sure if this would work for the CPRS selection committee, but perhaps starting out with a more impactful message targeted directly at the audience you wanted to engage (as suggested by Michelle and Mike), and then nailing that core message down through a more “linkbait-y” title before you write the body of the proposal.

    Maybe something along the lines of “The 5 Skills Essential for PR Success in 2009” or “The 7 Traits of Highly Sought After PR Consultants” … you get the idea. In other words, a clearer hook that generates a little bit of curiosity and promises a specific benefit may do the trick.

    I’m not a PR practitioner so please forgive if this is not in tune with your industry… 🙂

  • Joe, when yoiu pitch an idea to an organiztion like CPRS, you are really pitching to two audiences.

    I don’t know who is on the committee so I am not commenting on the CPRS review panel specifically.

    My experience has been that directors of associations don’t always reflect the views and interests of the general membership. By virtue of being on the board, directors are generally senior and committed to the organization. Sometimes, the interests of the general membership get lost.

    Who actually made the rejection decision? A person, duo or group?

  • Joe, great use of the social media space to get open feedback on your panel. Just thought everyone should know that Joe and his team of industry leaders will be presenting at the conference during a special session for those interested in the agency world. We welcome this addition — don’t know why it had to go through an initial rejection (only to say that there were a lot of surprises this year from the local program committee). Rest Skippy that it isn’t a person, duo or group — but rather a well intentioned local committee. Hope to see everyone at the conference and remember (and I’m probably breaking a whole bunch of social media conventions by doing this) the early bird deadline ends this Friday. So if you want to see and hear Joe…now’s the time to register. Hope to see you in Vancouver.

    • Hi Terry, You’re right. We received an invitation from the CPRS to present our workshop. And I’m delighted. Looking forward to it very much.