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.

ICON 2020: Offerings for New Pros

PRSA’s international conference is going virtual this year, and that means it’s more affordable than ever for new public relations pros to attend. Forget the travel fees and business cards — all you need to attend ICON 2020 is a reliable computer, a clock set to EDT*, decent internet and your event registration.

From Oct. 26 through Oct. 29, attendees can expect to learn from educational offerings, virtually explore exhibit halls and network with professionals from all over the world.

Not sure where to start? Here are our top, relevant offerings for PRSA New Pros to attend.

Day One: Oct. 26

After attending the 10 a.m. ICON Orientation to make the most of your virtual experience, hop on over to the 11 a.m. Opening General Session. ICON’s keynote speaker, Jon Meacham, is described as “one of America’s most prominent public intellectuals.” Listen in to find out why.

After that, join The Future Is Now: Recruiting, Retaining and Developing Future PR leaders From Millennials and Generation Z with our very own National New Pros Committee Membership Chair Landis Tindell! He’ll share insights about New Pros with co-speaker Eric Wilson.

At 1:30 p.m., check out Exploring Advocacy, Activism and Related Trends (And What They Might Mean for Your Organization) as you consider how businesses are responding — and which ones you want to work for in the future. 2:30 p.m. begins Navigating Through Crisis With Confidence: Lessons in Crisis Management From COVID-19, which promises to share timely lessons learned.

Attend CCO Therapy: Tips, Tricks and Advice for New (and Aspiring) Communications Leaders at 3:30 p.m. for best leader practices and consider meeting a few industry veterans at the Opening Night Reception from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Day Two: Oct. 27

The second day of ICON kicks off with Carolynn Johnson, chief executive officer of DiversityInc Media LLC and today’s keynote speaker taking the (virtual) stage at 11 a.m. Next, Bridging the Integration Gap: How Communications and Marketing Can Work Together to Create a Unified Brand Strategy will give real collaborative insight into how you’ll work with Marketing as a public relations pro at 12:45 p.m., though you may consider skipping out early to attend the Silver Anvil Awards at 1:45 p.m. and get a close look at what we consider exceptional work.

Humanizing Communications: How To Create Thoughtful and Inclusive Narratives at 3:30 p.m. focuses on incorporating diverse voices and recognizing unconscious biases. After that, the schedule is wide open for you to attend the Diversity & Inclusion Celebration: Transforming the Landscape event taking place at 6:30 p.m.

Day Three: Oct. 28

Keynote speaker and author of How to Lose the Information War, Nina Jankowicz, will open ICON at 11 a.m. What Every PR Pro Needs To Know About SEO prepares New Pros at 12:30 p.m. with ways to boost search engine optimization. Attorney and keynote speaker Lata Nott is known for sharing insights relating to the freedom of expression and internet speech policy, and will be speaking at 1:30 p.m.

3:10 p.m. reveals many relevant sessions for New Pros, but we think the most promising is Grace Under Pressure: Balancing Human Dignity With the Media Frenzy Around the Coronavirus. Not only will it center on COVD-19 crisis communications, but it’ll specifically tackle tough topics like neutralizing hostile audiences in the heat of the moment and dealing with “fake news” in real-time.

Sessions that look ahead often provide inspiration for our own day-to-day (especially as new professionals who may not have much experience to draw on), and The Future of PR: Today’s Trends That Shape the Profession of Tomorrow at 4:10 p.m. does just that.

Next is networking! If that’s an area you struggle with, never fear — you can easily mix and mingle at the Expo Hall Exhibitor Reception and Virtual Happy Hour. Don’t be afraid to jump into public and private chat rooms from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Day Four: Oct. 29

Our final keynote speaker features Laurie Garrett, an award-winning science writer and author speaking at 11 a.m. The Upside of Downturn: Unlocking the Hidden Benefits of Crisis at 12:30 p.m. offers opportunities to prepare before a crisis (and explains why crisis comms is nothing to run away from).

At 1:30 p.m., Insights on Inclusion: Addressing Covering and Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace tackles very real problems for New Pros and discusses why there’s always room (and a need!) for inclusion in the workplace. A Candid Conversation on the Impact and Challenges of COVID-19 to Hospitals, VA and Health Insurance Providers will feature a panel at 2:30 p.m. with four guests talking about very real public relations challenges they continue to face in the time of COVID-19.

Whether you’re on the hunt for a job or have already secured one, Strategically Developing and Promoting You, Your Image and Your Career: A Career Action Plan Workshop at 3:30 p.m. will offer best practices for navigating your career. The final event takes place at 4:30 p.m., and Finding Resiliency for Your Membership and Yourself During a Pandemic is a great way to end ICON with the confidence and information you need in 2020.

Now that you’ve seen our recommendations, take a look at ICON’s full schedule yourself to make sure you don’t miss any sessions that may better pique your interest. Every offering available on the schedule has been hand-picked by PRSA, and will only benefit you to attend. The sessions listed here may be best for New Pros just getting started, but only you can decide which events will specifically benefit you most.

See you at the conference!

*All listed times represent Eastern Daylight Time (EDT)

The Best Webinars on Social Justice & Equality (and Where to Hear Their Recordings)

In June, we saw Black Lives Matter erupt in protests even as the world was recovering from a global pandemic. But after Glassdoor had just reported that 42% of U.S. employees have experienced or seen racism in the workplace last year, was it really such a surprise that the human rights movement started in 2016 was still alive?

Now in July, dozens of helpful resources have similarly sprung up in the interest of social justice and equality. As the public relations professional in your workplace, it may be up to you to begin these conversations.

