By: Mia Cadle, Chairman of NMGZ
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Since that day, the movement of racial reckoning has been spoken of nonstop. According to the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace, this movement is calling for more intentional efforts of national proposals for truth and racial healing. But what does this mean for companies?
This September, I took a trip to New York City with the National Millennial Generation Z Community to meet with different executives from companies like Padilla, R/GA, and Nielsen. Here is where I learned the answer to that question for many companies: action.
Action is a word that means many things, but according to Google, the term can be used to describe the fact or process of doing something, particularly to achieve an aim. The aim of action in companies should be to create a cycle and one that supports their employees and puts an emphasis on the well-being of their employees.
Action means supporting employees with resources. Diversity, equity and inclusion are great examples of a resource within a company. By providing marginalized groups support, companies show their dedication to supporting their employees.
When employees feel supported, they will have more confidence, meaning they will have more drive to take initiative. Whether on a new project or a new group within the company, the initiative is needed because it restarts the cycle.
Companies like R/GA, a marketing firm dedicated to innovating product experiences, brand strategy, and marketing communications, are taking steps to ensure that action is seen everywhere.
In the diversity of their staff, their clients and their work. Companies like R/GA strive to show they are not just a company that creates campaigns but that they are a company that stands by their people.
Diversity, equity and inclusion was here before the death of George Floyd, and it will be here long after, but not without an emphasis on action. There will only be true impact when action backs words.
Before taking this trip, I had only a brief understanding of what DEI marginalized groups need for success, yet now I understand. Diversity, equity and inclusion need action and people willing to stand by them on the journey they will take.
Photos from Mia Cadle, Chairman of NMGZ
By: Sarah Petrovich
Success in the workplace goes beyond skills and dedication. Rather, it is a combination of being an advocate for yourself and your colleagues. Three guests joined PRSSA Kent to discuss how to practice self-advocacy, navigate your true identity in the workplace and maintain an inclusive and accepting work environment or more commonly known as Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEI&B).
Emma Weihe, an accessibility specialist at Kent State, aids students by communicating what accommodations would work best for their given disability. Zachary Strickler, the neurodiversity coordinator at Kent State, works to create a better atmosphere for students who face neurodiverse challenges.
Our third speaker, Dr. Mary Ann Devine, is a professor at the College of Education, Health, and Human Services at Kent State. She focuses on Disability Studies and Community Inclusion. She wrote a book titled Inclusive Leisure, which advises people to, “look at what they can do, not what they can’t do.” Devine’s perspective and expertise was aligned with the employer and ADA during our discussion.
Common Discrimination Cases
When talking about some of the most common cases of discrimination in the workplace, Strickler highlighted that different industries experience discrimination in different ways. For instance, higher education has difficulty accommodating scheduling, factory work lacks mobility related accommodations and hospice care is an overall “non-accomodating” occupation.
Devine explained how to open up conversations in the workplace while remaining respectful. She said individuals who do not have a disability are often hesitant when working with individuals who do, but two ways to take action against biases are to navigate company objectives that are inclusive of disabled people and to take a disabled individual's life into perspective.
Another key point Weihe highlighted is that disclosing accommodations at the stage of interviews is critical. Her mindset is that disclosing a disability is a great way to establish a connection with the company during the interview. It can be, in her words, “meaningful.”
“Advocacy is a way of knowing and honoring your boundaries,” Weihe explained. “Recognize that you cannot have all of the answers, and that asking for help is a natural part of the process.”
Towards the end of the meeting, an interactive session took place where each speaker created a scenario about discrimination in the workplace. Attendees analyzed each scenario and determined the best possible outcomes. This allowed members to experience the importance behind handling accommodations for disabled individuals seriously.
“They feel stigmatized from high school; they want to shed that when they come to college,” Devine said. The best way to diminish this is to try eliminating the stigma overall and focusing on tackling work in a way that uniquely fits the disabled individual: “It is not less than, just different.”
