Every Day is World Day for Cultural Diversity for the PR Professional

by Susan Hess

Image Courtesy: Union of National Employees

(Image Courtesy: Union of National Employees)

In December 2002, the United Nations General Assembly declared May 21 to be the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. By marking this day, we have an opportunity to better understand and appreciate the values associated with cultural diversity, and in turn, the potential to learn to live together more harmoniously.

Nine years later, in 2011, a grassroots campaign Do One Thing for Diversity and Inclusion— was launched by the UN Alliance of Civilizations and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The campaign’s three objectives are to:

  • raise awareness about the importance of intercultural dialogue;
  • build a community of individuals committed to support diversity with real and everyday life gestures;
  • improve understanding and cooperation among people from different cultures to combat stereotypes.

In the world of Public Relations, we are often responsible for bringing diversity to the forefront by helping others better understand cultural differences and the value those differences bring to the organization. We fight stereotypes constantly through the articles we write, the statements we tweet and the photos and images we place in publications and on the web. We include the perspectives our different team members bring to our projects. We communicate the value diversity brings to our world, either intentionally or unintentionally, in everything we do. We “Do One Thing…” every day just by being PR professionals.

So, although May 21 may be the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, let’s continue to make every day an opportunity to communicate the variety of differences that make our world so interesting and help others to understand and respect those differences.

Note: for more information about the Do One Thing for Diversity and Inclusion program, go to:  facebook.com/DoOneThingforDiversityandInclusion

Networking from a Student’s Perspective

By Patrick Fernandez

George Mason University's Public Relations Student Society of America chapter attended the PRSA-NCC happy hour.

George Mason University’s Public Relations Student Society of America chapter attended the PRSA-NCC happy hour.

Last week I attended a PRSA-NCC networking happy hour catered toward students and entry and junior level public relations professionals. Students and professionals from northern Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland attended and were eager to network and share ideas.

A lot of students can find networking to be daunting. I remember when I went to my first networking event, everything was fast-paced and it felt like I had to share every detail of my college experiences in a mere 45 seconds. Networking for the first time reminds me of meeting a significant other’s family for the first time; you have to find a balance between putting your best foot forward while not stepping on someone else’s toes.

When networking, it is important to understand that public relations is a peoples’ business. As intimidating as networking can be, everyone is there to meet others which makes it a little easier. Networking is a great tactic to learn about someone’s job or company they work for, but what makes it even better is when people can create relationships that go beyond professional life. Sure, someone might have an interesting job or might have developed a cool way to measure a brand’s social media sentiment, but what makes networking worthwhile is learning and sharing details about each other’s lives that might not be in their cover letter. Effective networkers share details about themselves but more importantly they are able to listen, comprehend and convey interest in what their peers share with them. To be different is not to change the way you act but simply be yourself at networking events.

PRSA-NCC provides many opportunities for students to network with public relations professionals. After I left this event I realized I truly belong in this industry. I enjoyed being able to network with students at different schools and with professionals who are just beginning their careers.

The success of this event makes me eager to attend future PRSA-NCC functions. As my college career comes to a close I know these experiences are invaluable ways to help boost my brand and make connections in an industry I am passionate about.

Plan, Know Your Role & Listen: PRSA-NCC’s “Is It Really a Crisis?”

By Kelsey Pospisil, News Generation

From left to right: Susan Apgood, Maureen Donahue Hardwick, Nick Peters and Jim Moorhead

Pictured from left to right: Susan Apgood, Maureen Donahue Hardwick, Nick Peters and Jim Moorhead

“Crisis” may mean one thing to one PR pro, and one thing to another. How do you most accurately get a pulse on a situation to know how to react? How can you ensure ahead of time that your team is ready to handle it? These questions and more were the focus of the April 19 Professional Development panel, “Is It Really a Crisis? How to Define a Crisis and When to React.” Moderated by Susan Apgood of News Generation, panelists Maureen Donahue Hardwick of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, Jim Moorhead of Burson-Marsteller, and Nick Peters of CommCore Consulting Group shared their tips on evaluating and navigating a crisis.

CommCore’s Nick Peters started the session by offering some key advice: going over lessons learned after a crisis is absolutely essential, determine if a crisis is in fact a crisis, and know ahead of time who you sector is, who your stakeholders are, and who your audience is. Peters stressed that just because you determine a situation is a containable emergency, doesn’t mean there isn’t a potential long-term reputational issue based on perception rather than facts.

