By: Ashley Blood
The “What To Say When You Can't Say Anything: Cultivating a Culture of Responsible Transparency” ICON 2021 session led by Amanda Kane was incredibly insightful for me. As someone who finds themselves tripping over their words or jumbling sentences when caught off guard with a question, this session gave me some key pointers on what to say in the situation that you are not allowed to say anything, which as PR professionals we will all endure a situation like this at some point in our careers.
To start off the session, Kane discussed the “new media landscape” with the pandemic, and how there has been so much misinformation surrounding the vaccines, the virus, and other things related to the pandemic, and how this has made it hard for communication professionals. This means that journalists have become more aggressive, people are often feeling fatigued and overwhelmed, and overall just lots of confusion. I have definitely felt these things as well these past almost two years and I haven’t even entered the professional world of PR yet, which is why I was so excited for this session. One of my biggest takeaways from this session is that transparency and trust work in tandem with each other, and that you can’t have trust without transparency and vice versa. So, in order to determine how much to share, Kane says that we need to ask many questions, such as who is impacted by the situation, is there a possibility of harm, what are the risks to sharing more/less information, what are the benefits, and any other internal/external dynamics. These key questions will help us as PR and communication professionals determine what to say and how much to say in any type of situation. It is also extremely important to have boundaries set and to have clear, strong messaging that is concise for your audience to understand.
During this session, I liked that Kane gave real-life examples and case studies to back up each of her points. It helped me to visualize how I will be able to use these best practices in my own professional career. Transparency is something that is becoming increasingly important in our world year after year, and I am glad I was able to attend this session and gain valuable insight on how to handle these types of situations in my future career.
Taking a Stand: Evolving PR Roles as Activists, Allies, and Cause Champions
The “Taking a Stand: Evolving PR Roles as Activists, Allies, and Cause Champions” ICON 2021 session led by Staci Reidinger really inspired me to continue to speak out and use my voice to be an ally for others whose voices are silenced. When I started my college career, I was originally a political science major, and even though I am now a PR major, I am still extremely passionate about politics, social movements, and activism, and it has made me consider a career in politics as a PR professional. This made me extremely interested in this session.
In this session, Reidinger and the guest speakers talk about how important it is for PR professionals to be activists and allies in their communities and in their careers, and how the idea of activism has evolved over the years, which they have called “new activism.” New activism is the idea of fighting for more long-term, seismic societal change through things such as participating in voting and elections, and other more traditional means. Additionally, these new activists are full of hope, but they’ve learned from previous generations that hope isn’t enough. Overall, they are willing to put in the hard work to make some real change in the world, and I’ve definitely seen that in myself and in my peers in PR. With Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion becoming a common practice in the workplace nowadays, especially in the PR profession, movements are no longer about just “liberal versus conservative,” but more about their united values, which is a good thing. Finally, they end the session by talking about how corporations should take a public stance on societal issues both related AND unrelated to their business. They stress that it is important for businesses to still take a stand even when the issue isn’t related to their business because their publics are always watching, and if the societal issue at hand involves a part of their demographics, even when it doesn’t relate to the company or organization, then those people could potentially turn away from their business if they see that they are not being supportive.
Overall, this session was incredibly informative and inspiring for me, and only gave me the extra encouragement I needed to continue to use my voice to stand up for what I believe in. I will strive to always be an activist and an ally both in my regular life and my professional life. In PR we are storytellers, and I am excited to continue to help those who are silenced or misrepresented tell their stories.
By: Hannah Mayer
During ICON 2021, I was particularly engaged in the session that covered how to plug the gaps commonly found in a company’s crisis communication plan. Dave Thompson led this discussion and covered the gaps that can easily be found in topics like overt ethics, team, partners, risk analysis, and initial action plan; All topics that should be covered in a company’s crisis plan.
Thompson touched on the fact that many companies have a crisis plan, but they’re at a loss when a crisis actually occurs. This is because they didn’t plan accordingly. Thompson shared how important it is to plan a crisis schedule. When a crisis is occurring, staff can’t just go home at 5 pm like every other work day. You must create a schedule that clearly outlines who will be there at what hours of the day. Crisis doesn’t care about convenience and you have to be prepared for the inconvenience.
Another gap discussed that stuck out to me was the threat analysis. Threat analysis is when companies identify all possible threats to their company and what their response will be for each particular threat. When listing possible threats, it’s important to evaluate the impact the threat has and the probability of it occurring. After doing this, crisis leaders are able to understand which threats deserve the most attention. Thompson also touched on how many staff members don’t want to identify controversial possible threats. They don’t want to talk about the possibility of mismanagement or sexual misconduct. By ignoring these possible threats, you are putting yourself in danger of not having the proper response if they do occur. As PR professionals, it’s our job to talk about the uncomfortable, even if it’s awkward.
Although Thompson discussed a multitude of crisis communication gaps, these were the most impactful to me. It was inspiring to hear how important our work will be when we graduate in the PR career. Thompson’s words were more than beneficial and I will carry them with me as I progress in my academic and professional career.
By: Izzy Stewart
The “How to Tell Stories that Change Narratives, Inspire Actions and Get Oprah’s Attention” Icon 2021 session led by the Founder of Blackbelt Media, Adena White, really inspired my post graduation motive. During college, I have learned how to use the power of storytelling to amplify the voices of the oppressed, which has become my passion. A passion so big that it is what I want my professional career to revolve around.
