USC Annenberg 2023 Relevance Report

Page 1



© 2022 University of Southern California

A Time For A Cause

Welcome to the seventh annual edition of the Relevance Report, curated by the USC Center for Public Relations. As always, the goal of this project is to provide a look into the future of communications through the eyes of our faculty, students and advisory board members who share their insights on what will be relevant for our industry in the coming year.

Last year, we profiled the individuals they thought would have a major impact in 2022, such as Serena Williams, Selena Gomez, and Elon Musk. And they certainly did! This year, we are shifting our focus to the causes that will be most relevant in 2023. And there are many to choose from.

Forty-one percent of the 900 Americans who participated in our annual Relevance Report survey said they’re planning to increase their active support of the causes they believe in. At the moment, mental health and abortion are most top of mind,


Fred Cook is Director of the USC Center for Public Relations, where he advances the study and practice of PR through research, education and innovation. He is also the chairman emeritus of Golin, one of the world’s largest and most progressive firms, with more than 65 owned and affiliate offices around the globe. For the last 35 years, he has been providing marketing advice and crisis counsel to blue-chip companies like Nintendo, McDonald’s and Toyota. He is a member of the Arthur Page Society, a PRSA Fellow and Gold Anvil recipient, and a PRWeek Hall of Fame honoree. Fred is the author of Improvise: Unconventional Career Advice from an Unlikely CEO, and host of the USC Annenberg podcast #PRFuture, which explores industry and societal trends.

followed by climate change and education. Health care and gun legislation are also high on the list.

Almost 60% of consumers surveyed believe corporations should help advocate for the causes they care about and donate money to the non-profits who work on them. And they’re willing to support the companies that do by paying more for their products. In fact, more than half of the under-30 respondents said they would take a pay cut to work for an organization that actively supports the causes that are important to them.

Based on our annual Global Communication Survey, we also know the vast majority of corporate communicators agree that business should participate in the public dialogue around these often-controversial issues. As a result, they report that they’re spending almost 50% more time dealing with societal issues than before, and they predict their cause-related activities will continue to increase.

We believe the trend towards corporate activism is good for the PR profession, because it makes our jobs more interesting, challenging, and important. It also means we are responsible for thoroughly understanding the onslaught of complex issues facing our nation, our companies, and our clients. We hope this edition of the Relevance Report will aid in that understanding.


Our Industry

The PR Industry Needs To Finally Get Serious About Diversity 6 Agency Allyship: A New Model For Change

8 Focus On A Cause Relevant To Your Business 10 The Hard Skills Gap We Continue To Ignore

12 Scaling Purpose Work Through Influencers And Discord 14

Mental Health

Shaping The Conversation About Mental Health 18 Our Mental Health Is Connected To The Well-Being of Others

20 How Employers Can Actively Support Mental Health Awareness

24 Keeping Mental Health Concerns Relevant In College Life 26 Mental Health Solutions Grow As Work-Life Boundaries Blur



Returning To Work: The War That Is Coming ............................................................................. 32 Corporate Citizenship As A Retention Tool 35 Flexible Working Options Are A Key To Alleviating Gender Inequality ............................................ 38 Creativity In A Time Of Crisis 40 Break Silos And Prevent Cyberattacks By… Talking? ................................................................... 42 Is Antiwork A Movement Or A Moment?

44 Standing By Or Standing Up?

46 Disability And Disadvantage Start With The Same First Syllable

2023 Relevance Survey


Polarization Is Everyone’s Problem .......................................................................................... 52 2023 Relevance Survey Results 54 Community

The Suppression Of Voting Rights: An Assault On Our Democracy 64 Great Waters In Crisis ........................................................................................................... 66

The Rise of Historically Black Colleges & Universities 68 The Trevor Project: Combatting Anti-LGBTQ Rhetoric ................................................................. 70 Everyone Needs Science, And Science Needs Everyone 72 News Literacy Project: Building A Future Based On Facts

One Planet


A Sustainable Future Must Not Leave People Behind .................................................................. 78 We All Have A Seat At The Table Of Food Insecurity

80 Turning Ambition Into Action

82 Hollywood Is Finally Representing South Asians As We Truly Are ................................................. 84

Communication Brands & Society: An Ever-Growing Set of Issues

88 Business Must Play A Greater Role In Reducing Polarization 90 How To Thrive In The Generational Power Shift.......................................................................... 92

Looking For The Positive In Social Media 94 Addressing Truth Erosion


96 Protecting New Voices Protects All Of Ours 98 One Nation, Divisible By Digital Access


Our Industry

The PR Industry Needs To Finally Get Serious About Diversity

How many decades has it been since the public relations industry realized it lacked racial diversity? One would think that a lot of progress has been made since the ‘90s, when Black and Latino practitioners were virtually absent from in-house and agency PR teams.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. According to the Arthur Page Society, “compared to U.S. demographics, people of color are under-represented in the public relations profession. Whites make up 76.5 percent of the population, 2019 Census data show, but 83.6 percent of public relations specialists, reported the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in the same year.” The report continues: “Regarding people of color, the latest Census figures show Latinos at 15.9 percent, Blacks at 13.4 percent, and Asians at 5.9 percent. However, for public relations specialists, the numbers show 13.6 percent Hispanics or Latinos, 9.9 percent Blacks, and 5.8 percent Asians.” In addition, the major public relations hubs like New York, Chicago, San Francisco Bay Area

and Los Angeles, are significantly more diverse than the United States on average.

The lack of representation is even more pronounced among PR agencies, compared to their in-house peer organizations. This was evident when in 2022, the inaugural Google/PRWeek Changemakers program was launched to recognize PR agencies that are moving the needle on diversity, equity and inclusion. In September, PRWeek announced that its Changemakers Advisory Board1 unanimously decided that “none met the high and holistic standards our arbiters sought to name an agency a true Changemaker.”

According to PRWeek, 44 percent of the participating agencies “saw their hiring of diverse talent dip between 2021 and 2022,” which is surprising given the elevated public discussion about racism and racial injustice in the United States since 2020.

Anecdotally, agency executives continue to refer to the difficulties their organizations face identifying suitable diverse candidates.


Burghardt Tenderich, Ph.D., is Associate Director of the USC Annenberg Center for PR. He is a professor of professional practice at USC Annenberg, and has over 20 years of experience in marketing and communication in the information technology and Internet industries.

If most people in your professional network are not diverse, odds are you will continue to hire people who look like you.

But shrugging it off with the one-liner “there is no pipeline of diverse talent” simply means these executives aren’t trying hard enough. They would best advised to broaden their talent search beyond the usual sources. If most people in your professional network are not diverse, odds are you will continue to hire people who look like you.

Based on the limited data available to us at USC Annenberg’s Public Relations and Advertising program, minority candidates have significant interest in this industry. The domestic students in our most recently admitted Master of Arts class self-identify as follows: 32 percent Black, 25 percent Latino, 21 percent White, 17 percent Asian and 5 percent Multi-Ethnic.

However, hiring diverse talent is only one challenge; another one is retaining and growing these individuals. Students and alumni of color frequently tell us that they feel unwelcome in their place of work. They talk about daily struggles with micro aggressions against them. Take the case of one of our top performing Master students

of all time, a Latina who had successfully competed for one of the most prestigious named internships at a large PR agency, only to find that she was mostly excluded from key meetings, never introduced to the client, and largely assigned administrative work. She reported that she worked in an all-white environment where most colleagues thought she was the cleaning lady. Another example is a Black alumna who upon her promotion at her agency was transferred into a new client team, where she was immediately put on a sixty-day performance plan without prior warning. These are just two egregious examples of many.

For PR agencies, diversity is not a niceto-have, but a business imperative, in a day and age in which corporate America increasingly demands representation in their agency teams. Management needs to work harder to establish a welcoming and inclusive work environment, while structuring their human resources teams to meet the challenge of hiring, retaining and growing diverse talent.

1For disclosure, the author of this Relevance Report is a member of the Changemakers advisory board.


Agency Allyship: A New Model For Change

I have spent more than 30 years in agency life. I am a highly competitive person — and have been from the start of my career. And while my competitive spirit is more than alive and well today, the most gratifying experience of my career has been pioneering the concept of Agency Allyship with my partner and now friend Teneshia Jackson Warner, founder and CEO of the award-winning, multicultural communications agency EGAMI Group.

After the murder of George Floyd, companies and agencies committed to more intentionally hire, advance, and champion people of color (as did Zeno). And with that came much discussion of the numbers — how many people of color are in the organization, how many are on the leadership team, and so on. While the numbers are an important measure, I felt there was more to be done — different types of action that would disrupt how we approach diversity, equity, and inclusion in business generally — and in commu nications and marketing more specifically — to drive more immediate impact.

So, I called Teneshia — someone whom I admired from afar for years. I suggested that we could do something meaningful and somewhat unexpected together. Teneshia shared the unprecedented demand she was encountering in the second half of 2020, companies realizing their responsibility to do more to advance DEI inside and outside their organizations. To scale EGAMI, Teneshia was seeking an infusion of capital into the firm she built from scratch over the last 15 years, now representing some of the world’s largest companies. As we explored further with our teams, we were exposed to the systemic challenges and inequities that minority business owners face; access to capital and resources, a daunting, cumbersome process that restricts growth and limits long-term viability. Case in point: In the first half of 2021, black startups received just 1.2 percent of the $147 billion in venture capital invested.

Over the next several months, Zeno and EGAMI worked on the formation of an exclusive partnership and a strategic


Barby Siegel is the chief executive officer of Zeno Group, the award-winning, global integrated communications agency. Barby is a PRWeek Hall of Fame and Hall of Femme dual honoree. She is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

investment that would provide new capital, resources, and mentorship to scale EGAMI while remaining an independent, minority business enterprise. We called this a “new model of collaboration for change.” This past summer at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, with almost one year of learnings under our belt, we re-framed our model as Agency Allyship to inspire others also eager to advance new ideas and creative solutions.

We define Agency Allyship as: “two (or more) agencies aligned in their unwavering and selfless advocacy, focused on fueling one another to push through and eliminate systemic barriers.”

Put another way, Agency Allyship is built on a shared belief in what each other can accomplish and a commitment to help each other get there in meaningful ways — measured by a different type of currency; moving from the transactional to the transformational.

Teneshia describes Agency Allyship as “one key to unlocking the power of inclusion and diversity in our industry, while ensuring BIPOC owned agencies and their talent not only have a place, but a path to thrive.” And she adds, “Dreamers don’t let other dreamers dream alone.”

While operating as separate agencies, Agency Allyship has manifested in myriad ways. For EGAMI, the investment has

enabled a focus on building and developing talent as well as deploying new technology to improve agency operations, while for Zeno the partnership has enriched the firm’s understanding of the increasingly complex multicultural communications landscape and what it takes to run and grow a black-owned business.

It is our hope that more agencies, big and small, will find their Agency Allyship. Here are four guiding principles:

1. Seek to understand the barriers facing BIPOC-owned firms and how your agency can help overcome them.

2. Craft a mutually beneficial approach that strengthens each agency, built on trust and a shared commitment to cultural competency and DEI with measurable goals.

