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Rochelle L. Ford, APR, on Becoming a More Inclusive Communicator

Historian and educator Carter G. Woodson had the vision to create a moment once a year to celebrate and recognize the contributions of African Americans in the United States. Woodson’s vision started with Negro History week in 1926 and, 50 years later, became what we know as Black History Month.

Since 1976, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme. The 2021 theme, “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity,” explores the African diaspora and the spread of Black families across the United States.

Following last year’s revelation to the world of the continuum of systemic racism in America, companies, organizations and individuals across all color lines have embraced the notion of the lack of diversity, and are having more conversations on ways we can heal and move forward becoming a more inclusive nation. This is especially important as communicators.

To create an open dialogue, PRsay reached out to Rochelle L. Ford, Ph.D., APR, who was recently named to #ColorComm28, which recognizes 28 Black women who have made notable contributions to the communications profession.

Ford is a recognized scholar and leader with intensive knowledge of multicultural communications and diversity. She has been published in several academic works and received numerous accolades, including PRSA’s Educator of the Year and the D. Parke Gibson Pioneer Award.

She is currently the dean of the School of Communication and professor of strategic communication at Elon University. Here, she discusses her perspective on how diversity, equity and inclusion are shifting and how we, as practitioners, can join the movement.

With your experience in conducting research around diversity in advertising and public relations, what findings do you think we should be most aware of?

This idea of diversifying our industry and making sure everyone is invited to the party. It is something way past due. We have made strides, but not nearly enough. We can’t take our foot off the pedal. We have to recognize that we have inequities — the systems in the PR industry, how we approach hiring, letting people know what the career pathway is — and we have some built-in systems of inequity. We have to rethink and break down those systems to have a more equitable feel.

We talk about diversity but what is more important is inclusion. Inclusion where people feel like they belong, where they bring their whole self to work, is the goal. When we think about diversity, it is a journey; and inclusion is a journey where we are all learning. It is not a destination where we will ever arrive, but we will always get better.

What does Black History Month mean to you, especially considering the heightened importance of racial injustice following the events of last year?

Every day is an opportunity for Black history, not just a month. There are people, and have been people, who have made contributions to America and the world. We need to recognize that talent. We need to know about those pioneers such as Ofield Dukes, my mentor. We need to know about those Black institutions. If there were not Historical Black Colleges and Universities, there would not be a Black middle class.

Look at the prominent leaders of schools and Greek-letter organizations that have provided scholarship, community service and contributions as a support system to hundreds of college graduates. Black History Month allows us to zoom in to understand and learn about institutions, to learn about people and leaders, and it’s a time for us to reflect for us to know where we need to go.  The struggle is not over. It is better but not over.

In recent years, and particularly this past year, there has been more emphasis on increasing the diversity within communications and marketing. Where would you like to see the profession move?

I want to see the profession move in multiple areas. I want to see our profession reflect the public we serve. We should be a reflection of America… We need to see this in every sector and at every level. It is time that we say we cannot find talent but begin investing in the talent that we have.

As communicators, what can we learn from the experiences and impact of Black history makers?

There are so many lessons to be learned. I learned so much from Ofield Dukes… he was a personal influence model. He had a huge Rolodex of people who were influential and it was his job to be a connector. He taught me the art of networking. He helped teach me the art of putting other people’s needs before your own. He would ask, ‘Hi, Ms. Tillery. What can I do for you?’ He knew that public relations was a two-way street and meeting the needs of the person you were talking with is critical.

I think you can learn lessons from all people. Unique lessons you wouldn’t have learned from African Americans if you hadn’t read, studied and learned about them.

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you were just starting out, and what advice would you offer other up-and-coming people of color within this profession? 

I think that it would be a reassurance that there is no one way to success. Everybody will take different turns and struggles, and it is OK. There is not a magical formula. In talking to young people and others, be true to yourself. [Regardless of your ethnicity and race] know who you are, how your experiences have shaped who you are, and be willing and open to learning about someone. To find that common bond that we all have as humans and to grow from there.

Keep your eyes on the prize and learn from your failures. You learn more from your failures than you do from your success. Keep moving.

Article written for PRsay, an extension of Strategies & Tactics, PRSA’s award-winning publication, by LaShana Sorrell, director of brand engagement at Vulcan Park & Museum, home to the world’s largest cast-iron statue. She lives in Birmingham, Ala., with her teenage daughter. 

Cleveland Rocks Winners Announced


The Cleveland Rocks Awards, PRSA Greater Cleveland’s signature event, recognizes the area’s best in public relations and communications projects and programs. Congratulations to the winners of our 18th annual event!

More than 60 gold, silver and bronze awards were presented to corporations, nonprofits and agencies and their clients in recognition of excellent communication programs and tactics.

The Cleveland Museum of Art’s Integrated Communications Campaign, “Home Is Where the Art Is: The Cleveland Museum of Art’s Response to the COVID-19 Quarantine,” won the  Best in Show Award.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland received the Judges’ Choice Cleveland Rock Award for its Internal Communications category entry titled, “Most Memorable Day at the Fed Series.”

