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Diversity and Inclusion Statement

Dear Friends of Greater Cleveland PRSA:

By now, we hope you’ve had an opportunity – or take the time – to read the message from T. Garland Standsell, 2020 PRSA Chair, and his thoughts on the heart-breaking current events. We also want to take a moment to touch base directly with the members of the Greater Cleveland PRSA community.

We should take time to remember George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice and other African Americans who have been victims of injustice, prejudice and violence. They each will long be in our hearts and never forgotten. We pray for healing for their families and friends as well as our nation and for guidance on what actions we must take to begin making a positive difference. As such, we condemn all structural racism against African Americans and the harmful impact it has on all Americans.

As Garland stated, it’s clear that the current climate in our country is not healthy, and we communicators are in a critical role to lead the conversation. Further, as communicators, we must inspire others to practice inclusion and equality for all citizens. 

As we navigate through this, your Greater Cleveland PRSA Board of Directors wants you to know that we have resources available to empower change. It is our commitment to shifting the narrative of messaging in the industry by ensuring all voices are heard and respected.

Alongside PRSA National, we have already made it a priority for our chapter to grow and strengthen our work toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization and profession. We represent all professionals in the field, and here are just a few initiatives we’ve committed to:

  • Incorporating inclusion and diversity into every topic at our monthly programs;
  • Hosting programs focused on bringing more multicultural understanding to public relations and communications professions;
  • Seeking partnerships with diversity group representatives;
  • Sharing best practices, thought leadership and other resources for racial, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation and gender differences; and
  • Maintaining relationships with Northeast Ohio universities to cultivate talent, particularly diversity of talent, for future generations of communications professionals

Also, just this week PRSA released its 2020-2022 Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan, which our chapter will work to implement hand-in-hand.

We’re at a pivotal moment in our history, and we have the opportunity to shape our future. It’s an opportunity for us all to make the difference that we want to see. While we all have different thoughts and opinions, it’s our diversity that makes us stronger.

We welcome any questions, conversations or ideas on which you want to engage with us. Reach us at prsacleveland@gmail.com.

It is our hope that we will find a way to spark love (not hate), inspire change and step forward into a brighter future.

Sincerely,

The Greater Cleveland PRSA Board of Directors

COVID-19 DRIVES COMMUNICATION CHANGE. BE READY.

By Jan Gusich // akhia communications

Employees will fill information gaps with their own story–and it won’t be the right one. 

COVID-19 is bringing many challenges to businesses. One has been the need to communicate efficiently and effectively with multiple audiencesfrom employees and customers to suppliers and shareholders on topics that include everything from supply chains and operations to work-from-home policies, safety measures and, in many cases, about the pandemic reaching our own doors.

One thing is certain: For comms professionals, changes will continue to evolve. Each phase of America’s reopen plan will bring new challenges. Planning will be critical. Three areas worth considering now are internal communications, crisis communications and communications around mergers and acquisitions.

Internal Communications: Building Trust Amidst Uncertainty

Though we’ve been talking with employees almost daily, we’re moving into a new phase of employee communicationone that will require extra skill and sensitivity as we begin returning to work. Five minutes on Facebook gives a clear picture of how deeply divided people are about reopening. Some have been protesting for it; others are deeply anxious. Communicators will need to balance instructional communication with sensitivity to employees’ concerns; they will have to straddle fences and build bridges. It will be more important than ever to bring employees together toward common causes, potentially around an organizational rally cry. In all communication, put your organization’s values first.

Work on building a transparent workplace that fosters trust. Even when information is difficult, being honest will have long-term payoffs. Next, focus on employee relationships; they will need help talking about their differences and adapting to a new normal. Communications can play a critical role. Finally, keep your eye on culturefind new ways to cultivate a culture that binds people, bridges differences, and promotes healthy and frequent dialogue and camaraderie.

