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.