Fahlgren Mortine, an integrated communications company, was the winner of the Best Communications Tactic Award for its “Creating a Paid LinkedIn Campaign for the City of Independence,” which it entered in the Best Social Media Campaign category for the City of Independence.

Additional winners include:

B2B Campaign

Silver: “LJ Star 2020 Integrated Campaign” by Goldstein Group Communications (for LJ Star)

Gold: “Driven to Succeed: Avery Dennison Performance Tapes Seeks to Accelerate Recognition of its Automotive Portfolio” by Fahlgren Mortine (for Avery Dennison)

Brand and Reputation Management

Silver: “Color and Shape: ChromaScape’s Brand Refresh & Foundational Program” by Falls (for ChromaScape)

Best Use of Influence Promotion

Bronze: “Engaging Micro-Influencers in a Quest to Own Color” by Marcus Thomas (for Behr Paint)

Bronze: “Troy-Bilt Instagram Live | Ask Troy at Home Hotline Series” by Marcus Thomas LLC (for Troy-Bilt)

Silver: “Destination Cleveland’s #Cuyahoga50 Influencer Campaign Celebrates Revitalization 50 Years in the Making” by Fahlgren Mortine (for Destination Cleveland)

Gold: “A Backyard Influencer Oasis in Phoenix, Arizona” by Falls (for Leisure Time Products)

Best Paid Social Media Campaign >$500 B2C Category

Silver: “Dunkin’ Celebrates the Holiday Season with a Paid Facebook Campaign” by Fahlgren Mortine (for Dunkin’)

Best Social Media Campaign for a Non-profit and/or Governmental Agency

Gold: “Creating a Paid LinkedIn Campaign for the City of Independence” by Fahlgren Mortine (for City of Independence)

Integrated Communications Campaign

Bronze: “More Than a Pipe Dream: FlowGuard Gold Pipe & Fittings Addresses Common Plumbing Misconceptions Through Integrated Communications Campaign” by Fahlgren Mortine (for Lubrizol Advanced Materials)

Bronze: “Integrated Communications Campaign Helps Avery Dennison Performance Tapes Drive Success for its Automotive Portfolio” by Fahlgren Mortine (for Avery Dennison Performance Tapes)

Bronze: “Celebrating a #RiverReborn” by Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

Bronze: “Enlighted Makes Swift Marketing Strategy Transition in Light of COVID-19” by Sweeney (for Enlighted, Inc.)

Silver: “Troy-Bilt: Ask Troy” by Marcus Thomas (for Troy-Bilt / MTD Products)

Gold: “Home Is Where the Art Is: The Cleveland Museum of Art’s Response to the COVID-19 Quarantine” by The Cleveland Museum of Art

Community Relations of Cause Campaign

Bronze: “Dickens Reads” by Rhonda Crowder and Associates (this is a collaborative project with Tegna/WKYC, Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Reading RAMM Academy)

Silver: “Girl Scout Cookies for Truckers on the Ohio Turnpike” by Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission (for Junior Girl Scout Troop 71268)

Consumer New Product or Service Launch

Silver: “Under-the-Radar Brand Gains National Spotlight with New Bobby Berk Furniture Line” by Fahlgren Mortine (for Value City Furniture)

Gold: “U by Moen™ Smart Faucet Product Launch Campaign” by Falls (for Moen)

Publication: Books/Guides/Resource Directory

Bronze: “Marion Technical Handbooks” by Goldstein Group Communications (for Marion Process Solutions)

Bronze: “A Practical Guide to Starting a Vineyard in Idaho” by Fahlgren Mortine (for Idaho Wine Commission)

Silver: “Sherwin-Williams Protective & Marine Showcases Advancements in Coatings Technology with Market Pulse” Publication “” by Marcus Thomas (for Sherwin-Williams Protective & Marine)

Best Use of Instagram Accoun

Silver: “Troy-Bilt Instagram Live | Ask Troy at Home Hotline Series” by Marcus Thomas LLC (for Troy-Bilt)

Multimedia Content – Podcast/Audio Category

Silver: “Great Lakes Forward” by shark&minnow (for The Port of Cleveland)

Promotional Content – Media Kit

Silver: “’You’ll Love it Here!’ Acceptance Kit ” by Hathaway Brown School

Publication: Annual Report

Silver: “OhioGuidestone 2019 Annual Report” by Falls (for OhioGuidestone)

Internal Communications

Silver: “Martin Senour TSM Playbook” by Falls (for Martin Senour Automotive Finishes)

Gold: “Most Memorable Day at the Fed Series” by Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland (for SCS Administration at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland)

Gold: “More Than a Pipe Dream: FlowGuard Gold CPVC Turns to Digital Tools to Address Common Plumbing Misconceptions” by Fahlgren Mortine (for Lubrizol Advanced Materials)