3. Make a long-term commitment with the understanding of what is important to each agency partner, and in so doing ensure that each agency continues to flourish in its unique way.

4. Go beyond the numbers to value mentorship, advocacy, and access to resources.

And if your Agency Allyship turns into a trusted friendship as has ours, then the possibilities are indeed endless for those who rely upon us to lead a new way forward. ▪


Focus On A Cause Relevant To Your Business

Over the past several decades, corporate America settled on a common under standing that businesses must deliver more than shareholder value. Survey after survey has shown that executives, employees and customers are all aligned on the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR). In recent years, especially over the last two, businesses and particularly CEOs increasingly have felt pressured to take public positions on social issues.

To some extent, this is morally and ethically right. With power and profits comes responsibility. Somewhere along the way, however, in an attempt to appease stakeholders, companies stopped communicating about the most relevant values and started engaging in performative PR. CEOs and the brands they lead now go far beyond justifiably weighing in on the social causes that impact their respective businesses, commenting on every single issue or crisis du jour. But to what end? In my career, I have led corporate communications and CSR teams for many consumer-facing brands; advising

leaders how and when to use their voice and the company brand to weigh in on myriad issues. A huge part of that process is being aware of and asking questions about the broader context — across the business, around the country, within specific commu nities and for individual consumers. There’s a laundry list of questions that might apply, including:

• How does this issue impact our business, employees and customers?

• Will taking a position/providing support (or staying silent) help/hurt the business?

• How do we effectively evaluate when and how to take action?

• If we decide to weigh in or provide support, how do we strike the right tone in our messaging?

• How do we ensure meaningful impact towards social change?

Most importantly, just because a cause is culturally or politically relevant at the moment, does not mean that the business is required to take a position, especially as the U.S. remains at a polarized peak. As Blackrock CEO Larry Fink said in his 2022


David Tovar is the senior vice president of communications and government relations at Grubhub. He is a member of the Arthur Page Society and the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

letter to CEOs, “They [stakeholders] don’t want to hear us, as CEOs, opine on every issue of the day, but they do need to know where we stand on the societal issues intrinsic to our companies’ long-term success.”

A communicators’ priority is to be aware of how social causes may impact stakeholders. Be flexible and evolve your PR and CSR approaches as the priorities of the general public, specific constituencies and individual consumers change.

One of the functions I oversee at Grubhub is philanthropy and community impact. Grubhub launched its Donate the Change program in 2018, allowing diners to round up their bill and give all proceeds to No Kid Hungry — because food insecurity is highly relevant for our business. Two years later, COVID-19 lockdowns took an enormous toll on restaurants — one of Grubhub’s most important stakeholder groups — causing the philanthropic focus to evolve. The Grubhub Community Fund has enabled $30 million in grants to independent restaurants.

With a strong philanthropic foundation in place, we have an opportunity to evolve, yet again, to be more strategic and responsive to stakeholder needs. So, we’re currently asking ourselves which social causes are most relevant to Grubhub and we are uniquely positioned to address.

For one, how can Grubhub’s technology and network of restaurants and nonprofits

help close the increasingly widening hunger gap? COVID-19 shined a light on food insecurity in America, and caused the number of food insecure individuals to spike. According to Feeding America, the number of people who faced food insecurity rose from 35 million in 2019 to more than 50 million by the end of 2020. These are people from all walks of life, in every community across the country.

Even as we exit the pandemic, the problem is only getting worse; exacerbated by the intermingled issues of war, inflation, extreme weather events and supply chain disruptions. The head of the United Nations warned: “This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage. No country will be immune.”

And, as the gig economy continues to boom, how can philanthropy support our delivery partners? So we’re surveying our drivers and meeting with driver advocacy groups to gain insights that will inform partnerships in the coming months.

This never-ending process of responding to the changing world is what makes our profession so dynamic and exciting. It’s what keeps me interested in my job day in and day out. And, the ability not just to adapt but to thrive on change while maintaining the ability to focus on the client’s or business’ core mission and values, is what makes a good communicator a great one. ▪


The Hard Skills Gap We Continue To Ignore

The number of times I’ve heard a variation on this theme could fill volumes of now outdated encyclopedias. We all agree that we live in a technological world. We even value things like “digital native-ness” and the skills that go along with it.

But there’s a growing divide that’s putting the long-term future of our profession at risk. Certainly, there are exceptions, but generally as a profession, we don’t understand or harness data as it could (and should) be. We don’t know how to thoughtfully buy and manage data. We don’t know how to integrate it and derive insights from multiple data sources. And when we have those insights, rarely do we convert them into data-validated, actionable intelligence. And, frankly, our efforts to learn (where they exist) are being far outpaced by technological innovation in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

We have a rich history in our profession of drawing down on the alchemy of

experience-driving, gut instinct-driving decision-making. It has always had a place in what we do, and always will. It must; there’s no machine or data set that will ever (at least not for a very long time) be capable of the wisdom required to translate experience into meaning.

The question we have to ask ourselves is, “Is it enough”? The answer I keep coming back to is, “Not anymore.”

As we work to shape the next 50 years of the communication profession and articulate the role we should play inside corporate strategic decision-making, we are destined to lose ground if we continue on the path we’re on. Our C-suite counterparts are not making sweeping, multimillion-dollar recommendations on gut instinct alone. Yet far too often, as communicators, we are. Awkwardly, we’re frequently asked to “get some data to support our conclusion.” Our friends in the finance department aren’t asked to do that. Nor are those in technology, or marketing, or HR.

“PR people don’t do numbers.”

Grant Toups is the global chief technology officer of Hill + Knowlton Strategies. He is a founding member of Page UP and a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

In the past — and this challenge persists today as well — our biggest issue was lack of data ownership. Unlike sales or finance, we communicators don’t own the data we need to make decisions. In fact, most of the time no single entity owns that data … media, social, web, search, employee … the list goes on. But the days of struggling to get the data we need are largely in the past.

So why are we not farther along? Why aren’t we more “data-driven” overall? I posit this: We’re focused on the hard skills of the past to the detriment of the hard skills of the future. Do communicators need to write exceptionally well? Of course. Present persuasively? Absolutely. Understand in detail the changing media landscape and the evolving PESO model? Without question. Business acumen? Check.

But what’s missing? Basic data science. Foundational computational statistics. Data visualization. Artificial intelligence and machine learning fundamentals. Data methods, strategy and advisory.

We’ve gone on this journey before. A decade ago, digital and social media was a special capability of the few. Today, a basic understanding of these spaces is required at all levels of our organizations. Just a few years ago, ESG was so specialized a space that few communicators ever engaged with it. Today, more and more of us are challenged with expanding our understanding of these critical spaces.

Data and technology are no different. I predict that in 10 years (though I’d wager even sooner!), data proficiency and technology basics will be a part of every job description in the communication world from assistant account executive to chief communications officer. Will there be a role for specialists with deep expertise in specific areas? Of course. But those of us saying that “we’ll call our data person to figure this stuff out” will be left behind.

So, what do we do about it? How do we ensure that we’re future proofing the careers of communicators and protecting the long-term strategic viability and impact of the profession?

• Hire from other spaces and disciplines.

• Build job descriptions that meet the demands of “this future” today and require these skills for our most transformative roles.

• Embrace training, job sharing, experimentation and incubation programs throughout companies and agencies.

• Embrace certifications and nontraditional learning supplements.

This future is achievable and core to what we do as communicators. See a shift, sense the impact, learn what’s required, and bring the insight to bear. Have the flexibility to tap into non-traditional talent. Transform our clients, and our own companies. The future is now, if we have the courage to do a little math.


Scaling Purpose Work Through Influencers And Discord

According to the 2022 Global Communication Report, 73% of profes sional communicators expect to increase their engagement with social issues this year, and communications partnerships with activist organizations have increased by three times. Anecdotally, the vast majority of brands’ engagement with social issues does not happen at a personalized level — meaning few, if any, of the brand’s employees or customers can engage meaningfully with the work being done beyond sharing it on social media.

This represents a huge missed opportunity for brands to increase awareness of their efforts, and to improve the results of their purpose work. Myriad research reports have found that brands that engage employees and customers in brand-sponsored purpose efforts have an exponentially higher chance of developing brand loyalists.

And yet, as brands engage more deeply than ever in purpose marketing, few have invited employees and customers along for the journey at scale.

Notably, this era of deeper brand commitment to social issues intersects with the biggest upheaval in personalization marketing of the digital era. Data privacy regulations across the globe upended how marketers share customer information. While Apple’s App Tracking Transparency earned most headlines, Google will end use of cookies, apply its own data transparency measures to Android apps, and alter how Chrome handles personal user data in the years ahead. And, media consumption habits of Gen Z and Gen Alpha require more agility, depth and authenticity from communicators than ever before.

To date, most coverage of these shifts focused on the difficulties for brands to achieve scaled, personalized marketing. However, these changes also prompted brands to test new channels to engage with employees and customers, particularly in purpose work.

For these pioneering brands that use new channels to scale their purpose efforts — by authentically recruiting customers and


Andy Lutzky is an Adjunct Lecturer at USC Annenberg experienced in marketing, communications and advertising across technology, sports and government. He currently serves as the executive vice president of brand partnerships at XOMAD.

employees into their efforts — they may generate legions of brand loyalists while their competitors flounder in marketing morass.

Here are two channels to consider:

Nano-influencer marketing: While most marketers equate influencer marketing with celebrity-driven campaigns, programs with nano-influencers (between 1,000 and 10,000 followers) and micro-influencers (between 10,001 and 100,000 followers) create the most behavior change — particularly among younger consumers, who primarily get their information from social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Brands also find that nanoinfluencers are more affordable and relevant to niche interests, essentially giving brands a cost-effective pathway to personalized marketing.

brands execute nano- and micro-influencer work at scale.

Now, brands deploy large communities of nano-influencers and micro-influencers to spread awareness of purpose-driven work that relates to their products, services or brand. For example, Clorox engaged nearly 100 nano- and micro-influencers on proper use of bleach products to urgently combat misinformation during the pandemic. Wells Fargo deployed nano-influencer communities to increase charitable donations during holiday campaigns, increasing foot traffic to branch locations. And Walmart teamed with the City of Colombia, S.C., on a nano-influencer campaign promoting mask wearing.

Historically, identifying, vetting and man aging communities of smaller influencers has proven to be challenging. However, new technology tools and influencer marketing agencies like XOMAD help

Discord: Once known as a chat app for gamers, Discord exploded in popularity over the last few years, as both the workfrom-home crowd and young people sought an easy-to-use platform to chat and share with large communities. Now attracting more than 140 million users each month (up from 56 million in 2019), Discord has become part of the fabric of everyday life for younger and older consumers alike.

Marketers have studied how to best participate in Discord, where communities

As brands engage more deeply than ever in purpose marketing, few have invited employees and customers along for the journey at scale.

Scaling Purpose Work Through Influencers And Discord

of users are organized into servers that appeal to specific interests. Brands like Adidas, Wendy’s and Samsung even have staff dedicated to authentically participat ing in (and at times, managing) the brand’s presence on relevant servers. The platform helps brands form deeper, more intimate relationships with specific communities of consumers around common interests through direct and real-time conversation.