Crisis Communications: Being Prepared for Anything

Perhaps the most obvious area for attention from COVID-19 is crisis communications. Most organizations have crisis plans. Nearly all need to be dusted off and updated around pandemic communication. Does your organization have a team identified to work through the communications issues that will arise? A policy for employees who contract the virus? A set of procedures to manage such a situation? A trained spokesperson in case the media learns of health issues in your facility? A plan for handling criticism and/or misinformation on social media? A methodology in place to text employees around the world or to track illness at your multiple locations? The list of new things to be added to your crisis plan is extensive and should be given a fitness test by organizational leaders and outside professionals.

Mergers & Acquisitions: Setting up for Success

There’s no question that COVID-19 has impacted corporate bottom lines. As a result, we’re likely to see an uptick in mergers and acquisitions as companies try to save themselves, gobble up competitors or vertically integrate. If any of these could be a potential outcome for your organization, begin planning now. Mergers and acquisitions create angst for employees, customers and suppliers alike. For employees, will duplication of services lead to positions being eliminated? Will their pensions and benefits remain the same? Will future opportunities be erased? Employees will fill information gaps with their own storyand it won’t be the right one. So will customers. What does an acquisition mean for them? Will the customer service rep they’ve counted on for years be replaced? Will pricing change? Will contracts be honored? It’s never too early to create a communications matrix identifying all stakeholders, thinking through their specific concerns and developing messages for each. A merger or acquisition that looks like a financial success but is a communications disaster, can easily lead to failure.

What’s Next: Figuring it out Together

There’s no question that communicators will continue to be challenged over the next months and even years as the pandemic plays out. Planning that includes stakeholder identification, scenario development and messaging will always make us better.

That being said, I’m happy to help talk about these topics and more with you. Let’s dive in and see what specifically we can do to help your organization.

Jan Gusich is the founder of akhia communications and specializes in crisis preparedness and reputation management. She has decades of experience helping companies prepare, respond and prevent crisis situations from escalating. She can be contacted at jan@akhia.com.

UPCOMING EVENTS: JOIN US FOR KENT STATE 50TH EVENT

 

A note from PRSA Greater Cleveland chapter President Chris Lynch: 

Greetings All – We have a lot going on and wanted to provide some quick links to ensure you, valued members of the Greater Cleveland PRSA chapter, have easy access to information and immediate availability to sign up and attend one of our great upcoming programs, and/or submit yourselves or others you’d like to nominate for our nonprofit prospective members and student scholarships.

Back in October of last year, I contacted Kent State’s PR Department and asked if someone would like to talk to the chapter about planning the 50th commemoration of the May 4, 1970 campus shootings. I figured it would be a pretty big media day, probably a lot of live feed news trucks on campus – how was their team going to handle all that? Might be a pretty good story for you, our members, to hear! 

Rod Flauhaus, who is the project manager for the entire weekend program(s) of remembrance, put together an exhaustive and detailed plan for the event. And now that it’s been announced that Jane Fonda will be giving the keynote address – Rod told me that back in October (and he said don’t tell anyone – and I didn’t!), I figured we might have some ‘you-know-what’ it the fan, like it did last week with the Ohio Secretary of State openly opposing the choice. So, now add, ‘What’s it like planning to host an event with a controversial’ keynote speaker to the presentation’s Q&A session!!

What’s the program entail? Well, to fully grasp what it was like to have our own government troops come onto an American campus, and ultimately kill four young people, and what it was like for the PR professionals to manage the events that took place – you truly have to understand the landscape of the country at that time. So Rod, joined by Dr. Chic Canfora, will be telling their story – the planning, protesting, messaging, media, candlelight vigils, even coordinating the concerts (Joe Walsh, who was on campus that day, and David Crosby – yes they will be playing “Ohio”), and Jane Fonda, too; should make for a fascinating communications discussion.

EVENT PREVIEW: PRSA CLE KENT STATE 50-YEAR ANNIVERSARY DISCUSSION

 

To register for the March 25 event, please click here.

