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2018 PRSSA National Conference: The Power of Purpose

This past weekend, the BUPRSSA E-Board travelled to Austin, TX to attend the PRSSA National Conference. We joined fellow communication students from all over the country to learn from and network with professionals. We had the opportunity to attend a special session at the PRSA conference, which is generally targeted for people in the workforce. There, we had the opportunity to hear from an industry leader – Jonathan Mildenhall.

Jonathan Mildenhall was the Senior Vice President of Integrated Marketing Communication at Coca-Cola, the Chief Marketing Officer at Airbnb, and has now founded his own company TwentyFirstCenturyBrand. His presentation centered around the power of purpose, and the importance of authenticity and communicating your values. For him, humanity and creativity drives his work.

During his time at Coca-Cola, he underscored the importance of learning the brand’s history and how he spent his first few months examining the archives. It was then he understood that Coca-Cola’s purpose has always been to be “an antidote to modern day woes” through addressing societal issues. He highlighted the Bringing India & Pakistan Together and America is Beautiful campaigns as examples. Personally, I’m often skeptical when brands choose to insert themselves into social conversations as it sometimes can seem forced and not genuine. However, I was extremely moved and impressed by the ads. They reinforced the notion that by being authentic and conveying your values, you can make a powerful and impactful statement.

He also spotlighted the significance of being innovative when faced with adversities. At Airbnb, his team was trying to build the momentum of having celebrities use its services after Beyoncé posted about staying at an Airbnb. However, during the Oscars season, Airbnb was banned from buying any ad spots or referencing any nominated movies because a major hotel chain was the official sponsor. Airbnb was essentially locked out. So, Airbnb turned to Twitter and launched a hashtag campaign — #LiveInTheMovies – which asked users what movie they would want to live in. By doing so, they had Twitter and its users referencing the movie titles and Airbnb just responded with recommendations of the perfect place for them to live out their dreams. A simple tweet got them trending and earned numerous media coverage, while other brands had to pay millions for a 30-second ad spot during the Oscars. I thought this was an amazing feat and I’m in awe of the creativity behind this campaign.

These were just some of the many stories that made a lasting impression on me. Jonathan also shared his personal experiences in the industry and advice for turning crisis into opportunities. The key takeaways from his presentation revolved around purpose, and that purpose:

- Drives performance

- Guides your career

- Ensures the right kind of growth

- Is deeply personal

- Is legacy marketing

In less than an hour, the session left me feeling inspired, informed, and exhilarated to continue my journey in the communications industry.

By Angelina Leung

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