Like with nano-influencer marketing, brands are testing how to use Discord to raise awareness and community participation in causes that address real-world needs that extend beyond (but relate to) their products and services.

For example, on Skittles’ Rainbow Room server — ordinarily a community focused on love of Skittles and candy — the brand collaborated with RuPaul’s Drag Race and hosted Miz Cracker to speak to members about what it means to be LGBTQ+, raising awareness and direct customer engagement for Skittles’ efforts.

As more brands test hyper-personalized, scaled digital marketing channels like nano-influencers, Discord, and whatever innovations come next, they should examine ways to authentically use these channels to invite employees and customers to participate in their purpose efforts. ▪

For these pioneering brands that use new channels to scale their purpose efforts — by authentically recruiting customers and employees into their efforts — they may generate legions of brand loyalists while their competitors flounder in marketing morass.

Mental Health

Shaping The Conversation About Mental Health

The subject of health has been at the forefront of public discussion the last few years. As our physical health was being challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, so was our mental health. The pandemic upended our work experiences as we faced chronic stress, financial insecurity, and a litany of societal issues — social injustice, devastating court decisions, mass shootings, an unstable economy, industry-wide layoffs, and a blurring of work-life-balance. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 1 in 5 U.S. adults have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year. With so many U.S. adults struggling with mental health, there is a business imperative for employers and organizations to think about how to tackle mental health at work as attrition rates continue to increase.

Movements and conversations around the great resignation, burnout, and quiet quit ting have gained traction and undoubtedly will impact business’ bottom lines. While a growing number of employers have been investing in initiatives like “wellness

weeks,” counseling benefits, and access to mental health apps, there is a greater need for more sustainable and inclusive solutions to mental health that are embedded in the company culture. Employees want to feel a sense of belonging and be both seen and understood in the workplace. This is critical for those with mental health ailments.

We need to start with awareness and education. Providing access to credible resources from qualified mental health institutions can lay the groundwork, but it’s also important to examine what kinds of training workplaces are giving to man agers, leaders, and employees to be better advocates and allies. The more we educate ourselves and talk about these issues, the more we can reduce the stigma attached to mental health, and build inclusive communities at work.

Supporting the mental well-being of employees won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach considering health disparities in some groups and communities. According to a study from Mind Share Partners’ on


Christine Alabastro leads executive communications at DoorDash.

She previously leaded global communications at TikTok and Hulu. She is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

Mental Health at Work, younger and historically underrepresented workers struggle with mental health the most. That same survey also reveals that millen nials, caregivers, and historically underrepresented groups were likely to leave roles for mental health reasons. Demographics play a part in the equation but there are expansive factors to consider - including age, neurodiversity, environment, traumatic life events, job stress and more. What this means for employers is that providing accessible and inclusive mental health programs will be both an ethical imperative and must be part of the equation.

The public relations industry has the tremendous opportunity to shape conver sations around mental health and influence individuals and institutions to action.

The stories we tell as PR practitioners play a critical role in advancing our understanding of mental health conditions and can both increase awareness and reduce stigma around mental health challenges. We can do our part to continue educating ourselves and advise our spokespeople and leaders on how to talk about and address these issues. ▪

The public relations industry has the tremendous opportunity to shape conversations around mental health and influence individuals and institutions to action.

Our Mental Health Is Connected To The Well-Being of Others

For the past seven years, I have served as the senior advisor for the National Millennial & Gen Z Community, a studentled group representing over 40 states and several foreign countries. Throughout the course of my advisement, I have chaperoned 32 field trips meeting dozens of college students and young professionals under 30. My conversations with young adults have shifted my views on mental health and how older adults can help.

Young adults, who value transparency, authenticity, and a willingness to share their experiences, helped me recognize my own biases on mental health impeded my ability to process real-life challenges young adults face.

Over the past few years, I had an oppor tunity to witness young adults interacting with others as they navigated a return to classrooms, negotiated work schedules, and sought ways to plan for their future. The following anecdotes are real-life situations. For this piece, I altered names and left out a few details to protect the privacy of my

subjects. As you read through these actual events, consider how you might respond.

During a field trip to Northern California, a group of young adults joined me for dinner. Stephanie looked at me and asked: “Why are there so many forks and spoons?” As I explained how to use each fork and spoon for our five-course meal, I saw the stress rising on Stephanie’s face. I stopped for a moment and asked how she was feeling. “Not good,” she replied. “I don’t feel I deserve to be here.” Stephanie got up from her chair a few minutes later and dashed out the restaurant door. My colleague found her in the restroom, where Stephanie said she needed a moment to regain her composure. But when we went to check on her again, she was gone. She decided to leave without telling anyone.

A few hours later, we found Stephanie alone in the hotel bar having a drink. Stephanie said she was overwhelmed by the fancy restaurant, the abundance of food, the place settings, and the sounds of happy people talking all around her.


Bill Imada is founder, chairman and chief connectivity officer of IW Group, a minority owned and operated advertising, marketing, and communications agency focusing on the growing multicultural markets. Bill is a member of the PRWeek Hall of Fame, and a founding member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

She needed to escape and used a ride service to take herself back to the hotel. We spent the next hour talking at the bar. This was the first time I experienced this reaction from a college student.

Yasmine, a graduate student from a well-known university in the Northeast, participated in a student orientation I hosted for an upcoming field trip.

during our conversations with corporate and agency executives. Everyone attending the orientation agreed to these basic rules. Many of the students in attendance were nervous about travel because it was one of the first planned field trips as the pandemic started to ease.

During the meeting, my colleagues and I discussed the goals and objectives of the trip. We also covered meeting etiquette, which included a rule that all mobile devices must remain off and stored away

When the meeting with prominent executives convened, my colleague noticed Yasmine texting on her mobile device. Slightly annoyed by Yasmine’s disregard for our basic rules, my colleague politely reminded her to put her mobile device away. Yasmine clutched her cell phone closer to her chest as her facial expressions displayed a mix of confusion and anger. My colleague appeared equally confused and said to me: “I don’t even know how to deal with this behavior.” After our meeting, I pulled Yasmine aside to talk privately with her about the incident. Yasmine responded, “I cannot put my cell phone down. It gives me comfort and security, and I need to hold it.” Less than an hour later, she told me she might need to check into a hospital. Jasmine added, “I’m having a mental breakdown

Young adults, who value transparency, authenticity, and a willingness to share their experiences, helped me recognize my own biases on mental health impeded my ability to process real-life challenges young adults face.

and I am having trouble coping with my condition.” I wasn’t sure how to react to this except to let her share her feelings.

Javier was a student from a large urban campus. He attended every event donning a bespoke suit and tie. Javier always seemed prepared and spoke with ease and

confidence. During a dinner meeting with executives from several small-to-mid-sized firms, he leaned in and asked excellent questions, impressing his peers and advisers. As we began to wrap up a busy day of meetings and discussions, I ran into him sobbing in the restroom. When I said, “Talk to me about what’s going on,” he

Our Mental Health Is Connected To The Well-Being of Others continued
If we wish to be helpful, we must consider our biases and state of mind as we work to understand mental health fully. I have learned that it is no longer appropriate or helpful to address the struggles of others by saying things such as, “You’re going through a phase,” “Toughen up and confront your problems head-on,” and “Don’t worry, things will be better next week.” These responses often have the opposite effect, placing the onus solely on the person struggling to cope.

responded: “I’m completely overwhelmed. I need a moment.” Several hours later, Javier spoke with me in our hotel lobby. He said he felt alone in his large, multigenerational home and thought about committing suicide. I was devastated to hear him mention suicide. During the next few days, several students stepped forward, revealing they had thought about suicide several times during the height of the pandemic. And several more said a return to campus had not eased the stress and pain they felt.

Cohorts of young adults aged 18 to 28 have expressed themselves openly about the challenges they face at home and as they return to school or their places of employment. But I wonder: Are older adults prepared to have difficult conversations as more young adults return to class or enter the workforce?

I have a hunch the answer is somewhere in between yes and no.

If we wish to be helpful, we must consider our biases and state of mind as we work to understand mental health fully. I have learned that it is no longer appropriate or helpful to address the struggles of others by saying things such as, “You’re going through a phase,” “Toughen up and con front your problems head-on,” and “Don’t worry, things will be better next week.” These responses often have the opposite effect, placing the onus solely on the person struggling to cope.

While empathy is essential for the wellbeing of others, we must learn additional ways to support young adults as they deal with the uncertainties ahead. Every community, employer, and school should require workshops, courses, and discussion groups focusing on mental health and well-being, just as there are mandatory drills for school safety and time set aside for lunch breaks and vacations.

The mental health of others is vital to our well-being. Being ready to help others will also help us. ▪


How Employers Can Actively Support Mental Health Awareness

We are fortunate the mere mention of “mental health” doesn’t carry the stigma it once did.

Historically, we haven’t talked openly about mental health issues. And more so, if someone was dealing with mental health issues, we did not have an environment where people could be open about it.

Happily, that is changing: Talk of mental health is no longer taboo.

Through COVID-19, we saw that employees and, more generally, the public were emotionally affected by the stress brought on by the global pandemic. Their emotional well-being could be challenged from any number of perspectives, including financial security, living situations, remote work and physical health, among others.

These aren’t new concepts or challenges, but they are now at the forefront of employee wellness programs, creating an opportunity for companies to do the right thing.

What we have seen at many companies are more flexible, hybrid work environ ments: an employee-centric approach, giving them flexibility to work in ways and manners that can optimize their performance. This also has spawned greater empathy and sincere caring for employees’ mental well-being from managers and leaders.

To be sure, this is not entirely altruistic. This environment of supporting the mental well-being of employees also has tangible business benefits. When our employees are healthy in mind and body, they are more productive. They think better. And that is also better for the company. In fact, one study indicates that when your brain power is positive, your brain works 31% better.

When our employees are healthy in mind and body, they are more productive. They think better.

Gerry Tschopp heads global external communications at Experian, and is its chief communications officer, North America. He is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

Sounds like a win for the employee. And a win for the employer.

As an example, at Experian, we have initiated a companywide effort to address mental health. This is championed by our CFO, Lloyd Pitchford, who serves as the global executive sponsor and advocate for Mental Health.

There are multiple layers to the program:

• Mental Health First Aiders: We established a program to train employees (volunteers) who could serve as Mental Health First Aiders. We started rolling out this in 2022 and now have over 400 people registered to become professionally trained volunteers. Their roles are to support Experian colleagues — and even their friends and family — who are experiencing mental-health illness or distress and connect them with support.

• We launched our #WholeMe: Your Mind Matters campaign to all employees during Mental Health Awareness month. This effort was designed to break the stigma surrounding mental health challenges, and a way to lean into the “it’s ok not to be ok” mantra. This global campaign has been shortlisted as a finalist in the global Gartner Communications Awards 2022 in the category Excellence in ESG, Sustainability and DEI Communications.