Weihe also emphasized that her office offers Accessibility Letters for students who choose not to discuss their disability. These letters remain confidential to the student, Student Accessibility Services and the instructor.
Strickler closed with how to address accommodations to individuals who are showing signs of needing them. He believes that it is crucial to have conversations with these people, even if they are resisting.
“The easiest way to get somebody on your side is to talk to them directly,” Strickler notes. Staying silent has bigger consequences than having a tough discussion. A final note from Devine was for senior leadership to accept diversity and welcome these individuals into the workforce. Her attitude is that creating a culture where everyone is valued “reduces cost in company,” and is beneficial because “turnover is expensive.” Creating a DEI&B safe atmosphere should be a vital part of any company’s public relations strategy as creating good or bad brand image can make or break a company.
This conversation provided students an abundance of insight on how to tackle the workforce in a respectful way. "I learned about the importance of knowing your limits," said Lydia McSwain, a sophomore advertising major. "I believe it was Emma Weihe who said that it can be hard to be 'vulnerable' at times, but self-advocacy is recognizing the importance of representing yourself and making sure your needs are met."
By: Grace Kindl, VP of Fundraising and Community Outreach
PRSA Cleveland Student Day gave aspiring Public Relations Professionals a brief look into non-profit, healthcare, sports public relations sectors, as well as DEI initiatives within branding. Aspiring pros were given the opportunity to network with speakers, employers and other PR students.
Izzy Esler and Sydney Stone spoke about their experiences with City Dogs, a nonprofit organization focused on finding homes for “bully breeds” like pit bulls. They shared some of the challenges the organization faces, such as the nationwide shelter capacity crisis and the effect that has on open intake shelters such as their own. One of the biggest challenges is working with dogs that are often “the most challenging to get adopted.” To solve some of these problems, they have special lowered adoption rates and stage photoshoots with the dogs in fun costumes. Esler and Stone showed many of the students how PR can be used for good in organizations like City Dogs.
Marcus Thomas LLC
Joy Smith, senior equity and inclusion manager, represented Marcus Thomas LLC in her talk about “Why Inclusive Marketing Matters.” Smith provided a variety of data and examples to show how important it is to use PR platforms to make a statement about world issues. She also gave three key ways to speak up: “stay in your lane, take a risk and own your brand’s DNA.” Smith used this opportunity to discuss the infamous Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial and the “missed opportunity for authenticity.” She then compared it to a more recent Pepsi commercial featuring Chlöe Bailey. In the recent commercial, Pepsi stayed in their lane and appealed to their target audience with Bailey. Smith also discussed Dove’s Real Beauty campaign. This campaign was a risk on Dove’s end, but they stayed in their lane and stayed true to their brand’s DNA while remaining authentic, making it a successful campaign.
Andrea Pacetti, director, public & media relations at Cleveland Clinic, related her work to topics most students were very familiar with: abortion and COVID-19. Pacetti opened up about her experience with the New York Times following the overturning of Roe v Wade. During this time, Cleveland Clinic was the “only willing hospital system” to do a story on abortion as healthcare. The Clinic allowed photographers into the maternal fetal ward to take authentic photos that spoke to the severity of the topic. Pacetti also spoke about the first reported case of COVID-19, located in Cleveland. Representatives of Cleveland Clinic were preparing for a press conference with the mayor when they were told the news. She took this opportunity to tell students about the urgent need for communications, both internal and external, and the chaos that ensued following the news. Cleveland Clinic took another risk by allowing certain media into the ICU to show them what was really going on, as an attempt to stop the spread of misinformation.
By: Macy Rosen
Brenna Parker, a 2017 public relations graduate of Kent State’s School of Media and Journalism (formerly named School of Journalism and Mass Communication), who now serves as the Digital Director for Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House, shared highlights of her career journey with a packed room of students in Franklin Hall, the same building Parker said she could never forget.
She did not know what she wanted to do throughout high school and college, but “she looks for high adventure,” Professor Stephanie Smith said. When Parker graduated, that’s just what she did. Parker moved to Washington D.C. after college and started working for the nonprofit, Civic Nation.
