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The Role of PR in Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

On June 18, we were joined by 24 communications professionals for a candid conversation on how we as public relations professionals have an opportunity to play an important role in shaping how our organizations, and our chapter, address diversity, equity and inclusion issues. Moderated by executive coaches and senior PR professionals Tracy Imm, APR, and Cathy Nyce, the chat was held as part of PRSA Maryland’s promise to continue to work to be more diverse and inclusive through meaningful and measurable goals.

*Due to the nature of the chat, it was not recorded but below is a quick snapshot of what was discussed.

“Your professional life starts with who you are. By pursuing transformational change, you can, and, and in fact, must change yourself. The act of working for transformation is transformative.”

On a personal level, Cathy Nyce led us in an exercise on how to develop a Personal Declaration to guide our actions. We can begin by asking …

  • What do I believe?
  • To what am I committed?
  • What is my growth edge?
  • What is important to me? Why?
  • What are the contributions I want to make?
  • How will I know when I am standing in my declaration? Note: looks like speaking out, making a contribution; not standing is staying silence

On a professional level, we talked about holding our organizational leadership accountable for statements and making sure they follow through with concrete actions. One challenge discussed was what to do if your organization’s leadership is hesitant to wade into social issues. Suggestions included pointing out that they do not want to be on wrong side of issues or left behind. Broaden their view illustrating where they may already be in that space on other issues. Also, stressing that doing nothing could be affecting future recruitment. The younger generation are activists as well as more diverse and integrated. They are asking about organizations ethics and values; critical talent could be loss if an organization seems uncaring.

We also talked about how important it is to reach out internally to employees. Suggested actions include surveying employees on what they need in terms of resources, offering mental health services to minority employees, and making DE&I part of the strategic plan.

Finally, we asked what we can do as a chapter to support our members. Below is a list of some of the suggestions:

  • provide more resources.
  • review the chapter’s strategic plan, and add diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives (short term and long-term goals).
  • partner with minority organizations such as HBCUs, etc. to increase connections and networking
  • offer pro bono work with a minority organizations, businesses, and non-profits.
  • survey minority members in their experiences with PRSA.
  • reach out to PR minority students. Support internships in agencies.

This is, of course, only one step in the long process of advocating for change within our professional and we welcome all our members to participate in the ongoing conversation. We will be continuing the conversation begun at our 2018 and 2019 annual conferences with expanded dialogue at our 2020 virtual conference on racism in our city, and specifically in our industry, and systematic ways to overcome it. Save the date for Sept. 24 and 25!

 

Update! We are pleased to announce that after this chat, two participants stepped forward to lead our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. They will be working on building the committee over the summer and begin creating a strategic plan and DEI metrics to be launched in January 2021. Email us if you would like to be part of the initiative.

Never assume your crisis is over … until your audience says so!

We took a brief break from our #PRSAMDWeeklyChat only to come back on June 12 with PR pro Jeffrey Davis, APR, Managing Partner, Van Eperen! Jeff talked about the realities of crisis communications and why you need a solid plan to address Covid 2.0, our national conversation about racism and whatever awaits us in the “Next Normal.”

Listen below to full conversation below or read recap for highlights.

Highlights:

What is a crisis? Internally, a crisis is an event or a series of events which threaten the organization’s ability to achieve its mission. Externally, a crisis is an event or a series of events which put your organization’s values on trial in the court of public opinion.

Realities of a crisis: Your values will be communicated and will under public scrutiny. Remember that what you say must be reinforced by your behavior. Important publics (employees, media, competitors, neighbors, family, critics) are paying attention to you. Be ready with good messaging.

Basics of a crisis: Ask “what do you want people to think about you?” That you care, are doing something, and will prevent recurrence. That you are accountable and will be part of the solution. Have a solid messaging strategy that includes a media policy, prepared messaging platform procedures, trained/tested spokespeople. Tip:  When training spokespeople, practice with a series of Q&As that will prepare the spokesperson for the hardest questions imaginable. *Don’t train in the midst of a crisis! Crisis specifics make the news.

Tip: Journalists often put out calls for more information via social media. Be a part of the story; be prepared to answer those calls.

Initial statement: Don’t ignore the “window of opportunity.” Respond quickly. Your initial statement may be broad but make sure it is timely and be sure to address the key issues during this critical period. Tip: Don’t put the news media ahead of your own employees. They are your ambassadors and can help get the messaging out. Let your employees know what is going on. Tip: Organizations can be pulled into employee issues. If this happens, respond quickly.

