PRSSA ICON 2020: The Key Takeaways
By Samantha Cooper
PRSA’s International Conference is a true meeting of the minds. the yearly chance for the best communicators and public relations professionals to come together and expand their knowledge of and appreciation for the industry. As much as SUPRSSA would have loved to have spent the last week exploring Nashville, this year’s digital conference was more relevant than ever before.
Titled “Strategic Communications: Navigating a World Disrupted,” ICON 2020 covered three pandemics: COVID-19, misinformation and social injustice. In case you missed it, here are the main takeaways from ICON 2020:
1. The need for civil discourse has never been more prominent. The current landscape is one full of rage and divisiveness, creating an intolerable environment for civil discourse and truth. Because public relations exists across all industries and can address almost any concern, PR has the ability to become a key actor in improving civil discourse. Communicators, and public relations professionals especially, are on the frontlines of the war on information. This makes them uniquely qualified to inform and engage consumers and citizens to act. PR practitioners have the power and responsibility to prioritize truth, encourage people to develop their ‘cognitive muscles’ and spread media and digital literacy.
2. An effective shift in corporate culture needs to be intrinsic. The Black Lives Matter movement prompted important conversations about corporate values, and it was certainly eye-opening to see what brands put action behind their messages. The overall consensus is a push to “do well by going good.” While this seems obvious to many, for those that need to be convinced, prioritizing purpose is directly tied to the bottom line. At this point, consumers expect businesses to acknowledge diversity and environmental issues, but beyond that, organizations need to determine what is important to their specific audience. The reality is that there is risk in both action and complacency, so it’s determining which is greater.
3. Leaders should ground their policies in humanity. There has never been a time when empathy is more important. The idea of radical candor refers to caring personally and acting directly. Leaders need to listen to understand, not to react. Communication needs to be often and early, all while seeking input and authentically valuing the ideas of others. Make room for everyone at the table, including perspectives that actively disagree. Signs of success are not success in themselves, so leaders must create structures for honest and frequent feedback.
4. Make a commitment to lifelong learning. One of the many qualities that makes Gen Z valuable in the workplace is their excitement for learning. Education can enable people to leave the world better than they found it. With that, be willing to admit when you don’t know something, and use it as an opportunity to expand your perspective. Surround yourself with people who have expertise in areas you don’t, and combine knowledge for the greater benefit of your organization.
Another ICON has passed, and we are so glad we could be involved. Let’s make 2021 a year of transparency, empathy and learning.
By Neeve Prendergast
Let’s be real, 2020 has been one big crisis situation. While our world is simultaneously fighting unprecedented natural disasters, racial inequities, and a global pandemic, we all are feeling constantly on edge, without a plan. As communicators and emerging professionals, we find ourselves at the intersection of all these issues as we pave the way for a greener, more equal, and healthier future. However, long after these issues have left our daily conversations, having the skills to properly handle a crisis will always be needed. All PR gurus should have these crisis plans in their back pockets...just in case.
1. Be Prepared
2020 has truly shown us that when it comes to crises, it’s not a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of when. While it may be hard to brainstorm every possible crisis you may find yourself in, it is so important to have a rough idea of what could land your brand in hot water. When it comes to crisis management, you can never be too prepared. Depending on which industry your brand is located in, questions to consider could be: are we prone to data breaches, how would our brand and its values react to social justice issues, and what harmful impacts could be felt due to our brand. For each potential threat, create a one-size-fits-all strategy that you can tailor with specific details later. Do the heavy lifting now so you can perfect your messaging later.
2. Transparency is Key
When it comes to responding to crisis, honesty is the best policy. Undesirable situations are always made worse when companies try to cover up their blunders rather than own up to them. Admit to mistakes and wrong doings. Detail how you are fixing the situation. Be sincere. By building transparency to your audience, they will transform respect into trust. In a crisis situation,
you will rely on your loyal audience to be your allies. Brands with high transparency before a crisis normally have the best results when weathering an unpredicted storm.