Maureen Hardwick of Drinker Biddle & Reath said that as a lawyer herself, it’s important for lawyers to be comfortable with crisis communication in order to truly be partners with clients. There are things to prepare and understand in advance, before something big hits. She suggested engaging and partnering with professionals who know what they’re talking about beforehand. Jim Moorhead of Burson-Marsteller gave three best practices to follow in a crisis situation: Figure out what the real threat is, think outside in, and speed kills. Moorhead says that clients need to know three things: “Am I going to be okay,” “Is the situation under control” and “Are you doing the right thing?”

All three panelists stressed the importance of having a set, prepared team in place ahead of time. Have a team who knows their roles before a crisis hits. Peters said the determination of whether something is a crisis or not may or may not always be clear, and that the composition of the crisis team is critical. He suggests a cross-functional crisis team to include HR, Programs, Legal, the Executive Suite, the Communications team, and IT. Hardwick said, “If everyone has the client’s interest in mind, it’s only in our best interest to work better together.” Moorhead suggested the use of pre-approved statements, at least as a general guide, which would then need to be tailored to the particular circumstance.

Crisis Panel

Pictured from left to right: Susan Apgood, Maureen Donahue Hardwick, Nick Peters and Jim Moorhead

Moderator Susan Apgood asked the panelists what tools they would suggest for the audience to help in their crisis communications plans. Peters suggested a literal wheel that contains every single channel, and who is responsible for each channel. He also suggested a decision tree that states if Joe is not available, then Joanne will do it, and if Joanne is not available then Bill will do it. Finally, he suggested having a dark website that can go up immediately in the event of a crisis.

Moorhead emphasized the benefits of survey research – getting to the right community and understanding what people’s perceptions are. You’ll find out: What are effective messages? How would your opponents respond to those messages? What messages work the best in this situation? Who is the best messenger? Hardwick highlighted the importance of being aware of how people are taking information. Be compassionate, honest and interactive – give people a way to comment and be understood. Or in other words, listen to them. There are no downsides to listening, while there are a lot of downsides to talking too much.

Celebrating APR Month: It Takes a Pro

AsSuzanne Ross a skilled PR professional, you know that your success is dependent on staying relevant, resourceful, connected and inspired.

However, earning the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) credential is a challenging process that often surprises even the most accomplished public relations professional.

Using time-tested communication principles involving a strategic framework for applying theory, research, ethical principles and contemporary best practices, APR candidates gain insight into personal strengths and opportunities for growth while demonstrating their professional achievement.

Recent APRs commented that the APR process strengthened their confidence, their team leadership and contributions to business outcomes.

APRThese three letters: APR, are internationally recognized in the public relations profession, as a badge of broad experience, depth of industry knowledge, strategic perspective and sound professional judgment.

The credential signifies to hiring managers and clients that you possess ambition and discipline, which indicates that you are likely to be a “go-getter,” someone who conducts research to underpin strategic insight; someone who reliably delivers professional products and services on time and within budget.

Research over the past 50 years confirms that the value of the APR continues to hold steady as those with the credential consistently enjoy higher-level professional roles that can lead to greater financial rewards.

APRs commitment to life-long learning of cutting-edge public relations practices is not only required for maintaining the credential, but also for meeting the demands of a dynamic, high-growth industry.

The APR committee of the National Capital Chapter is comprised of APR volunteers who offer professional development training, facilitated coaching, mentorship, and support to help you attain APR excellence.

Join the chapter’s network of nearly 150 inspired APRs and demonstrate that you are an industry leader: Learn more about how to earn your APR and properly position yourself in the competitive public relations field.

Suzanne Ross
Accredited in Public Relations
Chair, APR Committee, PRSA/NCC

Blurred Lines: The New Landscape of the PR Industry

By Simran Kumar, News Generation

Blurred Lines: The New Landscape of the PR Industry Over the past few years, there has been a noticeable shift in the communications and public relations industries. Many of the silos that once existed between traditional PR and related industries like marketing and advertising have slowly broken down. PR firms, non-profits and associations are now integrating what were once separate practices. This new integration was the focus of the March 15 Professional Development workshop, “Blurred Lines: How Is the Public Relations Industry Reinventing Itself.” Panelists Soren Dayton, Senior Vice President of Digital Advocacy at H+K, Sara Wiskerchen, Managing Director of Media Communications at National Association of Realtors, and Beth Perell, Vice President of Communications and Information Management at Goodwill Industries shared their tips and thoughts on how to navigate the new landscape.