• ASPIRE, Experian’s Employee Resource Group (ERG), established Mindful Meditation Mondays, 30-minute meditation sessions hosted by internal employees who are licensed yoga instructors. The sessions are frequented by hundreds of people and the comments are overwhelmingly positive.

I personally participated in the MHFA training, and am now officially a Mental Health First Aider. I’m finding it rewarding to be a part of this community and I’m grateful my company has invested in these kinds of opportunities.

Regardless of how you or your company are stepping up and leaning in, it’s important as leaders, communicators, strategists, managers and humans that we give mental health the respect and attention it deserves. ▪


Keeping Mental Health Concerns Relevant In College Life

Even before the rocky years of pandemic, USC prioritized investing in and increasing mental health support services for students, faculty, and staff. These decisions are in lockstep with a rapid shift to redefine what it means to create a truly safe and inclusive academic community.

Erasing the stigma of seeking help and propelling the discussion of mental health into our cultural zeitgeist makes it possible for everyone to open up about issues, both big and small, that hinder their growth, confidence, happiness, and success.

The onus is on us — the entire academic community — to ensure we maintain an open dialogue about difficult and distressing topics, and shine a light on the nuances of hardship. Life can be tough and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. But we must be mindful of the inherent challenges and hardships that come with academia, particularly as we evaluate this much-lauded Class of 2026, the university’s most diverse class in its history.

In 2022, USC included a record-number of first-generation students in its admission decisions, as well as an ever-increasing number of individuals who identify as Black, Latino, or Asian American and Pacific Islander.

Being the first in their family to attend college is a wonderful achievement, but we should be careful not to romanticize anyone’s story or elevate them as a “model” individual against their wishes. There are countless studies and anecdotal evidence that support a much less glamorous story. No student should feel any expectation to support a false narrative. We are long past the point of upholding tired tropes and stereotypes.

The transition to university life can be stressful for anyone, but for USC students, many of whom graduated at the top of their class, it may be downright jarring to meet so many new people who seem smarter and more accomplished. They start second-guessing their own


Jacqueline Liu is senior vice president at The Pollack Group and provides strategic guidance on branding, corporate messaging and reputation management. She is a USC alumnus and currently serves as Adjunct Instructor in the PR and advertising programs.

success. Now, couple these insecurities with what they see on social media — including LinkedIn.

All of this is exponentially worse for stu dents who haven’t followed the traditional prescribed timeline: starting college after high school and graduating in four years. When you feel out of step with your peers, you feel left out, unworthy, and unsuccessful.

Many of us are familiar with imposter syndrome. We know the symptoms include persistent nagging feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Individuals may feel undeserving of their achievements and frequently minimize their success. But it’s easy to see why this condition is frequently dismissed. It’s obviously normal to experience these feelings occasionally, but imposter syndrome goes far beyond that. At worst, individuals may be paralyzed with debilitating fears and paranoia of being outed as fraud.

Talking about mental health issues will only continue to be more relevant, espe cially as our incoming student body, faculty and staff find their voices. They need our support. They need to know they won’t be dismissed as overmedicated or mocked for being fragile. I know from experience that our Annenberg students appreciate feeling seen, heard, and understood when we gently remind them that there is help available whenever they need it, no matter the reason.

We’re not crossing boundaries by starting the conversation, or “seizing the awkward” as an opportunity to offer help; we’re building guardrails, creating foundational structures to guide our priorities, policies, and programs. It’s up to us to keep the mental health discussion relevant and top-of-mind. Future generations will only wonder why it took so damn long. ▪


Mental Health Solutions Grow As Work-Life Boundaries Blur

“We cry at work now.” Jennifer Palmieri, the former White House communications director who served for President Obama, said this to group of communications professionals at USC’s Lead On event in 2019. It was a watershed moment for me, and this idea really resonated. Not just because I am someone who has, on occasion, showed emotions while on the clock, but for all professionals: who are people who have emotions, even at work.

Back then you heard a lot about companies getting credit for fostering a culture where you can “bring your full self to work.” But three years later, post pandemic, creating a culture that allows employees to be who they are in the workplace is now a business imperative. And a natural evolution of the be-who-you-are culture is the rise of mental health awareness in the workplace.

Mental health declines

Every one of us is, to some extent, still recovering from the effects of the pandemic. And for communicators in particular, the

job requires constantly following one end lessly disturbing news cycle after another. Not only are communicators responding to the news on behalf of their companies, but they are also processing it for themselves as individuals in real time. It’s been a lot to manage, and we’re now just starting to understand the effects of the past two years. That’s why it’s not surprising to hear study after study about declines in mental health during this time — one of the latest reports from the World Health Organization cited a 25 percent increase in the global prevalence of anxiety and depression in the first year of the pandemic alone.

It’s clearly a global issue that affects everyone, in every corner of the globe.

Even execs get real

Over the past couple years there’s been a groundswell of celebrities, athletes and even executives who’ve shared their own mental health struggles, creating a safer space for others to speak candidly about an often-stigmatized topic.


Andy Dunn, CEO of Bonobos, recently made headlines when he opened up about his experience with bi-polar disorder. In a candid conversation with Pete Nordstrom for The Nordy Pod, Dunn shared why he decided to tell his whole truth:

“I felt like there was an airbrushed, Instagram-friendly version of my story… and it’s so far diverged from the real story which I think has got a lot more nuance and texture and really redemptive power to it, and I felt like a fraud a little bit that there was this one side of the story but not the other. So partly it was to resolve that feeling, partly it was because I was just sick of feeling ashamed of it. You know I had internalized this illness and diagnosis as something I had done wrong.”

Stories like Dunn’s have become more common in workplaces and have the power to build a more caring culture and help define the future of what’s appropriate to share while on the job.

Beyond basic benefits

Companies are clearly paying attention. In fact, more than half (53 percent) of the companies surveyed in PwC’s 2021 Health and Well-being Touchstone Survey added mental health benefits to their plans during the pandemic, such as employee assistance programs and free counseling services.

It’s a start and becoming more and more something employees have come to expect. A 2022 Headspace study found that the vast majority (81 percent) of global employees agree that employers have a responsibility to help them manage their mental health, and the call for these benefits are even more pronounced when it comes to younger generations.

Recognizing this trend, progressive com panies are offering more comprehensive programs to help their people de-stress and creating forums for employees to share their experiences with each other to foster a sense of community. I’ve personally seen the emergence of employer-sponsored yoga retreats, stress management programs, incentives for healthy self-care behaviors like exercising and the opportunity to take mental health days.

These perks are not only the right thing to do, they also make clear business sense: happy, healthy workers are more productive.

New boundaries

In the absence of meaningful change throughout the broader workforce, many employees have turned to “quiet quitting,” a new buzzword that emerged following so-called Great Resignation. The contro versial term categorizes workers who are setting defined work-life boundaries, often to prioritize their mental health.

Stephanie Corzett is the head of corporate communications at Nordstrom. She is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

Mental Health Solutions Grow As Work-Life Boundaries Blur

The term itself is a bit of a misnomer since it’s not about employees forgoing their work responsibilities and is more about individuals seeking to work within the parameters of their jobs so they can live more balanced lives.

We’re all evolving into newer ways of working together and understanding how to show up in the office or contributing

from the comfort of our homes. Whether the work-life boundaries workers seek will stick is to be determined, but one thing is for sure: The workplace is a much more empathetic place these days and all signs point to this trend continuing. So in the event your tear ducts do start to well up while on the clock, rest assured, it’s now OK to show your softer side. In fact, it just makes you human. ▪

continued ...many employees have turned to “quiet quitting,” a new buzzword that emerged following so-called Great Resignation. The controversial term categorizes workers who are setting defined work-life boundaries, often to prioritize their mental health.


Returning To Work: The War That Is Coming

Far from being close to settled, a war is brewing over returning to the workplace, with different parties already drawing battle lines. Elon Musk, who is never a good barometer of normal behavior but a good bellwether for change, previewed the war when he said to Tesla workers reluctant to fully return to the office, “Anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean minimum) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla.”

Few workers are ready now, or perhaps ever, to return full-time to the office. The Center for the Digital Future’s work in the early days of COVID showed that only 10% wanted pre-pandemic work schedules, while 30% never wanted to return to the workplace. A few months into the pandemic was enough to convince 60% of workers that they would like a hybrid future — coming into the office only some of the time.

Over two years without a workforce in the office was enough to convince most

employers that they want everyone back. Some bosses want to walk the hallways and see the troops. Some believe less work with worse quality occurs at home.

This proposition needs to be rigorously evaluated.

What everyone agrees on is that significant numbers of employees working from home will change, perhaps eradicate, a company’s personality and culture.

But this too needs to be tested.

Positives and negatives of remote work

Many workers (90% who either never want to come back or want to do so on a hybrid schedule) liked many features of remote work. The lack of a commute was the top advantage. Some workers recovered as much as an extra two hours each day, and those hours were without stress from traffic and other commuters. Also high on the list of reasons for preferring remote work is setting ones own schedule, not


Just before COVID, the Me Too movement had already led to a re-examination of some workplace behaviors. The current upheaval of the workplace may be another example of the kind of change and disruption that comes only from a crisis.

having to arrange for childcare (or as much), working at their own pace, and being better connected to family.

The negatives of home working came from a new need to punctuate the days. Instead of a predictable routine coming from the commute, people had to plan a change of scenery to get out of the house. Plus, some employees didn’t have a good workspace at home, or couldn’t get the quiet and privacy needed to do their best work.

Those divided attitudes are why hybrid scheduling seems so appealing.

Back to the office?

In the fall of 2021, it seemed COVID was finally receding. This was just before the Delta variant hit hard. At that time, significant numbers of employers called their teams back to the office. Many employers settled on a three-days in the

office workweek (almost always Tuesday through Thursday) as a first step. It got workers out of the house and away from same four walls they had stared at for well over a year. It also preserved time at home without commuting. Many workers were pleased to come back three days per week, but they did not see it as a first step: they want it to be the last step.

This is a temporary solution to prevent war, but it may quickly erupt into battle. Most employers are not yet ready to join Musk in demanding a full return or else face dismissal. But many are watching closely, delighted that he is willing (even anxious) to test the waters and take the incoming fire.

In July of 2022, few employers other than Musk are willing to force their workers back to the office full-time. They know that with unemployment levels low and the Great Resignation giving so much new-found power to labor, many will not return. Those who do not leave will file lawsuits claiming the office is unsafe.

Companies will have far more power to force people back when COVID levels are near-zero. With numbers at worrisome levels — currently climbing with the most transmissible variant yet emerging — a case for forcing people into public

Jeffrey Cole is the founder and director of The Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg.

Returning To Work: The War That Is Coming


transportation, packed elevators, and then crowded offices is hard to make.

Who wants to come back to the office? Although there are exceptions, demograph ics play a role in separating workers who want to return and those who do not. Younger employees — more comfortable with technology and communicating and collaborating digitally — are less interested in full-time work in person. They are seeking out jobs that allow or encourage remote workdays.

Women, always left with a disproportionate share of housekeeping and childcare, are more interested in flexible schedules. Team members who want to get ahead and one day run the company (of all ages and genders) want to be in front of their bosses where their commitment to work can be seen close-up.

