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 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, 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, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


22 Comments on “Keynote by Hillary Clinton at SHRM Chicago Will Be Closed to Media

  1. I’m disappointed in you John — partisan comments don’t have a place on TLNT. Private feelings should be kept —- well, private. I say the same thing regardless of political party affiliation.

    I wish SHRM had not invited her. They open themselves up for criticism — and God knows they don’t need any more criticism.

    I hope this post does not attract petty, partisan comments. It is not worthy of TLNT’s stature. Let’s travel the high road folks.

    1. Jacque, all of HR is about four things: work, money, power and politics. You read the comments about the previous political speakers. Who would you like to see instead of HRC? Anyone else? Who makes a good speaker for an event like this?

  2. Sorry, but it’s my opinion that it is beneath both Hillary and SHRM to exclude the media from a speech in front of 10,000 plus people. I’m told that it is probably proof that she is running for president already, and if that’s so, it isn’t a good trend.

    I don’t know what she would say in a speech before that many people — a speech that everyone will hear about anyway — that would call for keeping out the media. And, I don’t lknow why SHRM would agree to that and the trouble it brings.

    There is NOTHING partisan about that.

  3. Sorry, I don’t see partisanship here. I’d point out that Condoleezza Rice, another former Secretary of State, spoke last year and was generally well received. I’ld like to think my colleagues are capable of appreciating time from someone with some pretty impressive credentials whose political leanings might be different from theirs.

    That said, media exclusion, specifically media invited BY SHRM, is an interesting choice, to say the least.

    1. I had forgotten Condi Rice last year, Dwayne, but another good example of a former Secretary of State who was open about speaking at SHRM.

  4. I don’t know why SHRM is excluding media either. And I wish SHRM had not invited her.
    There was a post on SHRM LinkedIn that asked for people’s opinions on Hillary as a speaker. The person who posted was an employee of SHRM. The comments were so hateful I am surprised hasn’t yanked. But even more troubling is why they invited her to begin with.
    Sorry John.

    1. SHRM has a long history of inviting political figures to serve as keynote speakers, from both political parties….Condi Rice, Colin Powell, Rudy Guiliani, Steve Forbes, Al Gore.

      Is it your suggestion that none of them be invited?

      1. I didn’t read anything in his post that implied that those five shouldn’t have been invited. Just that when you’re speaking in front of a crowd of this size, it’s really by definition not private. Excluding media just doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Democrat or a Republican.

        1. Todd,

          My reply was to Jacque. He stated Hillary should not have been invited. I gave five other examples as political invitees who have also been keynotes. Should they not have been invited as well? Arianna Huffington has been a keynote. Should she have been invited?

          In the same vein, should Michael J. Fox, Liz Murray, Lance Armstrong, Sidney Poitier, or Bill Cosby be keynote speakers?

          What’s the criteria, and why do some of the above meet it, and others do not?

          Dismissing someone because of their political bent, despite decades of leadership experience, is ridiculous.

  5. I wonder if this is about compliance with a standard speaker rider or if Sec. Clinton actually cares? I guess we’ll find out if SHRM staff is forced to confiscate cell phones as people walk in or start tweeting. It will be pretty silly to see the speech get covered anyway.

    And as is always the case, anytime someone takes these types of steps, usually what they have to say is pretty boring, standard stuff that is easily deduced. I could be wrong but I won’t know since I guess I’ll be outside the room.

      1. My guess is that no “media” means no media — so no press room/social media lounge TV feed, either.

  6. First of all, I’m waiting for some moron to ask WHAT DOES HILLARY CLINTON HAVE TO DO WITH HR?

    Please, for the love of god, someone do that on Twitter.

    And OMG Benghazi. HILARIOUS on so many levels. I would absolutely fall back in love with Human Resources if someone asked her about Benghazi as it relates to staffing, management and crisis communication.

    This will never ever ever ever happen. Boo. So it doesn’t matter if the media covers it or not. No news will be made.

  7. Thousands of unemployed comedians and SHRM picks her. Glad I’m not going. I wonder if her message will clear the room as fast as Al Gore did in San Diego (the same week he was implicated in getting frisky with a masseuse).

  8. As the statement from SHRM puts it, “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.”

    That seems to indicate to me that they expect SHRM members attending the opening general session to Tweet, or mention on Facebook or elsewhere. Just not the media, who won’t be in attendance.

  9. Personally, I think it’s just one more indication that she’ll be running for POTUS in 2016. Disappointing that it will be closed off to the media, given the size of the audience.

  10. Been to several SHRM conferences, can’t remember the media being there 😀

    1. Tom —

      I have been to probably 10 SHRM annual conferences, all as a member of the media, and I have ALWAYS been there and allowed in to hear each and every speaker do their thing. So, excluding the media is not something that is usually done.

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