When it comes to what’s driving the change in the industry, Wiskerchen feels it is a result of shifting consumer demand. In Perell’s opinion, consumers want to receive content at a much faster pace. And, in order to keep up with consumer demand, Dayton believes it’s equally important to have compelling, unbiased content. Consumers are looking at social and digital platforms as additional sources of information. As the digital arena continues to develop, Perell stresses that one of the benefits of these tools is that they are trackable and allow communications professionals to show clients how their campaigns are performing.

Blurred Lines: The New Landscape of the PR Industry  (From left to right: Beth Perell, Sara Wiskerchen, Danny Selnick, Soren Dayton)

Blurred Lines: The New Landscape of the PR Industry (From left to right: Beth Perell, Sara Wiskerchen, Danny Selnick, Soren Dayton)

PR strategies have traditionally focused on earning media coverage for clients. Now, some firms and associations are starting to pay for native advertising and editorial placements, blending the lines between PR and marketing content. Wiskerchen points that the average consumer likely can’t tell the difference between paid placements and editorial content. Most importantly, Wiskerchen, Perell and Dayton all stressed that content must have a strong unified brand message. To do this, Perell explains how Goodwill’s communications teams have a weekly meeting to ensure that all external messages are aligning.

As communications teams begin to take on new responsibilities and roles, one of the questions that came up during the discussion was how jobs will be affected. Dayton says the new industry landscape puts more of a privilege on creativity, and stresses the need for strong writing skills and the ability to tell good stories.

While industry integration has brought several changes to communications and marketing strategies, one of the things that remains unchanged is the need to be sure we are understanding our organization or clients, who the target audiences are and what we are trying to achieve and accomplish.

Lessons From Flint: Where Crisis and Ethics Intersect

In January, the nation watched in shock as news of a man-made public health crisis unfolded in Flint, Michigan. Authorities knew there were dangerous levels of lead in tap water, threatening the health and development of thousands of children, and they did nothing about it for more than 18 months. This revelation has us all wondering whether our own tap water is safe, and it has PR people wondering, how could this happen?

ethics2Lots of factors contributed to the operational crisis in Flint, creating a perfect recipe for disaster: an aggressive water, lead pipes, a lack of treatment, a lack of data collection and a lack of communication. Though many communities have lead pipes, they don’t have the other factors to deal with, and so another operational disaster like Flint is unlikely. What is likely, however, is another similar PR disaster. Why? Discrimination, social injustice, and at its most basic – ethics.

It’s a cautionary tale. To avoid reputational damage, financial loss and litigation, brands think they need to erase their errors, spin their shortcomings or co-opt the conversation. On the contrary, the key to a long-standing trusted, profitable brand is honesty, transparency and, of course, an ethical approach.

Profits Over People

At the heart of the Flint crisis, which is at the heart of most crises organizations face, is a question of allegiance. Most organizations put their allegiance entirely to their brand. Why? Because they fear loss of profit and reputational damage if they don’t. Protect the brand is what we PR people are hired to do. Or is it?

Actually, the number one ethical principle underlying the practice of public relations is to “act in the public interest.” Simply put, that means our allegiance, if we’re working ethically, is first to the greater good for the majority of people and then to the brand we represent.

Stop and consider that. Are you acting in the interest of the greater good? Does your organization put the public interest before their brand? In perhaps the most famous, and sadly one of very few, cases where a company actually did, was Tylenol. In the early 80s, they recalled 100 percent of their product when they learned that criminal tampering had led to seven deaths. The action cost them $100 million and loss of market share. More than 30 years later, Tylenol is still at the top of the pain relief market, and remains the poster child – the exception to the rule – for crisis management.

Crimes vs Mistakes

What happened in Flint was a crime. So, from a PR perspective, the options aren’t great. If you found out tomorrow your organization had committed a crime or purposefully misled its stakeholders, which, in turn caused damage, what would you do? Make no mistake, this is a watershed moment in your career. If your savings account permits, it’s an easy answer. You can walk away. But how likely is that the option we have? If you can’t quit, can you convince your organization to fess up and do the right thing? Moreover, do you have the strength and stomach to guide them through it? Is your organization willing? Do they even agree they have done wrong?

