Dr. Kaye Sweetser Delivers Keynote Address at PRSSA Conference

November 13, 2019
sweetser prsa

“You are the future of PR,” began San Diego State University professor Dr. Kaye Sweetser, APR+M, Fellow PRSA.

As the keynote speaker for the Public Relations Student Society of America annual conference in San Diego last month, Sweetser offered advice to more than 800 future public relations professionals about how to harness their energy to be the greatest PR practitioners of all time.

Organizing her tenants to unleashing awesome, Sweetser talked about the need for clarity, creativity, critique and collaboration in public relations.


Clarity to Sweetser is about being concise. “Be clear. Be direct. Be bold,” she said.

Sweetser noted that writers hide behind passive voice and meaningless adjectives because they are afraid to say what they mean. With passive voice, the writer hides responsibility or who performed an action. With lofty adjectives, writers obscure the real meaning of what is happening.

“Have the courage to step out from behind of those fluff words that clutter your writing,” Sweetser urged.

Clarity comes into play in professional interactions as well, according to Sweetser. She urged the young practitioners to communicate their professional goals. She noted that no one knows what you want if you don’t tell them.

“Imagine getting in a rideshare car but not putting in the app where you want to go because you’re too nervous that the driver might know that is where you want to spend your Saturday,” she said to make the point that your boss can help you move your career toward your goals.

“Do not wait around for someone to see you there slinking in the corner,” she challenged the room. “No one is going to call on you in the real world. Step forward. Tell the world what you want from it.”


For Sweetser, being creative is an embedded part of the job description in public relations.

Being creative involves thinking about an issue in the way everyone else does, and applies even greater brainpower to look at it from a different angle. Sweetser said that creativity is how you connect with a target audience and break through the noise.

In giving professional advice, Sweetser told the young professionals to get scrappy in finding opportunities in their careers. She recounted stories from her time as an active duty Navy sailor about how she approached projects and goal seeking in creative ways.


“Why does critique sound like such a dirty word?” asked Sweetser. “Instead of thinking of a critique as someone pointing out what you did wrong or what you missed, think of it like crowdsourcing.”

Sweetser compared the artist practice of workshopping the commonplace crowdsourcing activities many of the audience members engage in weekly.

“We crowdsource our outfits on group text fashion shows with friends,” said Sweetser. “We crowdsource our travel plans – what are the best things to do in San Diego? So why would we not crowdsource our work?”

Talking about how she uses critique, Sweetser said that she discusses projects with friends in and outside of the industry to get their feedback. She noted that sometimes getting constructive criticism can sting at first, but said that in the end, you get a product that is inherently better. She noted that when you involve the right people in seeking critique then it easier to trust the process.


A cringe-worthy saying for most public relations professionals is hearing that a young practitioner is getting into the industry because he or she is a “people person.” Sweetser challenged that collaborative mindset joking that as a professor she had seen group projects implode and that it didn’t seem like most students liked people much at all.

In reality, she said, PR is a team sport.

In today’s mixed media world where social campaigns run alongside traditional media campaigns, collaboration across an organization is key.

Beyond the expected discussion of working together, Sweetser emphasized the importance of being a mentor as much as getting mentored. Sweetser urged the young professionals to help their peers as much as they looked to senior practitioners to help them.

As a part of that, Sweetser was careful to couch her advice as focusing on how one could improve one’s own practice, and not comparing yourself to others.

“This is not about competing against the woman sitting next to you,” said Sweetser. “In this world, we can both succeed.”

About the Keynote

Sweetser delivered this keynote at the roll call session for the 2019 PRSSA conference on Oct. 19.

The content within this article has been edited by Lizbeth Persons.

Categorized As