Keynote by Hillary Clinton at SHRM Chicago Will Be Closed to Media

Just when I think I have seen just about everything happen when it comes to dealing with SHRM — the Society for Human Resource Management — something like this pops up and makes you wonder, “What could they be thinking?

SHRM’s annual conference & exhibition, which is the single largest event in HR each year, will be held this year in Chicago June 16-19. Chicago native and former First Lady/Secretary of State/U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton will be the keynote speaker at the opening general session on Sunday.

However, SHRM says that the media will NOT be permitted to cover Secretary Clinton’s SHRM speech.

“The SHRM annual conference is a private event”

Huh? A former Secretary of State and rumored presidential candidate can make a speech before, oh, something like 12,000-15,000 people and simply decide that the media can’t cover it? And the world’s largest HR organization would just go along and say OK????

There’s a word for this, but no, it’s probably not “Benghazi.”

Here’s what SHRM officially says about the closure of Clinton’s keynote speech:

The SHRM Annual Conference is a private event and any portion of it can be closed to the press at our discretion. Our longstanding policy has been to not permitted broadcasters to record general sessions; they are permitted to conduct interviews with speakers or attendees outside of general sessions. In a similar vein, SHRM will take this approach with Secretary Clinton’s requirement that no media be inside the general session during her keynote.

Media is defined as traditional press and social media who are attending the conference on a press pass or blogger pass.

With an audience as large as 15,000, it can be expected that some of the paid registrants who attend her speech will mention it on social media.

What does SHRM’s leadership say?

I’ve also asked for a comment from SHRM CEO Hank Jackson and/or the SHRM Board of Directors about this, but my track record in getting SHRM leadership to respond to me about anything is poor.

In fact, I have never had a response from Jackson (or Lon O’Neil before him) or anyone in SHRM leadership, to any question I have asked, ever. So, I’m not particularly optimistic they’ll break with tradition on this one.

As a paid member of SHRM who is attending on a media credential — that is, I am extended media privileges to get free entrance to the annual conference, and use of the press room and social media lounge — I will be treated as “media” and not as a card-carrying member of SHRM. However, if I wanted to pay the full registration fee and go as a SHRM member — and forgo any media courtesies SHRM extends — I’m guessing I could get in and hear what Hillary has to say.

Somehow, I question if she’ll say anything that would make all of that worthwhile.

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How Hillary is different from Colin Powell

However, there’s one thing I know for sure, and it’s this: trying to clamp down on coverage of a speech before upwards of 15,000 people — thousands of chatty, HR people — is a foolish endeavor. It is not only foolish for someone with the stature of Hillary Clinton to request, but it is foolish for an organization like SHRM to grant.

In fact, I think Hillary will get more bad press for keeping out the media than she would have gotten by just letting them in and giving her canned speech. It’s not like SHRM allows the media any Q&A time with the keynote speaker at the opening general session, so I am mystified that the former Secretary of State’s handlers seem to think that doing this is a good idea.

And, I’m also mystified (although considerably less so) that SHRM’s leadership thinks it is a good thing for them to play along with such a request, although the SHRM Board does have a pretty awful track record when it comes to transparency issues.

All of it makes you wonder: why is it that Hillary Clinton wants her speech closed to the media, yet another former Secretary of State like Colin Powell, who made the opening general session keynote speech back before SHRM’s 2006 conference in Washington. D.C., did not?

My guess is that this is a difference that Hillary Clinton may not be anxious to have made.

And one more thing: I’m looking for TLNT readers who are also SHRM members and would be willing to be correspondents-for-a-day for TLNT at the opening general session (that I will be banned from) at SHRM Chicago next month. Drop me a note if you’re interested.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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