3. Act quickly
After the crisis sets in, the world will be waiting for your statement. While it may be your gut instinct to immediately release a statement, a rash reaction may cause more harm than good. Hopefully, you have already flagged your crisis as a potential risk area so you can use the resources you already prepared. (See I told you being proactive would come in handy!). Immediately monitor social media and the news to see how your audience is reacting to the situation. Incorporate the most popular concerns in your initial statement. It is important to find a balance between a knee-jerk reaction and radio silence. Don’t provide a statement if all the facts aren’t available; however, an unnecessarily later response reflects a lack of care. Listen to your audience because they will tell you when the time is right.
While no one ever wants to be in a crisis, knowing how to properly manage the situation is key to being a successful PR professional. Don’t shy away from the challenge of unpredicted events. We may not get the messaging right on our first try, but over time, we will learn the best ways to reach and sympathize with our audiences. Look at the silver lining, after this year is over, we all will have ample crisis management skills to use in our internships, jobs, and daily lives!
By Karley Warden
For the past seven months, companies across the world have faced unimaginable changes to their business operations, including recruiting interns and full-time employees. With these changes come new strategies and platforms for companies to reach prospective employees and jobseekers to follow suit. Sure, you may be used to web conferencing and instant messaging by now, but how has preparation for virtual recruiting and interviews changed? Here’s a list of ways you can still be an exceptional candidate this year for internships and jobs without practicing your perfect handshake or visiting an office.
Dress for Success from Top to Bottom
You may think your outfit may not be as noticeable to an employer through a computer screen, but dressing professionally and appropriately for virtual interviews and informational interviews are still just as important! While it is tempting to wear your most professional top with sweatpants to match, dressing in a full outfit as if you had an in-person interview can have a positive impact on your preparedness, energy, and professionalism for a meeting.
Punctuality is Still Key
Nowadays, interviews are just a click away rather than a bus, taxi, or car ride. The instantaneousness of connecting with people across the world at our fingertips has made connections faster than ever, but you should still show up to virtual meetings on time to keep someone from waiting on the other line. Make sure you are giving yourself plenty of time to sit down in a well-lit, quiet area and get into interview mode! Whatever puts your mind at ease before an interview, take a few minutes to breathe and focus before clicking that Zoom link.
There is no doubt that we have all faced some technical error during a meeting these past few months. As much as we rely on phones, computers, and devices, technology is extremely imperfect, and it could fail even in the most important interviews. First and foremost, ensure you will have a steady Wifi connection the entire time. If you have concerns that roommates and other users might be on during it or you have had a poor connection in the past, try to connect to a hotspot or more stable connection to avoid the hassle of cutting in and out during your perfectly practiced elevator pitch. Additionally, make sure you silence or turn off any nearby devices or notifications on your computer that could distract you from the interview. You never want an employer to think you are looking at a different screen or preoccupied with something during your conversation.
Act Natural...You’re on Camera!
One of the most difficult transitions to meeting employers online is losing the personal touch of meeting someone to gauge their personality, body language, and overall presence. While you cannot portray all of that virtually, you should still act as if this were an in-person conversation. Show your personality in new ways by explaining to employers what you’re passionate about, carefully articulating your responses to questions, and showing extra gratitude for their time to meet with you.
The most important thing to remember is that employers and recruiters on the other side of the call are adapting to this new landscape just as you are, so be patient with the process, but realize that standing out and preparing for every interview is more important now than ever. Be sure to always follow up with people you meet at every company to express your continued interest, and prepare for unexpected technical problems and awkward video call moments. Happy (virtual) job hunting!
By: Sara Caywood
Whether you’re representing a brand, organization, team, or person, reputation management is a crucial part of any sound strategic communications plan. Reputation management plans allow communications teams and public relations professionals to prepare for crises and consistently react to minor issues. This consistency helps to build trust and confidence between the client and it's publics.