While there is ego in bosses wanting to see their teams back in the office, there is also hypocrisy in workers not wanting to return. Some of those who say they are not ready to return, and feel unsafe returning, are not quarantining at home and wearing masks when they leave. They are going to shopping malls, movie theaters, concerts, restaurants, baseball games, and getting on airplanes, often unmasked.

A cease fire for the next year, but then…

Corporate culture, good and bad, has defined American society for well over a century. It may well be that changes and alternatives are long overdue.

Just before COVID, the Me Too movement had already led to a re-examination of some workplace behaviors. The current upheaval of the workplace may be another example of the kind of change and disruption that comes only from a crisis.

And, if a recession comes over the next few months, as many economists are predicting, it may lead to layoffs, creating less job security. A dismal economic climate will shift power away from labor and back to management.

The workplace is changing. It is just not yet clear if work in America will end up looking like it did in 2019 or like something entirely different.

For now, there is a cease fire that will probably last at least another year. The embers of that fire may fully erupt. We need to be ready if they do. ▪


Corporate Citizenship As A Retention Tool

As corporate America continues to migrate back to the office following an unimaginable two-year-plus stint at home, many companies are now hyper-focused on how to keep employees engaged. Corporate citizenship has long been an important area of business, but we are at a pivotal moment where people are reevaluating their path in life and their careers. Employees want to make a stronger personal impact in society and are increasingly turning toward their employers for support in this mission.

Many of us are fortunate to work for companies that provide meaningful opportunities for good corporate citizenship. But it’s time to take charitable giving and volunteering to a new level — one that puts employees at the center of a corporate social responsibility strategy. In doing so, we can keep employees engaged and support long-lasting careers at our companies.

This is something NBCUniversal recog nized several years ago, as we sharpened our focus on how to make our charitable dollars

go further for both our nonprofit partners and our employees who want to be involved in a more profound way. The result is a reimagined volunteer program and giving strategy that gives new meaning to the phrase “corporate perks.”

Here are some of our lessons:

First, put the power of giving into employees’ hands. Taking time out of one’s workday to mentor or pack supplies for community members are important experiences that employees enjoy devoting time to, but what’s missing in some of these endeavors is context. Workers need a more intimate understanding of the communities they’re helping. This background helps build a great sense of empathy among volunteers and makes community service feel even more rewarding.

Over the past few years, NBCU has created an educational component to community service, offering training that shares indepth knowledge of our nonprofit partners, who they serve and the needs of those


Corporate Citizenship As A Retention Tool

communities. It’s also important to make volunteering more immersive, allowing employees to devote several days out of the workweek to in-depth projects on an annual basis, as opposed to doing an hour of mentoring in the office conference room.

For example, in partnership with buildOn — a nonprofit that helps break the cycle of poverty and empowers low-income students through service work — a group of NBCUniversal employees were paired with students from under-resourced high schools, jointly participating in impactful leadership-building and service-learning opportunities over several days. Next, there are plans for employees to spend longer periods of time in communities like the South Bronx doing service work side-by-side with low-income students in their neighborhoods.

Second, employees also need to feel like their charities and personal causes matter. They want to work for a company that recognizes what they are most passionate about, not just the causes and organizations that senior management embraces. Employers need to create ways for their staff to play a greater role in deciding where charitable dollars are spent. For example, some companies have contests for employees to pitch their favorite nonprofits for grants.

NBCUniversal created a Community Impact Fund that awarded each of the company’s employee resource groups and diversity councils grant money to donate to up to two 501(c)(3) charities, and the response to this program was overwhelming, as these groups were able to raise awareness

A fulfilling, motivational job is not just about having the perfect role, it’s about working for a company whose values align with yours; a company that empowers you to make a positive difference and be an active agent of change.

Hilary Smith is executive vice president, corporate social responsibility for NBCUniversal and director of the Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation’s board. Smith sits on the board of The Center for Communications, a non-profit dedicated to bringing diversity to the media industry, and is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

about their favorite charities among their colleagues and financially support nonprofits that they are collectively passionate about.

Through this fund, NBCUniversal awarded 172 nonprofit grants in 19 locations around the world. Eighty-one percent of the grants awarded were to organizations who had not previously received funding from the company, allowing us to broaden our philanthropic footprint and recognize the causes and organizations that are meaningful to our employees.

Third, employees are also keen on develop ing leadership skills, a critical component to advancing their careers. One of the greatest and most meaningful ways to support this goal is by offering employees opportunities to serve on nonprofit boards. NBCUniversal has secured board seats with each of our corporate nonprofit partners, as well as with other nonprofits, through Boardlead (an outside organization that matches people on nonprofit boards).

Rather than simply placing interested employees on these boards, we offer a longterm course on nonprofit board service that provides essential background on each of our partner organizations and what it takes to be an impactful board member. At the conclusion of the training, we help match employees with nonprofit boards that align with their interests.

This is a financial investment in both our employees as future leaders as well as in our communities, which has been an incredibly successful program.

Finally, we need to make social purpose a corporate priority. Our recent cultural shifts, and the new ways in which people desire to work moving forward, have given us a different perspective. A fulfilling, motivational job is not just about having the perfect role, it’s about working for a company whose values align with yours; a company that empowers you to make a positive difference and be an active agent of change. There has never been a more important time to reimagine the employee experience and make social impact an integral part of it. ▪


Flexible Working Options Are A Key To Alleviating Gender Inequality

Although economic recovery from the global pandemic is in full swing, we continue to see women lag men in the labor market, with nearly one million fewer women in the workplace as of May 2022 than were present in 2020.

While both sexes suffered a drop in labor force participation at the height of the pandemic, men have returned to work at a higher rate than women. The slow return of women to the workforce will not only continue to impact the American economy but will also put women at a disadvantage over the long term.

Adequate childcare in the U.S. remains one of the primary obstacles holding women back from re-entering the workforce. Even before the pandemic, half of the American population were living in communities with no access to childcare facilities, and the pandemic made the situation considerably worse.

Between December 2019 and March 2021, nearly 16,000 childcare centers and licensed family childcare programs closed, according to Child Care Aware of America. Those closures were due, in large part, to increased operating costs, thin profit margins, unpredictable attendance because of COVID, and rising costs due to inflation. As a result, a new study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation found that 58% of working parents reported that they were unable to find childcare solutions that met their needs.

Additionally, parents with young children who have access to quality childcare providers are spending more money on childcare than ever before. Based on the 2022 Cost of Care Survey, 72% of parents say they are spending at least 10% of their household income on childcare, with a majority (51%) spending 20% or more. To address these rising costs, one in five of parents indicated that they are considering leaving the workforce entirely. Typically


when deciding which parent should stay at home, the common choice is the mother.

For women who are impacted by childcare obstacles, their ability to return to the workforce depends on employer’s providing real solutions. Unfortunately, a recent Catalyst-CNBC survey revealed that 41% of working mothers believed they had to hide their caregiving struggles from their employers.

Following the pandemic, many working moms now know they want their work experience to include having flexible work options. According to the Catalyst-CNBC survey, women with childcare responsibilities who have remote-work access are 32% less likely to report intending to leave their jobs, compared with women with childcare responsibilities who do not have remote-work access.

Flexible remote work can offer working mothers better work life balance and improved mental health by increasing family time, reducing childcare costs, and saving commuting time and stress. Working remotely or adjusting working hours during the day, can also offer benefits to employers. A study conducted by Stanford University Business School found that performance was boosted by 21% when employees were able to work from home. Yet, today 44% of U.S. companies do not allow remote work of any kind, according to a 2021 Owl Labs report.

When looking at the monthly job report numbers, it is easy to say we are making progress adding back jobs that were lost two years ago. But today, the gender equality gap is greater than in the past and we are woefully behind in addressing the structural divide that exists between men and women. In 2020 women made up 39% of global employment, they also accounted for 54% of jobs lost during the pandemic.

We cannot afford to let the impact of COVID-19 continue into the postpandemic era, otherwise, we risk reversing decades of progress towards gender equality. To bring women back to the workplace, we need to:

• recognize there is no one-size fits all solution for women and give them more autonomy over their careers;

• build and maintain inc lusive workplaces where all employees, regardless of where they sit, are set up to succeed;

• reward performance and results over the amount of time employees spend at their desks;

• ensure that women who choose to work remotely have the same opportunities for recognition, development and promotion, as their colleagues onsite;

• and, foster cultures and initiatives that make it tenable for them to continue working. ▪

Maryanne Lataif is senior vice president of corporate communications at AEG, the world’s leading sports and live entertainment company. She is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

Creativity In A Time Of Crisis

In the last two years, we’ve seen daunting challenges to social and environmental justice, whether it’s outside the Supreme Court or inside the U.N., and in 2023 there will be no shortage of causes worthy to support. In the process, we’ve also been witness to an inspiring masterclass in innovative, out-of-the-box problemsolving: from large-scale vaccination campaigns to online guerilla efforts by Gen Z to hold public officials accountable to their promises and mistakes.

This type of audacious creativity will be just as critical in navigating the new and familiar terrain to come in 2023. Whatever your path in communications, well-honed creative thinking can become the flashlight in your toolbox, helping you to think critically under strain, find solutions and provide the fresh perspective that sets us on the path to progress.

No matter what cause you’re looking to help solve or shine a light on, preserving mental health and confronting burnout, empowering diverse

perspectives, and looking at the world through a critical, nuanced lens will be essential to catalyze change.

Mental Health and Protecting Time

The pandemic exacerbated an already fraying mental health situation, especially for younger generations, whose outlooks on the future, both personally and professionally were dramatically altered. As we spend more time tethered to our devices, we’re also met with a constant barrage of push notifications and alarming headlines. The nature of creative communi cations requires that we stay on top of our scroll, but that doesn’t mean we should be capsized by the deluge.

The best insights and the best creative comes when you’re inspired — or outraged — enough to consider and act upon innovative solutions and a wider picture. That perspective is hard to come by when you’re burnt out simply keeping up. So it’s important to step away, whether through a dedicated block of time on


the calendar or by reassessing boundaries between you and your scroll. Your work, and your team’s, will be better for it.

Diverse Perspectives

Creative solutions to complex problems don’t happen in a silo, and they definitely don’t happen in a room of people who all look or think alike. The challenges we face today, and those we’ll confront tomorrow, will span across borders, generations and industries. They’ll require diverse thought, input and perspective in order to authentically connect with audiences and impact change.

Rigid thought, and “the old way of doing things” will need to give way to bold new solutions and perhaps even uncomfortable conversations that will steer us away from the status quo. We need to recognize that movements are not moments or trends to be tapped but require long term commitment, substantive action and follow through.

News Literacy

We have more access to information than at any point in human history, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we understand more. A constant barrage of breaking news chyrons and trending Twitter threads have created a chasm between a depth of understanding and a breadth of knowledge. Separating signals from noise, thinking critically about purported “trends” and not getting caught up in groupthink is becoming an increasingly difficult, yet crucial skill needed to navigate today’s news cycle and produce breakthrough creative work.