Adena White created Blackbelt Media to tell the stories of the changemakers working to make the South a better place for all. In the session, she explained the importance of stories that are lived and stories that are told. Stories lived being the communication with others that co-create our social worlds and stories told, when we talk our stories lived with others. The “three-step process for social impact storytelling” that she introduced was new to me and something that I will carry along with me throughout my life. The three steps are: discover, refine and amplify. I believe that my storytelling can become stronger by focusing on these three steps that revolve around how to tell diverse stories that are overlooked in the best way.
The way the session took each educational component and used it in a real life example with how Blackbelt Media runs really helped me realize that I can turn my passion into a profession. Storytelling is so powerful and important in the current world we live in and I am excited to continue my journey of helping the voiceless tell their stories.
For our first Alumni Spotlight of the year, I, Troy Heatwole, asked the 2019-2020 PRSSA Kent President Sophia Iannelli a few questions about her time here, as well as what she has been up to.
What is your current job, and what does it entail?
I am currently a marketing specialist for Mike Albert Fleet Solutions in Cincinnati, OH! Our company has five lines of business (fleet solutions, car rental, vehicle subscription, used car sales and truck & van equipment), and I lead our marketing efforts for rental, subscription and sales. My tasks vary day to day but include social media management, email marketing, display/video advertising, influencer management, website optimization, graphic design and internal communications.
Favorite PRSSA Memory?
My favorite PRSSA memory would have to be the travel. I was lucky enough to attend International Conferences in Austin, TX and San Diego, CA, and National Assembly in Portland, OR. Those trips not only grew me as a PR practitioner, but also allowed me to bond with my fellow PRSSA members and create what I know will be lifelong friendships!
What skills did you learn at Kent State that had the biggest impact on your career?
Relationship building. It is the foundation of public relations and vital in almost any career. Kent State’s PR program, especially the faculty, prioritized what it means to build strong, trustworthy and meaningful relationships with colleagues, peers, mentors, stakeholders, audiences… the list goes on.
Advice for PR students?
Don’t underestimate the value of courses that might seem daunting or “unnecessary.” There is always a reason you are in those classes and there are always important lessons to be learned. Try to find that value before the semester ends; once you figure out the “why” you’ll understand those courses are anything but unnecessary.
Advice for Seniors?
Don’t wish away your last year! The closer graduation gets the more excited you become for all the classes and work to be over. I know you’re all self-diagnosed with Senioritis, I was too, but I promise once it is over you will miss it. Take the time to appreciate your final months in college and the people around you.
Thank you so much to Sophia for doing this interview. Her time at PRSSA Kent made a big impact on the program, and we hope she does that same in her future endevours!
By: Sophia Iannelli
Since March 2020 we have been hearing about how we are living through unprecedented times full of uncertainty. Though, one thing we can be certain about is that this year has been one of chaos and crisis. In a breakout session called Navigating Through Crisis with Confidence at PRSA ICON 2020, James Wright, global CEO of Red Havas and global chairman of Havas PR Global Collective, walked us through the seven lessons of leadership that are vital in times like these.
Build trust with transparency.
“Trust is the glue of life.” This one is pretty simple. As PR practitioners one of the most crucial things we practice is transparency. Honestly is truly the best policy and recently we have seen that CEOs are actually becoming more comfortable accepting that they don’t have all of the answers.
Connect to purpose.
During crisis, people are always searching for some sort of meaning. Unilever CEO, Alan Jope, released a statement touching on this topic saying, “Purpose counts. This will be even more in a post COVID-19 world. Young consumers will really care about the behavior of companies. People entering the workforce believe this. We will not once waver in our purpose.”
Mind the six C’s.
It is important to remember all messaging should be calm, candid, confident, credible, compassionate and consistent. Wright highlighted a quote from the Harvard Business Review. “Like a virus, words are infectious. They can instill fear and panic, or facilitate understanding and calm. Above all, they can spark action. So choose them carefully.”
Execute with a bold vision.
As leaders, especially in crisis, it is important to lead from the front. One of the best examples of this described by Wright was when the Commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA), Adam Silver, was one of the first to make a strong statement about the coronavirus outbreak. He took swift action and suspended the basketball league on the same day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic.
Simplify the complex.
Throughout this pandemic we have been confronted with a lot of scientific and economic terminology which, to be honest, can be hard to understand. Good leaders know how to decipher information in a way that helps people simply understand the facts. Dr. Anthony Fauci is a well known good example of using ordinary language to break down a high-level, complex topic like coronavirus.
Be human first.
Wright opened this segment stating, “storytelling is one of the most powerful techniques we have.” During a crisis statistics often make headlines. It is vital to remember that stories have the power to cut through numbers and really connect with people. Personal anecdotes can reveal vulnerability and authenticity while also allowing brands to really walk the walk instead of just talking the talk.
Meet people where they are.
A beautiful example of this that Wright shared with us was when the Prime Minister of Norway held a children’s only press conference. I know this may sound kind of odd, but the intent is quite endearing. The Prime Minister wanted to create a space where children could ask questions about what was happening with the coronavirus. She also wanted to use this time to reassure children that it is normal to be scared during a crisis.
Wright ended the session by reminding us that times of turbulence and trouble, like these, help leaders grow and become more innovative and well-rounded. He tells us to think about our grandchildren and how they will look back at our successes and be proud of the role we played and how we navigated the hardest times of our lives with confidence.