Americans deeply divided about the country’s direction.

The nation weary from an unending war.

A surge of activism across the country.

This describes present-day America, yet it also reflects the country’s mood in 1970. Americans were polarized by their views of the Vietnam war and violently disagreed about what it meant to be an American. The turmoil launched a new era of student activism.

These parallels provide a powerful backdrop for the 50th anniversary of the shootings at Kent State. How will the university commemorate this solemn milestone in today’s environment of political discord and intense media interest?

You are invited to a unique opportunity to hear first-hand from Rod Flauhaus (Project Manager for the 50th Commemoration) and Roseann Canfora (May 4 Witness & Survivor). They will discuss the communications, PR and planning strategies involved in preparing for the remembrance of this national tragedy.

Their presentation will include how to manage educational initiatives along with messaging for internal & external audiences, political agendas, divisive social media, national and international media, and controversial viewpoints as Kent State University prepares for the historic event — all taking place during a contentious political season.

-Martha Belden

CAN’T WE JUST PLAY BALL? ASTROS THROW WILD PITCH IN PR STRATEGY

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or in this case, hiding out in the dugout), the most recent PR snafu has involved the major league baseball club Houston Astros and their getting caught for electronic-stealing of “signs” (they were able to decipher and transmit signals the opposing teams’ catchers relayed to the opposing pitcher. Ergo, their batters knew what pitch was coming). Huge, and illegal, advantage in the playing of America’s Pastime.

As such, the Astros baseball club was fined $5 million by baseball’s commissioner, docked draft choices for the next two years and the team’s manager and general manager were suspended for the season (they were subsequently discharged by the club as well.)

There were no penalties for the team’s players, and the Astros did not have to vacate their 2017 World Series championship and all the spoils that go along with it. Turns out, the team had been stealing signs for almost two (or three?) years until it had the conscience to suddenly ‘stop’ late 2018 (just before they played and swept our Cleveland Indians in the first divisional playoff round. Hmm.).

Anyway, why the diatribe in our February PR e-newsletter? Well, it’s one thing to be caught. Another to apologize (and really mean it BTW!), and another whereas an organization you screw up so proficiently the entire US sporting press screams for you to hire a good PR practitioner:

The Houston Astros had PR companies across the globe pointing and laughing at them.

Andy Nesbitt, columnist in USA TODAY Sports, is attributed the above pull-quote taken from his recent article “I was wrong for calling the Houston Astros cowards, turns out they’re just idiots”

The best writeup of the bunch was last week’s by Sports Illustrated’s Emma Baccellieri, Breaking Down the Astros’ Latest Public Relations Meltdown Subtitle: A public relations expert analyzes the Astros’ poor effort to apologize for their sign-stealing scheme.

Well, that expert is Tony D‘Angelo, our past PRSA National Chair, and director of Syracuse University’s Master’s program in communications management (note of transparency here, I served with Tony on the National Board back in 2007–09).

His advice is so right on folks when it comes to handling a crisis – and eventually, we’re all going to find ourselves, our client or our organization in some type of predicament – that I urge you all to click and read through.

And then consider if the Astros were your client, or Jim Crane was your boss: What would you do? And taking an intentional pass is not an option.

And BTW, this is at least the third or fourth huge PR screw up for these guys – another good read, from October 2019, is Al Yellon’s feature The Houston Astros demonstrate how not to handle a PR Crisis!  Subtitle: The A.L. Champions are really bad at media and public relations.

Well duh.

BENEFITS AND CHALLENGES OF UNPAID INFLUENCER PARTNERSHIPS

 

Posted with permission from Andrew Poulsen from Sonnhalter. Check out his original post here. This campaign won a Cleveland Rocks Award at PRSA Cleveland’s annual awards event in December. 

