PR Seminar, the annual confab of blue chip corporate PR heads and leading media figures, is set for June 5-8, the first time the meeting will be held from Sunday to Wednesday.

Another break from tradition is that it’s in June when the meetings typically were in mid-May. Before June 1 the rates at the Ritz-Carlton in South Beach, where this year's gathering will be held, are $299-$549. Seminar has obtained a group rate of $199. The hotel said today that the block allotted to the group has been completely booked.

shalala, gunn
Shalala, Gunn
Speakers this year, according to the preliminary program, include Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami and Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton, and Tim Gunn, chief creative officer of Liz Claiborne and co-host of cable TV's "Project Runway."

Media heavyweights are noticeably absent from the program. Where past years had such speakers as Maria Bartiromo of CNBC and Eleanor Clift of Newsweek and "The McLaughlin Group," the 2011 agenda has no media figures at all.

Editors from ProPublica and National Public Radio spoke last year.

Non-media speakers have included Michael Bloomberg, before he was mayor of New York, and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase.

A member of the Society of Professional Journalists has criticized attendance by editorial and publishing figures from the New York Times, Washington Post, Fortune, Forbes, etc. (more than 25 such national media).

It is a conflict of interest for journalists to hobnob for up to four days with PR executives who control not only the flow of news from their companies but the flow of ad dollars and not report the existence of the group, said SPJ's Peter Sussman (link, sub req'd).

Concern about social media is shown by the title of one panel: “Stop the Madness: On Social Media’s Front Lines.”

Registration for a member and companion is about $3,500.

Most of the Seminarians are also members of the Arthur W. Page Society. About two-thirds of the 30-member PRS governing board are Page members.

Ritz-Carlton Gets Mixed Reviews

Reviews of the hotel are mixed, some praising the service and décor and others criticizing it.

A couple who were guests recently blogged that the “owners of the Ritz-Carlton brand should be ashamed of themselves for marketing this outdated, poorly staffed, rooming house as a ‘Ritz-Carlton’ property.” Another guest praised the location in South Beach but called the meals “average to below average” and said “service was very slow and requests never honored including basics like how you want your beef cooked.” Service on the beach was also criticized.

There is no on-site golf course (unusual as a site for Seminar) but there are courses nearby.

This reporter spent several weeks in Miami during the winter and found that South Beach can be a “tourist trap.”

Seminarians should check prices before they order anything from the numerous bars and restaurants that front the beach.

Attractive young women in scanty clothes entice visitors to the bars and outdoor tables. But a party of three I was with got a $79 bill after having three $12 sandwiches, two sodas and a pina colada. It turned out the drink was a “double” that cost $19 plus a mandatory 15% tip and taxes. Total for the drink was $23. The waiter explained the restaurant only served pina colada “doubles” and “wasn’t it the best pina colada you ever had?”

We paid the bill rather than create a ruckus but looked up the restaurant on the web and found numerous other complaints about unexpectedly high prices. One couple got charged $150 each for two lobsters at the same place.

This reporter questioned some of the other young women in front of bars and found several places that also only served “double” pina coladas for $19 or so.

While this year’s Seminar may not have any “name” media figures, PR pros from the media will probably attend. Regulars at Seminar include Monie Begley Feurey, SVP-corporate communications, Forbes, and Betty Hudson, SVP-C, National Geographic.

Islam, Healthcare, Marriage Are Topics

Daniel Nocera, professor at Mass. Institute of Technology, will discuss “Personalized Energy for the Non-Legacy World.”

He has worked with other scientists at MIT to achieve nearly 100% electrolysis, which becomes an effective storage system.

Dan Buettner, author of "Blue Zones," which tells how to “live longer, better,” has as his topic, “Unlocking Secrets of Happiness.”

Monday afternoon will be devoted to Islamic topics.