Create a solid crisis communications plan that includes a mobile option allowing easy access to all. The mobile plan can be setup based on crisis levels vs. specific scenarios, i.e., Level 3 – Emergency event; Level 2 – Significate/threshold event; Level 1 – Major event. The plan should identify team members and their roles, current contact information, template statements, and social media passwords.

Crisis Management Best Practices:

  • Risk assessments – identify scenarios; plans using levels
  • Scheduled sessions to review plan
  • Regular updates to plan – internal team, external stakeholders, media/influence lists, contacts, templates, mobile version
  • Media/speaker training for primary spokespersons

 

Internal communications in the age of COVID-19

When the pandemic hit earlier this year, many organizations immediately started focusing on their external stakeholders making sure their customers knew the organization valued them especially as they had to close down or curtail operations for an indefinite period of time. But what about their internal stakeholders 

On Wednesday, May 27, we were joined by Jodi Davidson, VP, Global University & Inclusion, Sodexo Corp.; Tia Mason Howard, APR, Director Internal Communications, MedStar Health; Tom Williams, APR, Managing Director, Communications, MPT; Kristi Yowell, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, Associate VP for Human Resources, Goucher College; & Dianna Fornaro, APR, Director and Accreditations Chair, PRSA Maryland Chapter (moderator) to discuss the importance of not neglecting this vital group.  

Listen to the full discussion below.  

Here are just a few highlights from the chat:

Ignoring your internal communications can lead to an information vacuum filled with misinformation, confusion, and anxiety.  Ways to prevent this is to …  

  • Create internal messaging that aligns with external messaging. Be sure to recognize there are different stakeholders involved 
  • Avoid standalone communications so the message is consistent by coordinating with all departments. (i.e., standardized templates)  
  • Provide a steady stream of communications. For example, MPT made the commitment for video conference every two weeks to provide a regular form of communications 
  • Engage all leadership to stay consistent  

Effectively communicating with employees who are working virtual, especially for those new to this nature of work, is equally important. Be sure to …  

  • Provide adequate tech support 
  • Be patient and flexible as not everyone is tech-savvy  
  • Send print materials to people who may not be as engaged 
  • Communicate through text (HR app)  
  • Create a simple ask a question on a COVID-19 website page to answer questions about pay/safety/work requirements, etc.  

 *Consider that not all employees are remote. Don’t forget to arm leaders with the necessary tools to stay in touch 

Keeping all employees engaged and upbeat is another challenge. Be sure to …  

  • Acknowledge the strangeness of the situation. Create a campaign asking for videos of what it is like to work under these circumstances, i.e., at home with family, empty offices, etc. Share widely.  
  • Offer a place where people can express out loud the challenges they are facing (personally, professionally, etc.) Create a space of validation. Encourage open conversation via virtual coffee withs, happy hours, lunch gatherings, etc.  
  • Share kudos received from the external community to reinforce their importance. *People want to know their efforts are valued by both leadership and the community.  
  • Develop a social recognition platform where colleagues can give kudos, showcase work, post photos, etc.  
  • Recognize that your team may not be doing what they normally are good at and focus instead on those things your team is doing best right now.  
  • Establish norms and options/flexibility. Not every call/virtual meeting needs to be mandatory.  

*Tip for leadership: Be transparent! Admit you don’t have all the answers but will work on getting those answers asap.  

Have tips you’d like to share? Send to info@prsamd.org.

 

 Missed the last weekly chats? Here you go …

How can your organization survive this pandemic? Weekly Chat Recap

On Monday, April 13, we focused on finances with John Miller, director, Strategic Advisory and Valuation practice, Chesapeake Corporate Advisors (CCA) and Todd Marks CEO & Founder of Mindgrub. John and Todd talked about the CARES Act as well as offered advice on how our firms can not only survive but thrive during this pandemic.

Listen to the conversation below. And see the recap for some of the highlights.