When devising a reputation management plan, it is essential to keep the client’s overall goals, values, and objectives in mind. If your client values transparency, your responses in situations where honesty is in question need to emphasize transparency as your primary strategy for handling these crises.
Another critical component to devising reputation management plans is predicting specific challenges that may face your client on an ongoing basis. The ongoing challenges that face Crest Toothpaste will be different than the challenges that face Nike. So, it is vital to use any available research about your client to understand the ongoing problems or issues that face their brand and could lead to reputation crises in the future.
While considering these elements of goals, objectives, values, and ongoing challenges, the next step is to develop your brand management plan. While creating this plan, think about who your client’s audience is, what they want from the client, and what the client wants from them. By keeping these questions in mind, you will shape your reputation management plan to direct your client to respond to crises in specific consideration of their image.
1. Monitor Digital Image
2. Response Management
3. Promote Positives
4. Follow Through
5. Continue to Evolve
Reputation and public perception are vital elements to monitor and know how to efficiently handle as a public relations professional. Keep these key steps in mind when working with your clients in the future!
PR for Professional Services
By: Laura Budwick
This past week, two seasoned PR professionals joined us to speak at our first chapter meeting of 2020. Associate Vice President, Sophie Cikovsky, and Senior Account Executive, Nicole Tackley, gave us an honest look at what life is really like at a firm that has been recognized as the “Best PR Firm” by the National Law Journal—Infinite Global. This first event set the tone for the rest of the semester and showed prospective professionals, like us, the ins and outs of content and digital communication services. But, what really made this event interesting was that their specialization is in the legal sector. The whirlwind of work that comprises their day-to-day lives—from law firms and reporters to media outlets and clients– it truly seems like they are never bored; and if you are like me—where sitting stagnant in a cubicle all day would put you to sleep—this vibrant career should excite you!
As a student interested in public relations, advertising or journalism, listening to these two women had me questioning where I would be in five to ten years. Cikovsky graduated from Bowdoin College with a major in Art History and look at her now...counseling industry leading companies on media relations, internal communication, branding and social media strategies in the legal industry. Ten years out of college, Cikovsky has spent most of her career at Infinite Global and does not seem to have any plans to change. Tackley is just as impressive. She’s only three years out of college, having graduated from Marist College with a degree in Public Relations and a minor in Business Administration, and she is already an Account Executive at Infinite Global. Tackley connects law firms and professional service organizations with key media contacts who earn them coverage and foster reliable relationships. This is the kind of results navigating students like us STRIVE to see when we graduate and are ready to hit the industry running.
Before I go, I am going to leave you with some simple advice they sprinkled throughout their speech:
Build your voice, your foundation, and most importantly, your network. Our time here at Syracuse is fulfilling, no doubt, but it’s also short-lived and I implore you to take advantage of every aspect before your years here leave you!
Platinum Equity Acquires Cision
By: Laura Budwick
According to “Reuters,” Cision is taking PR Newswire private through an all-cash acquisition deal for $2.74 billion. Who is the new owner to acquire Cision, you ask? Platinum Equity–the global acquisition firm founded by Tom Gores. Although the acquisition is expected to close in Q1 2020, Cision will still be able to make strategic investments for growth and partner of Platinum Equity. Jacob Kotzubei, Platinum Equity partner, explains that they are excited to partner with Cision’s management team as it embarks on a new chapter. They are hoping that this acquisition will blur the lines between the different factions of content marketing by blending social media managers and content marketing managers to make it a cohesive collaboration of creative content production.
With this acquisition the possibilities for the industry have immensely expanded; the way it has evolved and progressed to new platforms being able to communicate constant information is more influential than ever. Consumers will now have access to the industry’s largest content distribution network, influencer outreach and the best media monitoring and analytics. The Chief Executive Officer of Cision, Kevin Akeroyd, further stated, ”We are serious about building a comprehensive platform to help our clients manage the entire life cycle of communications–from influence discovery and content distribution to engagement and campaign analysis.” This acquisition truly embodies Cision’s commitment to providing the best content for its consumers–whether it be innovative products, services to communications, social/content marketing professionals.