Below are some of the most authentic and insightful webinars we have found around Black Lives Matter. Watch them, learn from them, and — most importantly — share them.

Brands Taking A Stand Against Social Injustices – When Staying Silent Is No Longer An Option

This PRSA webinar is free with your PRSA membership and digs into how different brands can genuinely address social issues in line with their own company values. Specific topics include:

  • Evaluation Before Engagement (tactics & possible outcomes)
  • Value-Based Action (genuine reactions and leadership)
  • Identify Decision-Making Moments (when to take a stand as a brand)

Watch the recording as a PRSA member for free here: PRSA – Brands Taking a Stand

Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic on African Americans and Communities of Color

This free webinar was coordinated by the American Bar Association and is part of their COVID-19 Webinar Series. This particular webinar concerns the “current and foreseeable implications of the COVID-19 pandemic has on the African American Community.” Specific topics include:

  • Healthcare (testing site availability, health insurance assistance, health disparities)
  • Economic Security (minority small business relief)
  • Voting (voter turnout, accessibility)

Watch the free recording here: American Bar Association – Implications of COVID-19

Solidarity Convos: Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders for Black Lives

This free webinar is just one of Act to Change’s many panel videos that cover hard topics that must be discussed to move forward in a modern and safe society. It’s also worth noting that actively encourage live participation in their recordings. Specific topics include:

  • Solidarity (especially the need for it between communities of color)
  • Accessible People of Color (privilege and perspective)
  • Change (what can be done for the next generation, now)
  • Inclusion (in this moment & going forward)

Watch the free recording here: Act to Change – Solidarity Convos

The Black Lives Matter Movement and Your Organization

This free webinar by Paylocity covers Black Lives Matter in the workplace using real examples of what employees (and consumers) expect from businesses. Specific topics include:

  • Employee Expectations (common questions & best responses)
  • Support in the Workplace (how to encourage employees)
  • How Businesses Can Lead (and why you should)
  • The Danger of Silence (how it can translate to acceptance)
  • Inherent Bias (the hiring process, inclusion & diversity)

Watch the free recording here: Paylocity – The Movement and Your Organization

“Do Black Lives Matter in Europe?”

This free webinar is presented by the Council for European Studies to discuss the protests and reactions to Black Lives Matter happening beyond North America. Specific topics include:

  • Racism & Anti-Racist Struggles in Europe (especially amid present dynamics)
  • Global Connections to Black Lives Matter (why it transcends the U.S.)
  • Protests Amid the Pandemic (how we make sense of it)

Watch the free recording here: Council for European Studies – Black Lives Matter

Have a valuable webinar of your own to share? Link it in the comments below!

Careers in a Post-Pandemic World: Should You Seek Essential Jobs?

Summer is here, and so is COVID-19 (still). In a month where we’d normally be distracted by fireworks and cookouts, it suddenly isn’t uncommon to read about massive layoffs, learn that another colleague has just been let go, or even receive a flyer that a favorite local business has permanently closed its doors.

The only thing that seems reliable these days are essential jobs — but what is “essential,” anyway?

ES·SEN·TIAL, first used as a noun in the 15th century, is described by Merriam-Webster as being both “basic” and “necessary.” In February, it might’ve been described as a skilled job that required education or experience to fill. Today, it very clearly means a role that keeps society running (i.e., healthcare workers, grocers, delivery drivers, cashiers, food servers, etc.).

For public relations professionals, that means finding a business or personality to represent that is considered essential (as known by the latter description). And while influencers and celebrities alike are sticking to safety guidelines and quarantining themselves away, that leaves essential businesses as your next bet at a job opportunity.

Anywhere that essential workers are operating generally falls under that essential business umbrella: restaurant chains with delivery or drive-thrus; supermarkets deemed too important to close; retailers with essential goods we couldn’t safely (or humanely) get by without.

Got a few brands in mind? Not so fast — “essential,” after all, doesn’t mean “safe.”

The Advantages

Maybe the essential employers thriving during the pandemic are businesses you’ve never considered before. But don’t dismiss them just because they’ll cause confusion on your resume — future employers will understand why you represented a grocery store during a pandemic. Plus, there’ll be some skills you can learn or grow that’ll move with you when the chance arises to get back into your preferred industry.

Here are a few easy reasons to look up an essential business’ career website:

  • Essential businesses are likely hiring, or at least one of the many not drastically downsizing.
  • An essential business is one of the few locations (both legally and naturally) that consumers are very carefully spending their cash right now.
  • PR jobs could especially be in demand, especially as COVID-19 continues to fall under the high-paced “crisis communications” category.

The Disadvantages

Especially if you’re new to the job market or just had a long-term role eliminated from underneath you, essential businesses may look like a safe harbor in the storm. But before you hop aboard, consider the bigger picture.

Here are a couple of cons to essential jobs that could cause a wrinkle in your plans:

  • Because they’re getting extra business, an essential employer may only be hiring for temporary or freelance roles that could be cancelled at a moment’s notice.
  • Since they’re one of the few hiring and the job market has turned on its head in favor of the employer, they may low-ball you on pay.
  • If they’re essential, they may have special permissions to work around specific safety measures — and possibly put you at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

Check out the business’ corporate website (which is where you, as a PR pro, will probably be working) and identify their values. Do they align with yours? Could you see yourself working for them long after the pandemic, or will you trade job satisfaction for job security?

Don’t put yourself in a bad situation out of fear, or pride.

Have something to share about essential employment? Put your thoughts in the comments below!