Lately, we have seen tremendous growth in the number of influencers in the trades. In fact, it has grown so much so that Sonnhalter clients are forming partnerships and relationships with these influencers much in the same way we would with traditional media. What defines an influencer can sometimes be broad, so there are categories like “micro-influencer” and “nano-influencer” that distinguish these social media content creators by the size of their audience. Many influencers make a full-time living by working with brands to make sponsored content that involves financial compensation. However, there are plenty of influencers who are slightly less established and are looking to start a relationship with a brand and are willing to make content in exchange for free product and cross promotional opportunities. Since the company is only sending product samples, unpaid influencer partnerships are great for increasing brand awareness and social media numbers when you have a limited marketing budget. Below is a real-world example that outlines some of the pros and cons of unpaid influencer partnerships.

The Origin of the Campaign

One of our clients had a strong reputation overseas as one of the leading manufacturers of spirit levels, laser levels, and layout tools, marking and measuring tools, but had yet to make a major splash in the U.S. We had experienced a decent amount of success in getting this client featured in many key trade publications, but with the rise of influencer marketing in the woodworking, construction and DIY markets, we thought we could gain more traction with our time by exploring this new, grassroots approach. We wanted a better method for conveying the client’s product ingenuity in a way that was more interactive and visual. We figured that the quickest way to grab the attention and build our client’s credibility amongst the professional tradesmen on Instagram was to target key influencers within these communities that were connected to their followers and whose word would spread fast.

However, since the client was so new to the idea of influencer relations, we had no budget for sponsored posts or any paid content. Therefore, influencers could only be compensated with free products and by having their profiles and content exposed to our client’s audience. Knowing that some of the macro-influencers in these markets would likely turn down our offer of free tools without also receiving financial compensation, we worked strategically in finding influencers in the U.S. and Canada in the nano- and micro-influencer categories who would be willing to feature and review our client’s products for free tools and promo items. After receiving confirmation from an influencer, we drafted personalized letters to accompany each package of product samples. These letters not only expressed our appreciation for their interest, but also outlined all the key features and benefits of each product to help them better understand what makes them unique.

Since we were not paying for their posts, we would express to these influencers that we were pretty flexible in terms of the content we expected in return. This content would range from Instagram stories of influencers unboxing the tools, static gallery posts with a review of the tools or application shots of them using the tools in their garages and workshops.

Potential Risks of Unpaid Partnerships

While letting the influencers express their thoughts about the products in a flexible, authentic manner likely made them feel comfortable working with us, this method did come with its share of risks. The most obvious risk was not making the influencers sign a contract or agree to any particular terms as far as what kind of content we expected them to make or what kind of timeline we expected them to adhere to. In some cases, there were influencers who received products and never got around to posting anything about the tools they received, even with multiple follow ups. Fortunately, to date, we have seen about a 75 percent response rate in the influencer sample packages we send out, many with which we have maintained a long-term relationship. Another potential risk was the cost of the products and shipping that the client would have to sacrifice if we never received coverage. However, with most of our client’s most popular products ranging between $15-$100 retail, those costs paled in comparison to the average sponsorship fees from the industry’s popular influencers. For the influencers with whom we had established trust, we would send the company’s higher-end products as a thank you for their work.

The Overall Results

Over the past two years, we have sent more than 150 of these influencer sample packages. Our client has seen a tremendous uptick in sales as a result of partnering with dozens of respected influencers with Instagram audiences ranging from 1,000-200,000 followers, all of which made content for free product. In the timespan from when we started the program in the fall of 2018, our client’s Instagram audience has grown seven times the amount of followers. By having real people share photos and videos using the products on their building projects, the company was able to leverage the innovation and creativity of its tools in ways it couldn’t have achieved using more static and traditional marketing initiatives.

Final Thoughts

The success of this influencer program has both opened the door to working with some of the industry’s leading influencers, as well as convinced our client that this is a worthwhile endeavor worth investing more resources to. Moving into 2020, our agency and the client plan to make influencer relations an even higher priority and are exploring the use of paid influencer relations on a trial basis.