By: Evan Lazarus
Recently, Nike has been a part of some major headlines with their various campaigns and advertisements including commercials with Colin Kaepernick, Serena Williams and Lebron James. However, with their recent running movement, they found a different athlete to be the face for it.
Justin Gallegos, a junior on the University of Oregon’s running club, has signed a professional 3-year contract with Nike. You may ask why it is surprising for a runner, Justin Gallegos, to receive a contract from Nike. Gallegos is the first runner with Cerebral Palsy to sign a contract with Nike. Nike presented him the contract on October 6, National Cerebral Palsy Day. In an effort to show that anyone can ‘Just Do It’, Nike has pushed boundaries by defining what it means to be an athlete. Gallegos has not won races or titles but has instead overcome obstacles and pushed himself to be the greatest he can possibly be.
Nike and Gallegos have been in contact prior to the contract arrangement. Back in May of 2018, Gallegos helped Nike design a running shoe to help people with disabilities run easier and more comfortably. The shoe, Pegasus 35 FlyEase, features a zipper that opens and closes the shoe in one motion, making it easier to run in. With the zipper, runners do not have to worry about the laces of their shoes coming undone. Nike had tested Gallegos’s feet and noticed that people with Cerebral Palsy tend to have a high force impact on one small part of the foot as well as unstable running motions. It was important for Nike to create a shoe that was comfortable for the feet and durable.
It seems like every time we as PR professionals doubt Nike, they find a way to win back out hearts. They continue to brand themselves as a company that suits all races, genders, ethnicities and now disabilities; not just an athletic apparel company. Gallegos and Nike have taken tremendous steps in the right directions in this recent running campaign. Nike’s branding initiatives represent their mission and their slogan. They want everyone to have the mindset and to aspire to be an athlete. While this is a phenomenal gesture, Nike has taken a serious approach to becoming innovative and it has surely paid off for them.
By: Zachara Ormsby
In my public relations class, PRL 206, we discussed the importance of why diversity and inclusiveness are important in the workplace and why it should be discussed. We began by defining diversity and inclusivity and the ways in which public relations (PR), as a profession, is working towards becoming more diverse and inclusive in the workplace. Diversity is defined as equal respect for and treatment of differences – in regard to race/ethnicity, gender, and sexuality being the primary categories. However, diversity does not stop there, it also includes religion, disability, veteran status, nationality, social class and many more.
Diversity deals with remaining aware and sensitive to the variety of people in the PR field and diverse publics. Diversity should be viewed as an organic, fundamental part to the PR profession and consistent with the philosophy and process of the workplace, whether that is an organization, business, agency, etc. Diversity should not just be an add-on to the important work values of PR, but should be seen as a necessity that can drive innovation and provide creativity to the profession. Diversity allows for a better place to work, increases opportunities for all employees, and improves employee morale. It also allows for all individual differences – race/ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. – as well as diverse skill sets, mindsets, and cultures to be counted at all levels of the Public Relations profession. Lastly, it allows for PR to show that it’s not “scared” of diversity, but actually encourages and understands the imperative for it.
Inclusiveness, on the other hand, encourages an environment that welcomes all people. Inclusion can only occur when there is a progressive understanding of diversity. To be included means to include ‘all’ people of ‘all’ backgrounds in the workplace no matter the circumstances of that individual. All voices need to be respected, heard, and incorporated – with a genuine respect for differences. The PR profession grows when everyone is and feels included in the workplace, which makes it important to be cognizant of the way you feel when working. If you don’t feel included, talk to someone so that they can understand the standard of being inclusive and how when everyone is included and counted for, the work environment enhances to long-term success.
In a recent speech that I read, given by Mike Fernandez at a Public Relations PRSA conference, he discussed the importance of diversity and inclusion in PR and how it must advance in becoming more inclusive and diverse. He stated that assumptions are made when people don’t see someone that quite looks like them in a leadership position, they assume that “while they have a job today, they may never have a shot at the corner office tomorrow.” Therefore, change needs to happen. More diverse candidates should be hired and counted in the workplace as important. They should be seen in leadership roles as well and not just ‘behind the scenes’ in the PR profession.