RECAP

Resources:

Payroll Protection Program: covers companies with 500 employers or less that have been impacted by COVID-19

  • Offers eight weeks of payroll – 2x times monthly payroll
  • Can be used for mortgage/other bills; however, 75% must go to payroll
  • The percentage of loan forgiveness depends on # of employees retained
  • Loan portions that are unforgivable can be paid over 2 years at 1% interested; deferred until 2021

Families First Coronavirus Response Act:

  • Requires employers to give up to 12 weeks paid sick leave (provides two-thirds to full pay depending on the circumstances). Sick/vac can be used for more. Advice – Please try to work with employer to adjust schedule to keep working.
  • Relaxes unemployment insurance, increased payout amount.
  • Payroll Tax Relief: For employers that are not eligible for PPR. Offers deferred payment on employers’ tax for payroll. Also available is the tax credit for retaining your employees. Check with your accountant!

Handling cash flow, vendors payments, etc.:

“Double down on marketing. Double down on business development. You need to bring in same amount of work you had before to feed everything else downstream.”

  • Be conservative with cash but also fight. Be creative. Be adaptable. Think forward.
  • Ask yourself how can you serve your current clients, past clients, and possible gain new clients? Reach out and ask … how can you help with their employee’s uncertainty? How can you help with Covid-19 media or stakeholder messaging?
  • Reach out to your customers re: payments. Do they need to pause the contracts? What can you do to help them? Not a time for collections but rather a time for open conversations.
  • Reach out to your landlord, creditors, vendors regarding your circumstances.
  • Make a plan for what will happen on the other side, i.e., financial forecast, daily cash flow.
  • Add a line item to your expense statements for any expenses related to Covid-19.

Final thoughts: Take this time to find the opportunities you may have not thought of before. Rethink your business. Ask how can you maintain your culture virtually? How will we gather differently after this over? How will our model change?

Time will tell.

The chat was only the beginning of a long conversation that we’ll be having for weeks and months to come. To do our part, we’ll be holding weekly virtual meetings to gather and address a variety of topics. Be sure to stay up to date at www.prsamd.org.

Recap – Virtual Idea Swap – Coping with COVID-19

 “This is a time of service, not so much a time of sales.”

Dealing with the COVID-19 global crisis is bringing new challenges to how we work as well as how we guide our staff and clients through this crisis. And yet it’s also spurred creativity and thinking outside the norm as we balance it all. On April 6, we were joined by Laura Van Eperen, CEO, Van Eperen; Chris Stevens, Director of Communications, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future/Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Dave Curley, Senior Vice President, Sandy Hillman PR for the first of a series of virtual idea swaps.

Listen in below. And check out the recap for some of the highlights of what we discussed.

RECAP

Staying in communication with your audience:

  • Listen rather than promote.
  • Offer solutions to the problems your audience is facing. Communicate ways we can help one another.
  • Pay attention to accuracy. Don’t speculate. Always stick to what you know and realize it’s ok to say, “we don’t know yet.”
  • Use your best judgement. Be sensitive to what’s happening locally, nationally and globally.
  • Be conscious of what you are promoting, when you are promoting, and how it will be perceived.
  • Find moments of positivity.

*When pitching to the press to help get the proper message out, offer new or unique insights and/or details to journalists they may not be getting, i.e., what a local company/organization is doing that is having a meaningful impact.

 

Staff communications – Be true to your culture:

  • Give as much leeway to staff as possible. Respect the challenges of juggling working at home while dealing with unique family circumstances such as parents becoming teachers to school-age children, the lack of childcare, spacing issues, etc.
  • Continue your regular routine as much as possible. Schedule regular virtual staff meetings, host virtual happy hours, share docs via digital platform, etc. But … be sure not to “over-zoom”! Don’t have a meeting to have a meeting.
  • Encourage staff to support local businesses and/or participate in charitable activities when possible.

External and internal communications: How many emails are “too many”?

  • Be relevant and meaningful. Ask yourself if this something that will help you or someone you care about in this moment?
  • Make sure you have a strong message and a strong subject line.
  • Be appropriate. Be careful how you tie your message into this public health crisis.
  • Be mindful of timing of message. What is going on at that moment?
  • Look at different channels for distribution such as direct mail vs. email.
  • Consider segmenting your message to be sure the right message is going out to the right people.
  • Use soft messaging.
  • Be part of the positive message.

The chat was only the beginning of a long conversation that we’ll be having for weeks and months to come. To do our part, we’ll be holding weekly virtual meetings to gather and address a variety of topics. Have a question or suggestion to share? Send us an email.

Articles of interest:

 

In case you missed it, here are few comments shared by our participants on what their organizations are doing …

One of my clients is a law enforcement support organization, and we have been able to get the CEO on Baltimore TV talking about how officers in the Baltimore PD being quarantined with coronavirus is impacting public safety. We also have placed Op-Ed pieces on the same topic in The Sun and Chicago Tribune.