Multimedia Content – Video

Bronze: “Video is a Slam Dunk” by Fahlgren Mortine (for CFFA)

Bronze: “Falls ‘Looking Back’ Video” by Falls

Bronze: “Insight LiDAR Videos Display an Otherwise Invisible Technology” by Goldstein Group Communications (for Insight LiDAR)

Bronze: “The School of One” by shark&minnow (for The Foundry)

Silver: “Class of 2020 Virtual Commencement Ceremony Video” by Hathaway Brown School (with Black Valve Media)

Media Relations – National

Bronze: “Capturing New Audiences with Research-Informed, Influencer-Informed Media Relations” by Marcus Thomas (for Troy-Bilt)

Bronze: “Atlantic Union Bank Goes National on SBA’s Payroll Protection Program” by Sweeney (for Atlantic Union Bank)

Bronze: “The State of America’s Sleep” by Marcus Thomas (for The Better Sleep Council)

Bronze: “Duck Brand Stuck at Prom Scholarship Contest” by Falls (for Duck Brand)

Silver: “Artemis I Test Media Relations Campaign” by NASA Glenn Research Center – Office of Communications

Gold: “The North American Menopause Society National Media Relations Program” by Falls (for The North American Menopause Society)

Publication: E-Newsletter

Bronze: “Have a lawn or garden question? Just Ask Troy.” by Marcus Thomas LLC (for Troy-Bilt)

Silver: “Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings ‘E-Finish’ electronic newsletter” by Falls (for Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings)


Bronze: “National Underground Railroad Historical Marker Dedication Ceremonies on the Ohio Turnpike” by Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission (for Ohio Turnpike, Friends of Freedom Society, Ohio History Connection)

Silver: “Class of 2020 Virtual Commencement Ceremony” by Hathaway Brown School

Gold: “Apollo 50th Anniversary Celebration” by NASA’s Glenn Research Center

Website/Mobile Application

Bronze: “A Brand New” by Hathaway Brown School

Silver: “Backstage Pass for Press Resources” by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Gold: “Creating The New Home of the Brave, Online: The National Veterans Memorial and Museum Website” by Fahlgren Mortine (for National Veterans Memorial and Museum)

Publication: Magazine

Silver: “HB Magazine – Building the Future” by Hathaway Brown School


Silver: “The Pursuit of Dryness: A Thermal Drying Webinar Cohosted by Kason and Marion” by Goldstein Group Communications (for Kason Corporation and Marion Process Solutions)

Media Relations – Local/Regional

Bronze: “Artemis I Test Media Relations Campaign” by NASA Glenn Research Center – Office of Communications

Bronze: “Celebrating a #RiverReborn with Local Media” by Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

Bronze: “Dunkin’ Celebrates National Nurses Day” by Fahlgren Mortine (for Dunkin’)

Bronze: “Development Finance: Funding the Way to a Greater Cleveland” by shark&minnow (for The Port of Cleveland)

Bronze: “Atlantic Union Bank Maximizes Local Research to Educate Market” by Sweeney (for Atlantic Union Bank)

Silver: “McCarthy Lebit Local Media Relations Program” by Falls (for McCarthy Lebit)

Written Content: Technical Article/Whitepaper

Silver (TIE):

  • “Sherwin-Williams Secures Cover Story in JPCL with Sweeping Review of Railcar Coatings Challenges and Solutions” by Marcus Thomas (for Sherwin-Williams Protective & Marine)
  • “Sly Wet Scrubber White Paper” by Goldstein Group Communications (for Sly)

Media Relations – Trade

Bronze: “Avery Dennison Label and Packaging Materials Finds Sustained Success through Media Relations” by Fahlgren Mortine (for Avery Dennison)

Bronze: “Kichler Lighting Launches Customizable RLM Fixtures & Online Configurator” by Falls (for Kichler Lighting)

Silver: “Artemis I Test Media Relations Campaign” by NASA Glenn Research Center

Gold: “Under-the-Radar Furniture Brand Gains National Spotlight with Bobby Berk” by Fahlgren Mortine (for Value City Furniture)

Pro Bono

Silver: “Adopted Pets Purr-ever Grateful in Cleveland APL Campaign” by Sweeney (for Cleveland Animal Protective League)

Written Content: Press Release

Bronze: “Erie Insurance Homeowners Survey News Release” by Falls (for Erie Insurance)

Silver: “Under-the-Radar Furniture Brand Gains National Spotlight with Bobby Berk” by Fahlgren Mortine (for Value City Furniture)

Written Content: Case Study

Silver: “Case Study on Carver-Hawkeye Arena Roofing System is a Slam Dunk” by Fahlgren Mortine (for CFFA)

Written Content: Speech

Silver: “Team NEO: Connecting with Our Region’s Future Workforce” by Falls (for Team NEO)

Duplicate awards can be ordered here

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

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


The Greater Cleveland PRSA Board of Directors


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



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.



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