By: Amanda Byrne
Most successful workplaces have strong willed and determined people who act as leaders and help to guide and empower other employees. Workplace leaders often have particular qualities that inspire their co-workers to work hard and help the company prosper. Here are a few of these characteristics:
An Effective Public Speaker
In public relations and many other communications occupations, public speaking is crucial. In order to be a leader, you need to be able to thoroughly communicate with those around you, your coworkers, the public and outside organizations.
Leads with Confidence
To lead a group of people, it is a necessity to be confident in yourself and who you are working with. This will help gain respect from your coworkers and motivate them to have as much confidence as you do.
Adapts Well to Change
A leader needs to be able to adapt quickly. If a curve ball is thrown and something goes wrong, a leader needs to be on his or her feet and think of a solution and keep everyone else on track. It is easy to freak out when something goes wrong, but a leader stays calm and thinks of another way to complete the task.
Directs and Delegates
A leader also needs to be able to delegate. Assigning roles effectively to others in is extremely important; a leader needs to be able to chose who would do each task to its fullest potential. Delegation also helps the person in charge have more time to focus on other issues that may arise.
Leaders should ‘lead by example’ and demonstrate proper work ethics. Maintaining integrity will help to build trust with the people around them as well as encourage others to worth with similar honest values.
Trust And How To Earn It
By: Olivia Schlesinger
Trust, a word that is easy to define, but something so difficult to earn. Especially in our current media climate, trust does not come around often, and when it does, individuals and organizations must grab it while they can. Not only should they grab it, but they should understand the crucial implications of it and use it to its full potential.
According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, “In this environment, media has become the least-trusted institution for the first time in Trust Barometer history – yet, at the same time, the credibility of journalists rose substantially.” This is unprecedented. The public eye is becoming more and more skeptical of media organizations, and rightfully so, with the exponential growth of “fake news.” Due to this information, consumers want to know where their information is coming from and if that source is reputable.
Furthermore, how do organizations work to combat this phenomenon and regain the public’s trust? The answer may lie within another word that is easy to define but very difficult to implement – transparency.
Almost everything in today’s media world can relate back to being transparent. Dealing with a crisis? Be transparent. Implementing new programming? Be transparent. Rebranding a company image? Be transparent. Being open and honest with the public is key to establishing credibility.
As a result, organizations are becoming increasingly less in control of their own messages. They can disseminate all the messages they want, but in order for these messages to stick and make a difference, the organizations must earn the approval and support of the public.
Going back to the quote from Edelman, journalists are gaining credibility. This may seem surprising at first, but it actually makes sense. Journalists have the unique ability to be portrayed as both an individual with individual views and as an employee of an organization. In this sense, they do not always have to be tied to larger organizations who may have other imposing views, thus, giving them more opportunity to be trusted.
Along with this, the media industry is seeing a rise in micro-influencers as well. Although micro-influencers may have less of a following than other figures in terms of sheer numbers, they have a tendency to establish deeper and more meaningful relationships with their followers. These followers develop a sense of trust in the influencers, which is why it is beneficial for organizations to take advantage of this trend and build rapports with related micro-influencers.
What does this mean for us as PR practitioners? We must face this challenge head on. Roll with the punches, but never lose sight of our main goals and the goals of our clients. The public relations industry, and the communications industry as a whole, is constantly changing. Information is being sent and received constantly, negating the traditional news cycle, and we must be ready for this.
PR practitioners must be prepared at all times and flexible in the ever-changing field. With so much information floating around, it is crucial for us to sort through the clutter and give our audiences exactly what they are looking for, in a manner that establishes a deeper connection and mutual trust with them. This may be easier said than done, but acknowledging the trends is the first step to using them and taking full advantage of their potential rewards.