Many companies are either unwilling to admit wrongdoing or their lawyers will preclude it. Lawyers rarely even allow clients to say sorry because they say it is an admittance of guilt. In all other aspects of humanity, we know that saying sorry is an act of empathy, and the first step towards receiving forgiveness. Situations like Flint, with a breach of ethics so bold, pose a tough decision for PR people. It’s hard for a brand to recover from an outright crime and the PR person who stays to help them through it will undoubtedly test or breach the tenets of our Code of Ethics. At least for an innocent mistake, there’s hope. This is where the value proposition of PR comes in.

PR’s Value Proposition

Odds are in your favor if leading up to an event like this, you have built a long-lasting, enduring program of proactive public relations with ongoing, two-way engagement between your organization and the people on whom its success depends. Assuming you have built this kind of program, and your organization puts the public interest ahead of its own, you have a fighting chance. So when a crisis hits whether self-made or by accident, here’s the drill:

Step One: Be first to admit what you did, and, show regret and empathy.

Step Two: Describe in detail how you will fix it and prevent a recurrence, then over deliver on that promise.

Step Three: Do everything you said, and make sure everyone knows.

Very easily said. How these three steps get accomplished is not so easy and a Blog unto itself. Timing, credibility of spokesperson(s), word choice, nonverbal behavior and of course – the enterprise-wide operational feat of making things right again – is a formidable endeavor. But, as Tylenol proved, it’s always the right one if a full recovery is to be realized.

PR can’t fix bad behavior. Only good behavior can do that. PR can only reveal. It’s a lesson for us all. When you put the greater good as your focus, and let transparency be your guide, you will always come out right. But put your brand first like Flint did and you will end up meeting the destiny you fought so hard to avoid.


Samantha Villegas, APR



Celebrating International Women’s Day

By Sergei Samoilenko

International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th in many countries around the world as a special day to honor outstanding women’s achievements and publicly acknowledge call for equality. This significant day first started as a social political event on March 8, 1857 in New York City. On that day, women from clothing and textile factories had staged a protest against poor working conditions and low wages. The idea of holding an international day for women was first proposed at an International Women’s Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, as encouragement for women to press for their demands for equal rights and suffrage on a single day of celebration. International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland on March 19, 1911. Women in these countries demanded the right to vote, to hold public office, and the right to work, according to the United Nations. More European women also began rallying against World War I. For example, in 1917 Russian women went on strike for bread and peace in protest of the deaths of more than 2 million Russian soldiers in the war, according to the U.N.

A few decades later, the political motives of the holiday moved to the background and now March 8th is celebrated in more than 100 countries. It is also an official holiday in many countries, including Angola, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Eritria, Kazakhstan, Laos, Nepal, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam, among others. In Russia, this beautiful spring holiday is most often celebrated in the family circle or with friends. Men and women give flowers, postcards with poetry, chocolate, and jewelry to their mothers, wives, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters. At school, children bring their female teachers flowers. Yellow mimosas, tulips, and roses are especially popular flowers on this day. In companies and organizations, women receive flowers and small memorable gifts from their co-workers and the management.

Strong-WomanThe International Woman’s Day theme for 2016 is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”. The United Nations observance on  March 8 will reflect on how to accelerate the 2030 Agenda, and other commitments on gender equality, women’s empowerment, and human rights. An independent campaign, separate from the UN, is being run by financial firm EY with other corporate partners, organizing events around a #PledgeForParity hashtag. National Women’s History Month reaches the global community and celebrates women’s accomplishments in a global recognition that honors women of all nations.

In our profession, women make up 63 percent of public relations “specialists,” according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, and 59 percent of all PR managers. Other estimates say the female workforce for PR is closer to 73, or even 85 percent. Ragan.com … reported that 73 percent of the Public Relations Society of America’s members are women. Leeza L. Hoyt, president of the Hoyt Organization, examined the reasons why many women choose public relations for their career. The reasons are numerous and in some cases, may be the opportunity to raise a family and have a successful career with greater work-life balance, flexible hours, and telecommuting options. One thing is clear for both men and women in the field; public relations careers allow professionals to enjoy a variety of responsibilities, engage with key influencers, pursue a swiftly-moving career, and evolve constantly. Public relations practitioners serve the public by bringing attention to important social and political issues.

International Women’s Day is becoming deeply ingrained in history and culture of many countries. This is a perfect opportunity for many companies and organizations to honor and celebrate women’s achievements in the personal, public, and political spheres. Happy International Women’s Day!