Tariq Ramadan, Ph.D., Oxford University, will discuss “Islam as an Economic Force”; Joumana Haddad, poet and author, will discuss “What is an Arab Woman?”, and Akbar Ahmed, Ph.D., chair of Islamic Studies, American University, will talk on “Islam in America.”

The more than 200 Seminarians and their companions will take buses Monday night to the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, where they will tour the main house and ten acres of formal gardens and have dinner.

Shalala Talks About Healthcare

Shalala on Tuesday will discuss “The Unfinished Agenda of Healthcare Reform.”

Kathryn Schultz, author and journalist, will discuss “Being Wrong.”

Stephanie Coontz of Evergreen State College will examine the “Revolution in Marriage and other Intimate Relations” and there will be “Connect Sessions” on “Your Board and You”; “Rebuilding after Crisis”; “Stop the Madness: On Social Media’s Front Lines”; “Buying Habits of the Younger Generation,” and “When Facts No Longer Matter: Dispatches from the Knowledge Front.”

Wikileaks' Jónsdóttir
The Wednesday meeting will have Andrew Zolli, curator and executive director of PopTech, discussing global trends and innovation, and Rabbi Sherre Hirsch and Rev. Maryetta Anschultz talking on “Does Religion Need Better PR?”

PopTech holds an annual meeting for “thought leaders” in Camden, Me.

Final speaker is Birgitta Jonsdottir, Member of Parliament of Iceland and a “Wikileaks volunteer” who was a spokeswoman for the controversial group.

Members of Seminar include Kathleen Matthews, executive VP, global communications, Marriott International. Matthews, wife of Chris Matthews of “Hardball,” who attended in 2009 but did not attend last year. Ritz-Carlton is a unit of Marriott International.

Recruiters Have Session

One session is called “State of the Function-Recruiters’ Breakfast.”

Executive recruiting firms with members at Seminar each year include Korn/Ferry International, Spencer Stuart and Heyman Assocs.

A booklet of more than 100 resumes of Seminarians is compiled yearly and distributed.

A chief activity of the meeting is checking the job market, say members, since turnover has skyrocketed in recent years.

There were 43 new members in 2010 indicating that almost that number of previous members lost their jobs. Seminarians are allowed to stay in the group only one year after a job loss. The total number of members is controlled. Membership totaled 147 last year.

43 Joined in 2010

Joining for the 2010 meeting were:

Victoria Podesta, ADM
Paul Gennaro, AECOM
Robert Mead, Aetna
Susan Esler, Ashland
Larry Solomon, AT&T
Annika Berglund, Atlas Copco
Michael Schade, Bayer AG
Charlene Wheeless, Bechtel
Marisa Quinn, Brown University
Lisa Caputo, Citi
David Stone, Columbia University
Stuart Goldstein, Depository Trust & Clearing Corp.
Gerard Meuchner, Eastman Kodak
Christy Conrad, Enterprise Holdings
Elliot Schrage, FaceBook
Debra DeCourcy, Fifth Third Bancorp
Ellen Gonda, Hilton Hotels
Elizabeth Allen, Huntington Bank
Susan Moss, Kindred Healthcare
Peter McKillop, Kohlberg Kravis & Co.
Marie Van Luling, Northeast Utilities
Deborah Bohren, NYU Langone Medical Center
Valerie DiMaria, Peppercom
Julie Hamp, PepsiCo
Chris Hassall, P&G
Dave Yeoman, Rockwell Collins
James Whaley, Siemens
Pradipta Bagchi, Tata Consultancy Services
Peter Rose, Blackstone Group
Edward Adler, Time Warner
Mark Arena, UBS AG
Antonio Cervone, United Airlines
Kathy Calvin, United Nations Foundation
Cythia Round, United Way Worldwide
David Lampe, University of Michigan
Laurie Meyer, Walgreen Co.
Kelli Parsons, Warburg Pincus
Oscar Suris, Wells Fargo & Co.
Christa Carone, Xerox