As we look to the year ahead, 2023 will continue to challenge our technological and social limits, simultaneously straining resolve and necessitating collective action; the path toward an equitable and sustainable future certainly won’t be less winding than it is today. The future demands collaborative, diverse and empathetic approaches to institute change. Even if creativity isn’t always the means to that end, it is often the means of illuminating how to start. ▪

Josh Rosenberg is the co-founder and CEO of Day One Agency, a New York-based creative communications agency. He is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.
Creative solutions to complex problems don’t happen in a silo, and they definitely don’t happen in a room of people who all look or think alike.

Break Silos And Prevent Cyberattacks By… Talking?

If cybersecurity wasn’t top of mind for businesses before COVID-19, it’s now prioritized in a remote-first world that’s digitizing at full speed. The pandemic caused a 600% increase in cybercrime, a skyward trend that has already cost an unprecedented $7 trillion in damages globally during the first half of 2022. Cybercrime isn’t expected to subside anytime soon, so for businesses setting up for success in 2023 and beyond, now is the most relevant time to broaden considerations about cybersecurity.

There’s a tendency, for instance, to think of cyberattacks as coming from the dark web, nation-states and organized hack ing syndicates. And while each of these entities certainly spawns cyber threats, there’s another breeding ground that often goes overlooked: business silos.

Business silos provide the ideal environ ment for cyberattacks to thrive. That’s because, by their very nature, silos promote isolated thinking and prevent the free flow of information. When the walls go

up in an organization, it’s easy for bad actors to take advantage within the resulting blind spots. Exploiting gaps in knowledge and understanding, they can launch damaging attacks that could have been easily prevented with better communication and collaboration.

Now more than ever, with spiking cybercrime and enterprise-wide breaches stemming from something as simple as a delayed update or a single wrong click, it’s up to business leaders to make “silobusting” an organizational imperative. Breaking down these barriers will be a key advantage to quickly remediating vulnerabilities and staying ahead of cybercriminals who are only getting better at finding the gaps.

Importantly, most cyberattacks can be traced back to some sort of human error. According to a 2022 Verizon report, 82% of all data breaches included a human element. And as one of the most common causes of human error, communication breakdown between departments is also


a sure silo manufacturer. So, in the interest of dismantling existing silos, and preventing future ones from establishing, leaders should consider three steps.

First, promote a security-first culture. Ensure that everyone in the organization understands the importance of security and knows how to spot potential threats. This can be accomplished through training and awareness programs that engage all employees, from the C-suite to the front line.

Next, encourage interdepartmental collaboration. Internal communication can be improved by creating forums or working groups where departments can share information about potential threats. It’s also important to motivate employees to speak up if they see something that doesn’t seem right.

Lastly, foster a sense of ownership over security, which means understanding how individual actions can impact the organization as a whole. If an average breach costs $4.35 million, how much money can a company lose before it’s forced to close its doors? The answer affects every employee. And while downtimes vary, 75% of small- and mid-sized businesses recently surveyed said they’d survive just three to seven days after a successful ransomware attack.

To implement these steps, it’s up to business leaders to take the reins. As they plan ways to meet goals and manage risk, cybersecurity needs to be an integral part of the conversation.

Other practical suggestions include establishing cross-functional cybersecurity teams, setting up regular cybersecurity briefings for all employees, and encouraging open communication about cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities. Continuously applied, these actions empower individuals to regard the business with a more holistic mindset. Resulting benefits typically extend beyond security posture into smoother operations and better business outcomes.

Silo-busting ultimately helps organizations improve their odds against rising cybercrime. But it also presents a great opportunity to start shifting the conversation and link cybersecurity to the rest of the business. After all, in the post-pandemic, work-from-home reality, security should be everyone’s concern.

By opening the discussion, leaders can multiply their cybercrime-fighting powers — not only ensuring that everyone understands the importance of security, but also has a stake in improving it. ▪

Heather Rim is chief marketing officer for Optiv. She is a board member of the USC Alumni Association and the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

Is Antiwork A Movement Or A Moment?

When was the last time you questioned how work fits into your life? Or whether you should work at all?

On the social networking site Reddit there is a forum (a subreddit) with 2.2 million members called r/Antiwork where users question the very nature of work as we know it. On this forum, members post stories about work conditions that make them wish they could quit their jobs or have already resulted in them leaving their positions.

A popular genre of posts is text message screenshots between the employee and an overbearing manager, where the employee finally tells the manager they’re done. Manager infractions include everything from careless scheduling gaffes to denying time off for bereavement. Other users share memes about how capitalism isn’t designed to benefit most people and only works for a select few.

(The subreddit’s motto is “Unemployment for all, not just the rich!”) And for those not ready to fully embrace the antiwork

lifestyle, some posts celebrate labor unions as the defender of workers’ rights.

This subreddit has grown from 80,000 members over the last two years as people have reevaluated the role work plays in their life as a response to the shakeup from the pandemic. While the sentiment of ending work altogether on r/Antiwork is an extreme manifestation of this trend, it’s easy to find more moderate displays of the same sentiment on mainstream social media networks. In 2022, we saw a wave of conversation on TikTok around the concept of “quiet quitting.” In short-form videos, creators explained to their audiences that their jobs shouldn’t be the center of their lives and it’s totally okay to do the bare minimum — as in, do the least without handing in your resignation letter.

While ideas such as the ones found on r/Antiwork originate from small corners of the internet, they seep into the mainstream for two reasons — for one, because journalists are scouring the depths of the internet where the most


interesting stories are found. Second, while the conversations may start on a niche platform like Reddit, they make their way to mainstream platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter as users debate the merits of the provocative ideas. These conversations gain more momentum as they merge with complementary trends, such as the rise in labor union activity that we have seen this past year.

One may argue that the power dynamic between employers and employees shifts as economic conditions change — employees

may be enjoying more power now, but they will lose it as soon as the unemployment rate rises. But what if it is different this time?

In 2022, we’re seeing the Federal Reserve attempt to curtail inflation through quantitative tightening, but workers aren’t ready to give up their leverage. Perhaps this new leverage doesn’t exclusively come from a tight labor market — maybe it comes from the ability to organize at scale and call out workplace practices that are designed to put power in the hands of the employer. ▪

Prash Sabharwal is vice president corporate digital at Zeno Group and an Adjunct Instructor at USC Annenberg.
One may argue that the power dynamic between employers and employees shifts as economic conditions change — employees may be enjoying more power now, but they will lose it as soon as the unemployment rate rises. But what if it is different this time?

Standing By Or Standing Up?

Creating more diverse, inclusive and accountable organizations requires intimate, conscious, individual action.

There have been too many headlines about mass shootings, death counts and hate crimes with devastating images of people running for cover. I know I am not alone in the compulsion to want to turn them off, if only for a moment… to get my children to school, organize myself, my mind, my day, and my team.

But as a chief communications officer, public relations professor, mother and Black woman, I can’t just turn them off. It’s my job to listen. I must comprehend counted lives lost and mass mourning every morning as I click, scroll, surf, flip and screen the demeaning — searching for meaning.

But meaning without traction is merely a plan without action.

Leaders are relied upon to reflect on social reckonings calling for a position, statement,

action or response. In these moments, the first Arthur Page Principle becomes a key anchor — Tell the Truth. To do so requires directing that question within yourself, long before asking it of the organizations we represent.

Are you telling yourself the truth? Are you standing by, or standing up?

These are questions I often ask myself. The answers depend on places and spaces shaped by individual actions over time. Those individual actions form a collective culture — and thus each of us plays a role in shaping spaces that either cultivate diversity or suppress it.

Telling the Truth.

I’ve worked for some of the most renowned companies on the planet and traveled to nearly every continent. Despite first-world advantages and first-class accommodations I often found myself standing by, instead of standing up. I sometimes stood by when someone’s voice went unheard because


of status, gender or race. Often, I did not stand up or speak up when I had the answer to the problem at hand, because I was fearful about taking a stand.

Moments when I was a bystander in the face of power dynamics that overshadowed my spirit are ones I most regret. I regret not telling myself the truth; because in not standing up or speaking up my actions contributed to worsening the very culture I was striving to improve.

I was recently in a meeting of diverse leaders of color. The group may have concluded there was not much more we could do to change the culture when a woman spoke up. She said, “I am 50 years old and, for years, when others made macroaggressions towards us, we shook our heads, exchanged a glance and shrug that said, ‘Oh, that’s just them.’” She went on to say, “I don’t want to spend another 50 years doing that.” She was speaking her truth — our truth — and in so doing calling us to have a collective courage to identify ways to improve the culture.

As organizations focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, many efforts designed to scale will fail. Inclusion happens by telling yourself the truth. Cultural transformation happens when you then find the courage to speak that truth.

Each day, in conference rooms and classrooms, we have opportunities to tell the truth — and shape the culture we all need and deserve. In so doing, we move from individually standing by to standing up together. ▪

Clarissa Beyah is chief communications officer for Union Pacific Railroad and a professor of professional practice of journalism at USC Annenberg. She is a member of the Arthur Page Society and the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations Board of Advisors.
Just As organizations focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, many efforts designed to scale will fail. Inclusion happens by telling yourself the truth. Cultural transformation happens when you then find the courage to speak that truth.

Disability And Disadvantage Start With The Same First Syllable

The word inclusion has been part of academia and the business world for several years now. But what does inclusion look like for differently-abled individuals?

We have many gifts and talents to offer to the world and society. However, society’s ignorance often squelches those gifts and talents. Sure, there are laws prohibiting the discrimination of differently-abled individuals, such as the ADA (the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990), which allowed us things like curb cutouts and access to public buildings, and the Air Carrier Access Act of 1968, which prevents the discrimination of differently-abled individuals by air carriers (thus providing us appropriate access to airplanes). Then there is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which provides free and public education to public school students in the United States, tailored to their needs. These laws are meant to provide equal

access for differently-abled individuals in every facet of society in the United States. Although these measures are wellintentioned, they fail to consider the social and emotional barriers faced by differentlyabled individuals, which often are more complicated than physical access due to the microaggressions we face every day.

For example, in my own experience, although the IDEA gave me the protection to go to public school, I was not given

the most appropriate education. Unfortunately, that is the reality of our situation. It does not get easier with higher education; it gets more challenging because we are not protected under

...we are not disabled but living in a disabling world.

the same laws as we were in the public education system.

The struggle we face in higher education most of the time is that most professors have never dealt with a differently-abled person before, especially in the physical context. And sometimes, the comments they make and the actions they take, although well-intentioned, can be very harmful to the student; sometimes, their actions can be considered straight-up rude or insensitive. For instance, I had one TA complain to the professor about putting my computer away in my bag for me. My designated assistant was out for just this one day, and the TA complained! Although it isn’t in his job description to physically help me out, I also believe that just putting somebody’s computer away once will not affect his life significantly — why not just do it?! It’s not about accommodations at that point; it’s about human compassion.

I also believe that a single methodology for how to accommodate differently-abled students’ needs to be implemented at least nationwide because right now, how I see it, the laws are very vague.

