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How Communicators Can Help Brands Create Real Change

Large team meeting

This piece originally appeared on PRsay, the PRSA blog, and is reposted here with permission. 

On July 15, the Cision team hosted a webinar titled “Demanding Change: How to Best Communicate Brand Action,” which focused on best practices for internal and external communications in challenging times.

The two featured panelists were Laura Peterson, public elations (not a typo!) manager of North America at Ben & Jerry’s, and Pablo Toledo, executive vice president at Camino PR, who are both dedicated to brands doing good in the world.

Here are some key takeaways that we believe will be helpful for PR professionals, regardless of the organization or industry they work in.

1. Organizations must be transparent with their clients, partners and customers.

When asked what the most important thing PR and communications pros can do right now to support diversity and inclusion, both panelists stated the importance of transparency.

“This is really the answer to most PR questions: Be honest and be transparent,” said Peterson. “It’s very important for companies to communicate their efforts along this journey. Racial justice is still in front of us and there’s a long way for a lot of us to go.”

Toledo followed up by noting that we must ensure that crisis communications efforts go beyond having good talking points. It’s about participating in honest conversations and providing tangible actions with a clear timeline so brands are held accountable and real change will be implemented in a given time frame.

2. It is key to understand the public conversation.

Releasing a statement for the sake of releasing a statement will not help your organization and, in many cases, it will actually hurt your brand. When it comes to issues of racial injustice especially, PR professionals must think more along the lines of how organizations can add real value to the conversation:

  • Understand what conversations and actions are taking place. What pain points does your organization and industry face?
  • Check in with your competition. How are your competitors framing the issue and where can you complement it to help drive the conversation further? Are there important points they may have failed to address that your brand can? At the end of the day, it’s about making real change, and you should look to competitors as partners in these conversations.
  • Monitor social media. What are people expressing? Address any issues that may arise from your followers. Now is the time to listen and learn.

“Understanding what is happening in your sector, in your narrative and how your competitors approach it can only help you as you craft your communications strategy,” Toledo said.

3. PR professionals should earn media opportunities that keep their brand accountable.

Toledo says that, as PR leaders, we need to provide powerful messages around important issues and ensure that employees have the tools they need to speak powerfully and accurately.

Peterson said that getting leaders at your organization in front of the media to address the issues your brand is taking on is a clear way that PR pros can ensure their organizations are held accountable.

“One of my most influential levers to pull is messaging and interviews,” she said. “The more I can get my CEO in front of journalists saying things about our commitment to racial justice and equality, the more he’s going to be expected to follow through on those issues.”

While a lot can be learned from Ben & Jerry’s and Camino PR’s communications strategies, the discussion made it evident that PR professionals have the power — now more than ever — to guide their organizations in a direction that creates real change.