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)

New Pros Chapter Spotlight: PRSA Colorado

PRSA Chapter: Colorado
Location: Greater Denver Area
Chair(s): Dani Row and Bailey Gannett

Tell us about your New Pros group:
We’re a dedicated group of new professionals (a mix of young pros, professionals in the midst of career change, and those looking to stay sharp on PR trends). Our group gets together about once a month for happy hours, panels, professional development workshops, and more to help cultivate our PR skills and provide a network where we can all come together to collaborate.

How many members do you have?
We have around 100 in our email list, but around 30 active members.

What kind of programming have you put together for New Pros?
Monthly (or bimonthly) happy hours; events vary from casual networking happy hours after work to more refined events with local industry experts/professionals; twice a year we host larger events to help professionals (both PR and non-PR are encouraged to attend) where we offer an added incentive like a new headshot for LinkedIn, resume critiques, or mock interviews.

How does your group fit into the bigger picture of the chapter?
We work closely with our chapter’s communications committee to promote our events and to encourage our membership team to attend events to talk about the benefits of becoming a PRSA member.  Our group also acts a pipeline to funnel in those who have expressed interest in PRSA but have not yet committed fully to joining the organization. The New pros events are a friendly, top of funnel type of event that encourage participation from all who have even a remote interest in learning more. We often help with converting PRSSA students over to PRSA members. We also work with the Finance team on budgets (when applicable) and work with a liaison, someone who serves on the Board and can serve as the NP representative at monthly Board meetings. Oftentimes, we rely on PRSA Board members or seasoned members to help with larger events to serve as resume critics or mock interviewers.

What resources do you provide for New Pros?
Expert advice from respected members of the PR community and tips on all things PR (social media, media relations, community relations, crisis communications). Members of the NP group who are regulars get the added benefit of becoming friends with other members and using the time to network with other members for job opportunities or relationship-building

What do some of your members see as the benefit of being a part of the bigger New Pros group?
Our members utilize the New Pros group to gain industry insight on trends and knowledge, collaborate with both young and seasoned professionals, and develop professional skills necessary to propel forward in their careers.

How do you engage and recruit New Pros?
We often engage and recruit new professionals through our PRSA Colorado social media channels, through our personal social media channels, during regular PRSA chapter events and through active recruitment with local universities and their respective PRSSA chapters.

What advice do you have for New Pros for using PRSA to their best advantage?
Get involved! Joining a committee or even serving on the Board or as a chair allows you to build your network of industry professionals—you never know when this will come in handy.

Find what interests you. Not every group is the right fit for every member. Go to a few different group events and see what feels right. Once you’ve found one (or more) you like you can dedicate your time to getting more involved.

Many times, members get discounts for events outside of the NP like luncheons. Being a member certainly has its perks—and a financial gain is certainly a big one.

Contact Us!

Dani Row and Bailey Gannett are co-chairs of PRSA Colorado’s New Professional Section.

Dani Row
Dani graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Kansas State University in 2012. She is currently a public relations manager with Velocity Global, LLC, based in Denver, Colorado.
Email: danirow@velocityglobal.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/danirow/

Bailey Gannett
Bailey graduated with a bachelor’s degree in strategic communication from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2018. She is currently a communications specialist with Cherwell Software, based in Denver, Colorado.

Email: bailey.gannett@cherwell.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/baileygannett/

One Mentor is Not Enough – Build a Board of Directors

There is no such thing as an ideal mentor.

That’s an idea it took me a long time to understand. Every person I had heard speak about mentoring spoke about their mentor as if he or she were a omniscient fairy godmother guiding them through life.

I tried finding that one person who would guide me through the ups and downs of my career, imagining teachers and professionals I admired as that go-to person, trying out formal mentoring programs to no avail.

Then I heard a take on mentoring that completely changed the way I looked at it – the idea that everyone should have their own personal board of directors filling that role of mentor and advisor.

It took a while for the ideas to stick, but when it did, it made so much sense. I don’t depend on just one person for advice in any other area of my life, why would I expect one person fill that need professionally?

Like an organization needs a board full of people from different backgrounds with varied experiences and perspectives, so too do professionals. No lone person will have had the same exact experiences you will, so having a pool of trusted advisors will help you grow and develop in a variety of situations.

For your board of directors to be effective, your group needs to be varied. Having two people whose careers and lives mirror each other won’t necessarily be the most helpful to your development. Look for people in your life and your network who fill roles like:

  • Someone who’s career you admire
  • Someone who’s experience is similar to yours
  • Someone who is in your field, industry or niche
  • Someone who is not in your field, industry or niche
  • Someone who is at your experience level
  • Someone just a couple steps ahead of you experience-wise
  • Someone with a lot of experience
  • Someone who will help connect you to others to grow your own network

You don’t need to fill out your board of directors all at once – that will happen over time. You do need to make sure there is variety in who you’re approaching for advice, though. It may seem like quite an undertaking to find people, but I’m sure if you take a good look at your own network, your board of directors will begin to take shape.

Looking amongst your own circles makes a lot of sense when you think about it. For a mentorship to be successful, there needs to be trust, common values and common interests. A mentor needs to be someone you respect and with whom you mesh, so looking to people you already have a connection with is a great place to start.

If you feel there’s little variety in your network, try casting your net just a bit wider to your PRSA chapter, your alma mater’s alumni network and your network’s network. Asking to connect with strangers becomes a bit easier when you already know you have something in common.

One-on-one coaching like a traditional mentoring relationship may work for some, but it’s not the only way. Like any other relationship, a mentorship should grow and change over time. Being mentored is an ongoing process, not an accomplishment or item to check off along your career path. It’s something that takes work, time and dedication. And much like other things in your life – your relationships, your professional development, your own well-being – you get out of it exactly what you put into it.

Looking to learn more about building a successful mentoring relationship? Join us as we partner with the College of Fellows for Supercharge your career: How finding or being a mentor can transform your professional development, a webinar to discuss the ins and outs of mentoring. Register now.

(P.S. The first draft of this post contained an ode to my own personal board of directors –  a zany group of professionals who have helped guide me through my career. While everyone should have their own board of directors, no two groups will ever be identical and I think it’s important for everyone to find what works for them. They know who they are and know how deeply I value them. However, the story of how our paths have crossed is one I’m always happy to tell to anyone who asks.)

Image uploaded from iOSIn her fourth year on PRSA’s New Professionals Section’s executive committee, Robyn serves as 2019 chair. She’s a native of southern New Jersey and currently resides in Washington, D.C., by way of Pittsburgh and South Carolina. Robyn currently works for Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA), a trade association representing North America’s airports, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and a master’s degree in media arts and technology, with a focus on creative media practices, both from Duquesne University. She likes to spend her spare time cooking, reading, exploring, crocheting and spending time with her tail-less cat, Izzy. Learn more about her on her website or find her on Twitter & talk to her!