For example, differently-abled students are forced to go through an overly complicated process to receive classroom accommodations like having a notetaker or adjusting seating or lighting arrangements. It can take weeks, and the semester may have already started. Streamlining the

notification process to the professor regarding one’s disability would be extremely helpful, and having a basic guideline of what all universities, private and state, must offer in terms of accommodations would be extremely helpful because the most challenging part about requesting and receiving accommodations is that every school offers different ones. Maybe this law could be called “the differentlyabled individuals’ success in higher education act.”

Another perspective on inclusion is looking at the larger picture of society. People, in general, do not view us as equal members. You are labeled as different when you’re diagnosed with a disability. Yes, there are terminologies to make us more humanized. But all of us labeled as disabled are automatically marked as different. Disability and disadvantage start with the same first syllable. We are automatically put in a negative light by people, intentionally or unintentionally, making us vulnerable. As I always like to say, I believe that society is the one that is disabling us, not us.

Society needs to rethink how we label because we are not disabled but living in a disabling world. I understand accommodating us is not easy, especially in higher education institutions, and frequently, I often feel the total weight of my presence

Reo Sorenson MA ‘23 is a second-year Master’s student at USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. His research looks at the intersection between our human experience and how that informs one’s interactions against differentlyabled individuals.

Disability And Disadvantage Start With The Same First Syllable


in every room I sit in. But you must under stand, I got there because I’m intelligent and capable of being there, just like anyone else. Because for people with disabilities or differently-abled individuals to thrive in a world that is not accessible the majority of the time, you need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable because that’s the only way we will succeed in this fight. We, as the disabled community, cannot fight this stigma alone.

Some people don’t like the word disabled — I don’t like it — but it is the true label put on us when we are different from the norm. I cannot change how I live my life, but I wish society could change how they look at me. In my favorite movie, “Wonder,” Mandy Patinkin, who plays

the principal, says to the main character, “Augie cannot change the way he looks. Maybe we can change the way we see.” That is true because you are who you are, and you can’t change who you are because we are all different.

But the things that make us different are what make us unique. Let’s live in a world that has no boundaries. Differently-abled individuals are not going away. So let’s embrace that we’re all different, but we are one human race. Let’s get together to change the perception of differently-abled individuals because enough is enough. The road ahead for inclusion is not an easy one, but it is a road we must take. ▪


Relevance Survey


Polarization Is Everyone’s Problem

Polarization is a problem that affects everyone in America. It is no longer just the result of disagreements, but the cause of them. It ruins relationships, disrupts business and, at its worst, incites violence, as we saw in the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. And according to the survey we conducted for this report, 90% of Americans don’t believe Polarization is going to decrease anytime soon, and 56% are worried about what that means for the future of our country.

In a highly polarized society, normally rational individuals lose their ability to hear, understand or empathize with anyone who has a different point of view, making productive discussions almost impossible. They see every issue, no matter how benign, through a distorted political lens that is often informed by sources who use disinformation for their own benefit. One-fifth of Americans report that polarization has damaged their friendships and divided their families. While one-third say they are afraid to say what they think in public.

In a separate survey we conducted of PR professionals, three-fourths of corporate communicators state that polarization is a problem for their organizations, because it makes it difficult to communicate on important topics and increases the risk of alienating customers and employees. Eighty-four percent of them believe that American business should use its resources and platform to play a role in reducing polarization.

59% of Americans say they believe com panies should be engaging with issues that are important to them, suggesting that they donate to nonprofit organizations, speak out publicly and encourage employees to get involved. 70% say they consider a brand’s social profile when making a purchase, and many say they’re willing to pay more for a product that aligns with their values. Almost half of our survey respondents say that they would take a pay cut to work for a company that shares their values and works to address the issues they care about like mental health, education


and climate change. This is especially true for those under 30. In contrast, 40% of those surveyed think U.S. businesses should focus on their internal policies and practices and leave the social problems to others.

This same debate can be heard in corporate board rooms across the country. Every business leader is trying to find the appropriate role for their organization to play in society. Some, like Patagonia CEO Yvon Chouinard, are leading the charge by donating their fortunes to the causes they believe in. Others are just beginning to find their way in this uncharted territory. PR people, whether they work for an activist company or not, are spending an increasing amount of time dealing with divisive issues — like gun violence and abortion — which require understanding, thoughtfulness and good judgement.

Through our research, we’ve learned that polarization is not the creation of the Left or the Right. Depending upon the issue, it can be driven by either side of the political spectrum, often by politicians and partisan media who’ve discovered they can profit from conflict. The recent airplane delivery of 50 immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida Governor DeSantis is a perfect example of manipulating a very polarizing issue like immigration to gain attention, activate supporters and increase fund raising.

Polarization is a complex, multidimensional phenomenon and its costs are difficult to calculate. It can impact a company’s sales, recruiting, benefits, turnover, philanthropy, regulation, taxes and ultimately, reputation. For example, the financial impact of Disney losing its tax-free status in Orlando over the “Don’t Say Gay” bill is estimated to be a staggering $1 billion, which may land in the laps of local homeowners.

The never-ending battle over these controversial issues have exhausted many Americans in the middle who are longing for more rational voices to join the conversation. But reducing our current level of divide will require a fresh approach to communication from leaders in government, business and media — not to mention the rest of us. We must listen respectfully to opposing opinions, scrutinize the information we receive and share, and speak carefully with words that unite instead of divide.

If we don’t learn how to communicate better, we are destined for a future of only talking about the weather. Actually, even that is polarizing. ▪


2023 Relevance Survey Results

The USC Center for PR surveyed 900 Americans about their viewpoints on corporate involvement in social justice issues. The results of the survey, which was conducted via Survey Monkey on September 14, 2022, are shared in this year’s report. The respondents reflect a representative sample of Americans and the results have a margin of error of +/- 3%. Some answers with few responses or “none of these” were omitted.

Compared to how active you were this year (2022), how active will you be in supporting the social causes you care strongly about in the coming year (2023)?

56 2023 RELEVANCE SURVEY YES 59% 41%NO FOCUS ON INTERNAL POLICIES & ISSUES 47% ENCOURAGE EMPLOYEES TO GET INVOLVED WITH CAUSES 29% 44% 34% DONATE MONEY TO NON-PROFITS SPEAK OUT PUBLICLY ABOUT ISSUES LOBBY FOR REGULATIONS & LEGISLATION 27% 16% 16% DONATE MONEY TO POLITICIANS NONE OF THE ABOVE Do you think corporations should publicly engage in social issues? How do you think corporations should get involved with social issues? Select any that apply.

work at

57 2023 RELEVANCE SURVEY 14% 27% NO 37% 36%YES 0% 54% 15% 8% 15%5% 13%10% 20% 6% 4%>25% Do you wish your current employer was more engaged in the social issues you are interested in? How much of a pay cut would you consider taking to
a company that is more aligned with your social values and is working to address social problems that are important to you?
58 2023 RELEVANCE SURVEY In your opinion, which of the following brands most effectively communicate their corporate purpose? Select the top 3. AMAZON 40% DISNEY 24% 26% 24% APPLE BEN & JERRY’S GOOGLE 16% TESLA 13% 15% 14% COCA-COLA ADIDAS WALMART 13% AIRBNB 11% 12% 11% STARBUCKS PATAGONIA
60 2023 RELEVANCE SURVEY SOMETIMES 40% RARELY 14% ALWAYS 13% 18% 15% USUALLY NEVER WOULD PAY 50% MORE 6% WOULD PAY 15-20% MORE 14% 16% 10% WOULD PAY 30-45% MORE WOULD PAY 25% MORE WOULD PAY 10% MORE 12% 14% 26% WOULD PAY 5% MORE WOULD NOT PAY MORE How often does a company’s brand involvement with social causes influence your decision to purchase from them? All things equal, how much more would you pay for a product whose brand aligns with your social values?
61 2023 RELEVANCE SURVEY ELON MUSK 30% ZENDAYA 20% 26% 23% TAYLOR SWIFT BEYONCE JEFF BEZOS 18% ARIANA GRANDE 15% 18% 17% BILLIE EILISH JOE ROGAN TREVOR NOAH 15% JOHN OLIVER 14% LIL NAS X 9% 14% 14% COLIN KAEPERNICK LUKE COMBS LOGAN PAUL 6% KYLIE JENNER 6% If you could choose any of the following celebrities to support the cause you most care about, who would it be? Select up to 3.





How has











about 2023, do you believe the U.S. will be more or less polarized? 2% 27% A LOT MORE 25%
polarization affected
personally? Select all that apply.


The Suppression Of Voting Rights: An Assault On Our Democracy

There is no more critical issue facing our country today than voting rights. If we don’t have the right to freely cast a vote, actually cast that vote, and have it counted accurately for the candidate of our choice, our democracy is in serious jeopardy.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, last year Republican-controlled legislatures in 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting in various ways. These laws were mainly in response to former President Trump’s allegations of voter fraud. In mid-January of this year, the Brennan Center also identified an addi tional 250 bills in 27 states with restrictive voting provisions under consideration.

There is little debate whether these new voter restriction laws unfairly impact lower-income voters and people of color.

These new and proposed state laws target voter registration, ballot access, and early voting; impose restrictions on who can assist voters in returning their ballots; and include proposals that make it easier

for partisan state officials to impact election results. The most contentious provisions focus on voter identification and mail-in voting.

However, it’s important to remember that 11% of eligible voters in the U.S. don’t have a driver’s license, and there is little evidence that mail-in voting led to increased fraud in the 2020 election or favors one party over the other.

The Right contends these new laws are needed to restore election integrity and that the Left is inflating the impact of these state laws to gain more control over state elections.

“There are no longer any such barriers or practices that block Black Americans (or anyone else) from registering and voting, despite the mythical claims of ‘voter suppression’ promulgated by the Left,” contends Hans A. von Spakovsky, election law reform initiative manager and senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation.


Kirk Stewart is the founder and CEO of KTStewart, a firm focused on enhancing value for 21st-century organizations through integrated corporate communications campaigns. He is a USC graduate and a founding member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

He and others on the Right point to the fact the U.S. Census Bureau reported the voter registration rate in 2020 was higher than in four of the last five presidential elections. In addition, we had the highest turnout in a presidential election since 1912, and Black Americans voted at a higher rate than whites nationally (66.2% vs. 64.1%).

At the federal level, the U.S. Senate failed to pass the Freedom to Vote Act or the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in January of this year. The Freedom to Vote Act was a comprehensive reform package that would have set nationwide voting standards to overcome restrictive state legislations. Provisions of the proposed bill included automatic and same-day registration, vote-by-mail and early voting, election integrity and security protections, the end to gerrymandering, and reducing money’s influence in politics. The Lewis Act would have restored the parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 that required states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get Justice Department or federal court approval for election law changes.

Despite overwhelming public support, these bills failed in Congress. A survey fielded by Data for Progress in September 2021 indicated that 70% of all likely voters supported the Acts, with 85% of Democrats, 67% of independents,

and 54% of Republicans “strongly” or “somewhat” supporting the Freedom to Vote Act. When asked their opinion of various provisions of the Act, each were supported by 60% or more of likely voters.

