Buddy Up Your Members at Meetings

Pair your international attendees with locals to welcome guests at your next event.

What's the great idea? Create a buddy program at your event for international attendees.

Who's doing it? Public Relations Society of America

What's involved? Attending a conference for the first time can be alienating, perhaps even more so when you aren't from the host country. Noting an increase in international participation at its International Conference, the Public Relations Society of America created a buddy program that matches U.S. members with foreign attendees.

"We realized that these international attendees were making a special effort to join us, but, because of cultural differences, many had expectations of protocol we could not meet given the pressures of managing a large conference," says Karla Voth, manager, conferences and recognition for PRSA. "We also recognized that, in order to make these visitors feel welcome and guide them through the maze of opportunities offered at a conference of this magnitude, we needed additional help."

Requests for volunteers are posted online, and targeted requests are emailed to specific communities within PRSA, such as its International Section, Corporate Section, and Conference Host Committee. Voth says finding sufficient volunteers to support the growing number of international attendees has been a challenge for the new program. "Next year we will include the ‘ask' in the registration confirmation in order to broaden the field. In addition, we would like to fine tune to include specific geographical areas and fluency in various languages [and more] in order to make it even more attractive."

Once international attendees sign up for the buddy program, PRSA President William Murray, CAE, sends an email welcome. The PRSA buddy initiates the relationship by emailing an introduction and is encouraged to include a photo and bio. "Once the connection has been made, they make plans to meet at the outset of the conference at the International Visitors Center, which is set up in the exhibit hall," says Voth. Buddies also share information about the Newcomer's Orientation Session and the International Section Dinner and help answer any questions the international visitor may have.

What are people saying? Voth says she has received positive feedback from both groups and that the buddy program is a registration builder. "This is the second year of program, but we are hearing that this outreach has made a difference. Buddies have expressed a sense of gratification in knowing their efforts are appreciated—and in some cases made a difference in their own practice. The international visitors are able to participate more fully in programming as well as network with professional peers from around the world."