In the years following her graduation from Kent State, Brenna has worked on some of the biggest movements of the last five years, including leading digital communications for the National Domestic Workers Alliance during the #MeToo movement, the family separation crisis for Families Belong Together and media relations for the student walkouts in response to the 2018 Parkland shooting.
Currently, Parker is responsible for all of Vice President Harris’ social media accounts, content partnerships, online content and more. Parker said she must be intentional about her content in this position. Parker returned to campus to be honored with the Outstanding New Professional award from the Kent State Alumni Association. She made time to speak with students and faculty about her experiences and shared valuable career and life advice.
Madison Goerl, PRSSA Vice President of Professional Relations, served as a moderator for the conversation with Parker. Interestingly, Parker served in the same PRSSA Kent leadership role when she was a Kent State student.
“Working with Brenna was such a great experience,” Goerl said. “She is truly paving the way for women in the field.”
Parker encouraged every student to take the leap if they want to; move out of Ohio and make connections. She told students they can be just as successful as Ivy League graduates.
“If you're somebody from Ohio and you're trying to break through (in a big market), you're competing against people that already live in cities, you're competing with students at GW, you're competing with students at NYU,” Parker said. “They're already there making those connections and building those networks.”
She advised students to begin networking while they’re in college and to be strategic when applying for jobs. Rather than blindly applying for jobs, Parker advised students to be selective and conduct research. She recommended students try to find someone they may know at the organization and share their interest in the job with that person.
“Brenna’s story was truly so inspiring to me,” said Angie Robinette, a freshman public relations major. “She explained how networking is very important in the PR world, and you should always put yourself out there because you never know who can connect you to an opportunity.”
When discussing the topic of dignity and respect in the workplace, Parker inspired every female in the room. She told students her experiences of often being the youngest person in the room and having to fight for ideas and strategies to reach people effectively.
“Learning how to advocate for yourself looks different for everybody, it is sometimes the hardest thing to do, and it changes with every year, every job that you do,” Parker said.
Her experiences and opinions brought tears to the eyes of many students in the room.
“Brenna was one of the most inspirational speakers I've had the privilege of listening to at Kent State,” PRKent student Francesca Malinky said. “I really enjoyed hearing about her honest tribulations through her career in D.C., and it was comforting to think that I am in the same position she was in college. That really gave me a lot of inspiration and hope for my future as a PR major.”
By: Katie Masko
Our first meeting, “Satisfying Your PR Craving,” brought three public relations professionals from the food and beverage industry to discuss their day-to-day work and most important skills for working in the field in Franklin Hall September 26.
“Most messaging starts and ends with us,” said Brandi Neloms, the chief strategy officer at Sipping Black Only, about the most important part of working in the industry. “We are drafting what sounds good and what's true.”
Social Media Strategist at Nestle, Deanna Langer, and VP of Communications at J.M. Smucker, Abbey Linville, joined Neloms to share their experiences on digital analytics, crisis strategy and essential transferable skills learned in the PR Kent program.
Langer and Linville quickly agreed good writing is the most important skill a PR professional should have when entering the workforce.
“If you can write, you can do almost anything,” Linville said.
When discussing crisis strategies, Langer shared that a minor crisis can potentially change all social media plans for the rest of the month.
“Social moves really fast… you'll have a content calendar planned for the whole month and then something terrible happens,” she said.
Langer also spoke about her use of digital analytics in social media, bringing light to why Digital Analytics in Advertising and Public Relations is an essential class for PR majors to take.
“We work really closely with our consumer marketplace insights team, and they do tons of market research on our consumer, how people are interacting with our brands, and what channels they're on,” Langer said.
Their final pieces of advice went beyond standard networking advice.
“Look for ways to constantly engage with people so that when you do have a need, or you do have an opportunity for them, it's more of an authentic symbiotic relationship than it is just you tapping on the shoulder and asking for things,” Neloms said.