The significance of professional development in public relations cannot be overemphasized. Practitioners must remain relevant, effective and successful in a field that is constantly evolving with changing media landscapes, communication technologies, and societal trends.
In a previous article, we explored PR associations and their contribution to fostering and advancing the profession of PR practitioners in the digital age. As a follow-up to that discussion, communications professionals share their experiences and insights, highlighting the undeniable impact of public relations associations on professional development and career growth.
The Networking Power of PR Associations
Lauren Lawson-Zilai, Senior Director of Media and Public Relations at Shatterproof, stresses the purpose of networks such as PR associations.
“Networking is not about just connecting people," Lawson-Zilai says. "It's about connecting people with people, people with ideas, and people with opportunities. Networking is much more than the initial meeting and discussion. A network is a living, breathing thing; it’s a community of uniquely gifted people that are willing to help and encourage one another. By being a member of a professional association, you gain access to a network who can share referrals, bounce ideas off of and become part of your network.”
For Natan Edelsburg, Chief Partnerships Officer at Muck Rack and speaker at the upcoming PRNEWS Proving PR Performance Summit, being part of a multitude of PR-related associations has been transformative for his professional growth.
His affiliations with the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), The PR Net, as well as communications measurement associations International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC), and Fédération Internationale des Bureaux d'Extraits de Presse (FIBEP), have allowed him to tap into a wealth of expertise.
Edelsburg emphasizes the significant role his PRSA membership played in building a valuable network and learning from industry leaders. His involvement in planning PRSA's annual conference facilitated connections with renowned speakers, shaping his understanding of the industry's latest trends and challenges.
“The biggest benefit is learning from peers and mentors," Edelsburg says. "Most professionals are dealing with similar challenges in a changing PR landscape. Being a member of a PR association has allowed me to keep a pulse on these and bring them back to my company,” says Edelsburg.
Joe Stabb, Assistant Professor of Practice at the Tombras School of Advertising & Public Relations, attests that a PRSA membership has been instrumental in his career, enabling him to stay connected with, and learn from, fellow professionals in the field.
“Many jobs I have had, non-academic, are a result of connecting with, and networking with, other members of PRSA," Stabb says. "Your membership can give you access to contact information from other members and access to events hosted by chapters throughout the country. Frequently, I will contact other PRSA chapters as I travel to attend chapter events...This has helped me to build connections and contacts for jobs/careers, agency business, and mentorship from trusted individuals.”
Lawson-Zilai recounts her networking within professional associations. Through her involvement in PRSA and Washington Women in Public Relations (WWPR), she has harnessed the power of connections into opportunities for herself.
“I joined organizations like [PRSA] and [WWPR] and became president of both," she says. "It was when I was president of WWPR in 2009 that I met one of our PR Woman of the Year award winners, who I kept in touch with. When she posted a position so many years later, I applied for it, and it was only through networking and cultivating that relationship that I was able to garner that position—and it is who my boss is today."
Membership Impact on Professional Development
Belonging to professional PR associations is also beneficial for promoting skill enhancement among professionals in the industry.
“The continuing education, case studies, award submissions, and other training/learning opportunities have helped me develop as a knowledgeable public relations professional,” shares Stabb. This sentiment is echoed by Lawson-Zilai.
“One particular instance that stands out is when I [was] looking to transition to the nonprofit sector, which was my reason for moving to the D.C. area," she says. "Through WWPR, I joined the pro bono committee and lead a committee doing pro bono work for Safe Shores—The D.C. Children’s Advocacy Center, and Doorways for Women and Families. In the process, I garnered skills including event management, fundraising, partnership building and writing strategic plans. I learned valuable lessons about leading and motivating a team, holding people accountable and more. I was bolstering my understanding of how nonprofit organizations function while simultaneously making a difference in my community."
Edelsburg has observed this benefit from the view of a presenter who was able to share his expertise with peers.
“One year at the conference, I shared data from [Muck Rack’s annual State of Journalism] on journalists' preferred pitch length," he says. "Following the presentation, countless association members asked me for the presentation so they could share the pitching insights with their clients…The type of learning environment PRSA provides through its annual conference allows the community to share insights that make real change,” he said.
Associations and Communities in the Digital Age
In the digital age, the landscape of professional associations is undergoing a transformation. While traditional associations have long been the cornerstone of networking and skill-building in various industries, newer options are emerging to cater to the evolving needs of professionals.
Edelsburg highlights the growing popularity of digital communities.
“Seek digital communities via what the associations offer and on popular social media sites like Slack and LinkedIn," he says. "Traditional associations will always be essential to be a part of, but newer ones are also out there. For example, The PR Net is a newer association that continues to grow in popularity. They have a thriving Slack community and offer events in major markets like NYC, London and LA. While they have members from all industries, they’ve also built a strong network in luxury and travel, two industries that don’t often participate in PRSA.”
Is Membership Worth the Investment?
Membership in PR associations can yield significant returns. Edelsburg and Stabb both underscore the idea that the value derived from membership is directly correlated with the level of engagement and active participation.
“Nine times out of ten, you will find value in membership if you are engaged with the membership," Stabb notes. "The value in the membership is equal to the effort that you engage with your membership.”
Edelsburg adds, “You need to raise your hand to get involved to get the most out of your membership. You can’t expect value or opportunities to be handed to you. Not only will you meet amazing people, but it’s also rewarding to give back to the PR and communications community!”
Tai Nichols is event content manager for PRNEWS. Follow her: @SathiyyahN