Brand Communications: A Call for Civility in 2021

2020 was a year that sparked change across all aspects of life and professions. As the world dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, civil rights issues, natural disasters, ongoing wars, and more, it became apparent that the way we talk and communicate about these issues and workplace happenings would need to change.

While the last few years have seen a push for civility and authenticity in brands and communications, it became necessary in 2020 — and beyond.

In January of 2020, Stephen Dupoint, APR, wrote that people are growing angrier. Then in October, PRSA released a white paper from the Civility Task Force on “Modeling Civility: How Public Relations Professionals Can Restore Quality, Integrity and Inclusiveness to Civil Discourse.

The white paper noted that degradation of civil discourse “permeates our interactions at work, at the dinner table, in our communities and online. It threatens the very thing that distinguishes us as a species: our ability to share our values and perspectives and thereby find ways to cooperate in vast numbers and increase our chances of collective success. It attacks the pillars of our economy, our health and safety, our national security and our civil rights. Most insidiously, children exposed to incivility at home emulate it and, ultimately, internalize it.”

As PR professionals, we have a professional and moral obligation to respond to this growing state of incivility. It is up to us to determine the language, tone and direction of how our organizations address the public.

In 2018 at the PRSA International Conference, Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich said to PR professionals, “You are people who set the tone very much for what we, and how we, communicate…You have a great deal of influence over… the tone of our national communications. You have a great deal of influence over your clients, in terms of helping them to understand that civility—just merely being respectful—is critically important, and good for them. It’s good for your clients, as well as good for the country.”

As communicators, we have the power to interweave our private and public discourse with civility. As spokespeople, we choose the words our companies and organizations relay to our audiences. As PR professionals, we influence the tone by which communication happens. May we rise to the challenge and be advocates for civility.

Our 2021 PRSA Chair Michelle Olson, APR, calls for PR professionals to do just that: “I’m hopeful that PRSA and professional communicators can be the arbiters of better civil discourse in our communities, organizations and on social media. If not us, then who? We have the skillset to change the tenor of dialogue in America.”

What You Should Know As a PRSA New Professional

Becoming a member of PRSA is more than just skimming the daily emails. To truly benefit from being a part of PRSA, we have three tips to help you thrive as a new professional in the nation’s leading professional organization serving the communications community.

Understand the Purpose of PRSA

PRSA has about 30,000 members in all 50 states. With over 110 Chapters and 14 Professional Interest Sections, PRSA is focused on connecting, supporting, and serving the needs of PR professionals nationwide. Through an emphasis on advocating for industry excellence and ethical conduct, PRSA provides members with professional development opportunities, the latest news and research, and resources to help PRSA members become leaders and mentors in their fields.

Know Your Member Benefits

As a member of PRSA, you will receive the latest news and information from PR professionals across the nation through PRSA publications, including regular newsletters, the monthly newspaper, and the blog. Utilize these resources to stay connected on the latest trends and happenings within PR and communications.

Your PRSA membership also comes with a wealth of professional development opportunities. Check out upcoming webinars (many of them are free to members) as well as on-demand online training opportunities and workshops. If you’re looking to enhance your skill set, check out the PRSA’s certificate programs, or consider pursuing the professionally-recognized APR designation.

Don’t forget that, aside from what PRSA offers, individual chapters and professional interest sections also offer their own webinars and value-added opportunities. Keep an eye out for those through forum posts and newsletters.

Get Involved

Anyone who says that their PRSA membership wasn’t worth the cost failed to take advantage of one of the most important aspects of PRSA: the opportunity to get involved and network with a wide range of PR professionals. As a new member, take advantage of the PRSA forums by introducing yourself, asking for advice or resources, connecting to local or speciality-interest mentors, and putting yourself out there.D

If you’re looking for further service and involvement opportunities, many of the chapters and professional interest sections have need for board members and collaborators. Volunteer to serve on a board, write a blog, or contribute to a project.

PRSA also hosts its annual conference, and various chapters and professional interest sections host regular conferences and trainings as well. While those typically have registration costs in addition to your PRSA membership, they provide unique opportunities to learn and network in a PR-focused environment.

Becoming a member of PRSA shouldn’t stop with paying your membership dues and skimming the daily emails. To truly benefit from being a part of PRSA, understand what PRSA stands for, know your member benefits, and get involved.