My company is deferring premium payments for our policyholders, many of whom are the small businesses which are laying off employees as a result of COVID-19. We are also providing information on the SBA loans to small businesses. Additionally, the company is also providing grants to several non-profit organizations which align with our business and has also increased the amount of money it will match for employees’ matching grants.

 My content strategy is changing virtually day to day, sometimes by the hour. I represent a veterinary hospital, so today we’ve been talking about the tiger in the Bronx Zoo that tested positive for coronavirus, and what that means for our household pets. That “tiger” news just broke yesterday afternoon. We didn’t see that one coming!

Right now, at our organization the National Association of Bond Lawyers, we are sending out targeted emails to members who have bars in states who have temporarily changed their CLE requirements. We are focusing the emails based on deadlines for CLE and doing it about a month out, so members are aware of what’s happening and created a webpage listing each state with updates and doing it on a daily basis.

Staying Ahead of the Spread – PR and COVID-19

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

By Jeffrey Davis, APR

With the coronavirus (COVID-19) elevated to global pandemic status, the phase of precautionary wait-and-see measures has passed, including for your communications strategy.

Particularly for organizations on the front lines – from seniors housing to tourism to major conferences – how and when you connect about the outbreak is imperative to fostering reassurance and trust.

A public health crisis doesn’t have to send you into a messaging tailspin. Here are rapid response tips on how to prepare:

Employees First
Focus first on internal communications to emphasize safety and share the policies and actions your company is actively taking.

Think beyond a single all-staff email that may go unread and opt for over-communication. Coordinate with HR to use all the available avenues like signs in common areas, social media, infographics and videos.

At our Baltimore office the management team has sent a reassuring visual message with small actions like doubled soap products in the restrooms and wipes and sanitizing cleaner stations in the common areas.

Employees need to know if/how you are encouraging a change in routines such as using technology to decrease unnecessary human contact. Let people know if you endorse work-from-home to prevent contamination and if you have any updated sick leave policies.

Now is also an OK time to highlight how you are helping any coronavirus response efforts, financially or otherwise, and to encourage other companies to follow suit.

Consider the Source
Skip the politics and rhetoric by going straight to trusted institutions, staffed with expert immunologists and doctors, as sources for facts and recommendations.

At the top of the list are the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the World Health Organization.

Remember to keep the tone of your communications strong but temperate, promoting awareness and not panic.

Consult Your Crisis Communications Plan
This is the moment to put your crisis PR plan into motion.

Begin with the crisis communications basics: identification of team members; assignment of tasks; updates to template statements; and verification of current contact information including access to social media/passwords.

Next, look at the possible scenarios specific to your organization and plan accordingly. These could include leadership or employees diagnosed with COVID-19; travel policies and restrictions; impact on production or delivery of products; and questions about executive level decision-making which could be called into question.

Industry organizations are helping members with communications, so take advantage of their expertise.

For example, the U.S. Travel Association posted a holding statement, a set of talking points and a social media guide with sample posts and images specific to coronavirus. One of U.S. Travel’s messages: “The challenge in moments of public health concern is to react properly to the situation, but to not overreact.”

If you delayed or canceled an event you will need to announce the decision quickly. Even more important: if you elected to proceed with an event your messaging is extremely important as the reasoning behind the decision will receive extra attention and scrutiny.

Prepare but Preserve Your Narrative
One of your employees, a family member, or neighboring company could become infected or impacted. If word gets out and connects you in any way to the outbreak you must be prepared for questions – both internal and external – about policies you have in place and the steps you took. You need to have an answer.

Weave into your messaging how you prepared for and came out strong after SARS, Ebola, H1N1 and similar outbreaks in past years. This demonstrates your preparedness and confidence in weathering another outbreak.

At the same time, don’t allow COVID-19 to take over your narrative. Be proactive and ready to answer questions but remember you have broader organizational messages to deliver. Make sure this new topic is part of your ongoing spokesperson prep and is included in your media training exercises.

If you need assistance in messaging, crisis communications planning or getting the word out we are ready to help.

Jeffrey Davis is managing partner with Van Eperen, a Board Member of PRSA Maryland, and  Baltimore editor of Capitol Communicator.

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Thank You to Our Chapter Sponsors