So where do we go from here?

While it seems unlikely there is an appetite to pass the Freedom to Vote Act or the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, we need to continue encouraging at least 10 Republican senators to support the legislation or reform the filibuster rule allowing for its passage by a simple majority.

For now, this battle needs to be waged at the state level, both in legislatures and the courts, to help ensure the enforcement of state constitutional protections for the right to vote that are (surprisingly) stronger than what is in the U.S. Constitution.

This won’t be easy, but there is no more important fight. As Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote, “The right to vote freely for the candidate of one’s choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restriction on that right strikes at the heart of representation government.” ▪


Great Waters In Crisis

As Jackson, Mississippi residents have been denied the basic human right of clean water access, Jackson becomes the latest American community of color to fall victim to environmental and systemic racism. At the writing of this piece, the water from Jackson faucets is ranging from tan to dark brown with low to no water pressure. With temperatures in Jackson hovering in the mid-80s, it’s an especially dangerous time to not have access to safe water to drink or clean with, let alone enough water to flush toilets or fight fires.

Though Jackson’s dire water situation is only recently receiving national attention, the city’s 149,000+ residents are long familiar with con taminated water. In fact, boil water advisories are commonly implemented in the city. It was only after the Pearl River flooded following days of historic rainfall in late August that the city’s already-damaged main treatment plant completely failed.

Residents who have access to cars have had to decide if it is worth the price of gas to line up for hours in hopes of getting two cases of bottled water before being sent home with instructions to “shower with their mouths closed.”

Jackson, Mississippi’s population is 82% Black and 24% of its residents are living at the poverty line. As our climate con tinues to change, the Pearl River is likely to flood repeatedly, causing an outdated and fragile water system to be repeatedly strained unless it is completely replaced. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba estimates replacing the entire system would

Access to clean water is still a privilege for many communities of color in this country.


cost more than $1 billion. Other potential solutions circulating include such drastic measures as privatizing the water system or abandoning the city altogether.

Access to clean water is still a privilege for many communities of color in this country. The obvious comparison is the water crisis in Flint, Mich. Though it is often referenced as a historic example of poor state and local government, to this day the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still recommends residents use NSF-certified filters in their home to remove lead. Flint is a town of roughly 100,000 residents, 57% of which are Black, 40% living in poverty. At the height of the crisis, the water system exposed tens of thousands of Flint residents to lead, some at levels 100 times higher than the EPA’s permissible standard.

In 2019, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, and Coming Clean conducted a study titled “Watered Down Justice,” which analyzed

EPA data and concluded that unequal access to safe drinking water in the U.S. is primarily based on race. In fact, the study found that there was an increase in EPA drinking water violations if it was (1) a community of color, (2) a low-income community, (3) an area of predominantly non-native English speakers, (4) an area with residents predominantly living in crowded housing conditions, or (5) an area with more people with sparse access to transportation.

Even though the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act was created to “guarantee that all Americans have access to clean, drinkable water,” many Black, Indigenous, and Latino communities have been robbed of this guarantee, left to their own devices for decades.

With multiple major waterways, the word “Mississippi” is derived from an Indigenous word that means “big river” or “great waters.” Jackson is Mississippi’s state capital; let its name be a call to action, not an irony. ▪

Melanie Scherenzel-Cherry is marketing director at Cayton Children’s Museum and Adjunct Professor at USC Annenberg, where she teaches graduate students about the business and economic foundations of public relations.

The Rise of Historically Black Colleges & Universities

Education in America is under attack. Some states are banning specific books. Others are passing bills that prohibit classroom discussions on sexual orientation or gender identity. And other schools are restricting topics linked to race and American history and preventing teachings that suggest a person is privileged or oppressed based on his or her race, sex or national origin.

Whitewashing or omitting accurate Black history helps no one and has shaped my own upbringing. I grew up on the northside of Tulsa, Okla., but was bussed to a downtown white high school. There, I was never taught about Tulsa’s 1921 Massacre of Black Americans, carried out by the Ku Klux Klan and its followers. No one told me about the brutal destruc tion of what was “Black Wall Street” either. Prior to the massacre, near Greenwood and Pine streets, the richest Blacks in America lived and owned thriving businesses. It was decades before I learned how the massacre took innocent Black lives and destroyed

generations of Black wealth, depriving us of a sense of cultural pride and achievement.

Contrary to this backlash against teaching facts in U.S. schools, there also is a profound positive trend — the increase of the interest in and relevance of Historically Black Colleges & Universities in higher education. HBCUs are now being perceived as offering a nurturing environment in which Black students can learn and excel without feeling like “the other,” as many do at majority-serving institutions. Some majority-serving higher educational institutions, corporations and high-net-worth individuals are partnering with HBCUs. High-net worth donors such as MacKenzie Scott (Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife ) gifted $150 million to 17 HBCUs in 2020, and numerous corporations are providing HBCU students with millions of dollars in grants, donations and scholarships, as well as internships and mentorships.

Systemic whitewashing of history and ongoing segregation has angered yet


Systemic whitewashing of history and ongoing segregation has angered yet inspired Black educators and progressive white allies.

inspired Black educators and progressive white allies. These groups joined to found some of the leading HBCUs in the U.S., following the Civil War, when educating Black people was highly controversial. Some considered it immoral and a crime. Others viewed it as fair, essential and vital.

Most HBCUs were created from 1865 to 1900. Those established prior to 1964 are higher-learning schools founded to educate Black Americans. HBCUs established thereafter had to have at least a 40 percent makeup of Blacks and a minimum of 1,000 students. At least 50 percent of those schools’ students came from low-income families or were first-generation students seeking a degree. About 89 percent of the total 101 HBCUs are in the U.S.’ southern region; most others are in the Northeast and along the East Coast.

Today, Black students enjoy a myriad of higher educational choices. More choose and thrive in HBCUs because they feel

more secure in environments where they are treated with respect and “like family,” and are better informed about their ances torial fact-based history. As educators, one effective way to support Black students is to build HBCU partnerships with majority universities, such as USC.

As leaders in the public relations industry, we must counsel our clients to be inclusive and sensitive to various races and ethnicities, who also are the majority consumers of most brands. We also need to urge them to support quality training for HBCU students via scholarships, internships and mentorships and in sharing knowledge in classrooms. Aside from altruistic and moral reasons, we also must remind our clients that “it makes good business sense.” Sharing their collective knowledge and resources with diverse communities will return huge dividends to their bottom lines. We all benefit by educating, not miseducating students. In the words of the revered late poet Maya Angelou: “When you learn, teach. If you get, give.” ▪

Julia A. Wilson is Dean of the Hampton University Scripps School of Journalism and Communications, and CEO & Founder of Wilson Global Communications, LLC. She is a USC graduate and a member of the USC Center for PR Board of Advisors.

The Trevor Project: Combatting Anti-LGBTQ Rhetoric

In the past several years, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policy has increased, placing the topic of queer rights more centrally on the public agenda and amplifying the polarization around LGBTQ rights. As conversations increase, so does the anti-LGBTQ sentiment.

According to The Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ people under the age of 25, this anti-LGBTQ discourse leads more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth to consider suicide each year. Globally, that number increases to a staggering 40 million suicidal youth.

“We are currently living in a cultural and political landscape that has seen an increase in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that further puts LGBTQ youth at risk for suicide, because of increased experiences of stigma and rejection,” said Calvin Stowell, Chief Growth Officer at The Trevor Project. The organization’s research shows that the suicide risk with this vulnerable

population has increased each year over the past three, with a suicide attempt every 45 seconds, a rate that is four times greater than their peers.

“These data illustrate the dire situation facing LGBTQ youth, who are at higher risk of suicide not because of who they are but because how they are treated and stigmatized in our society,” explained Stowell. “We hope that these data can galvanize fellow researchers, policymakers, and community members to join us in ending this public health crisis of LGBTQ youth suicide.”

In addition to providing 24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention services, The Trevor Project advocates for pro-LGBTQ legislation, offers educational resources to individuals and organizations, and hosts a safe, inclusive social media site called TrevorSpace for LGBTQ youth to connect with and support each other. Half a million LGBTQ youth participate in this welcoming online community.


Megan Jordan is the chief communications officer at PLBY Group. As an Adjunct Professor, she currently teaches crisis management to USC Annenberg graduate students. She serves on the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors and the Special Olympics Southern California Board of Directors.

“As the world around us changes, we remain steadfast in our commitment to provide high quality mental health services for LGBTQ youth, no matter where they are,” Stowell said. “By reaching more young people and fighting for a safer, more inclusive world, we hope to show LGBTQ youth that they belong, are loved, and not alone.”

The organization, whose powerful mission is to end LGBTQ youth suicide, hopes to expand its reach by partnering with other countries and sharing its resources while also continuing to make a meaningful impact in the US. Communications professionals can play an important role in helping The Trevor Project to raise awareness for the challenges LGBTQ youth are facing and the resources to support them, share the research and educational tools, and advocate for inclusive public policy and LGBTQ youth. Volunteer advocates are also needed to conduct outreach and research for state-level grassroots campaigns supporting LGBTQ youth across the country. In addition, The Trevor Project partners with corporations to provide resources for LGBTQ Employee Resource Groups, Pride Month celebrations, and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) initiatives. Resources are available at Trevor Support Center. ▪

For more information about The Trevor Project or to get involved, sign up for the organization’s newsletter and follow them on Instagram: @TrevorProject.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at, or by texting START to 678678.


Everyone Needs Science, And Science Needs Everyone

Devastating hurricanes and tropical storms wreak havoc on oceanside communities. Megadroughts leave large swaths of the globe parched. Megafloods sweep away neighborhoods and whole towns. Viral pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2 make the jump from animals to humans, generating suffering and in many cases death as they propagate and mutate.

Science holds the key to understanding, confronting, and overcoming these and other threats arising from humanity’s interaction with our natural environment. The advancement of science, in turn, depends on fostering the next generation of scientific innovators.

This is a top priority for Amgen and for me personally as chair of the Amgen Foundation, which for more than three decades has worked to cultivate in young people everywhere a passion for the life sciences through high-quality and accessible biology education.

The Amgen Foundation is driven by the belief that everyone needs science, and sci ence needs everyone. Working with trusted partner organizations, we seek to inspire the next generation of scientific innovators, expand access to quality science education for students with diverse perspectives and backgrounds, and provide best-in-class science education resources at no cost to teachers and students — particularly low-income and disadvantaged learners.

Since 1991, the Amgen Foundation has committed more than $200 million to advancing science education programming globally, reaching tens of millions of students and teachers. Last year alone, over 27 million students and educators worldwide were impacted through the four core science education programs we support:

• Khan Academy’s online biology resources, which are free to everyone and reached 15 million students and teachers worldwide last year;


Judy Brown is chairwoman and senior vice president, corporate affairs, at Amgen, one of the world’s leading biotechnology companies. She is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

• The Amgen Biotech Experience, which provides teaching materials, research-grade lab equipment, and professional development to high school science teachers worldwide;

• Amgen Scholars, an annual summer program that connects hundreds of undergraduate students with research opportunities at world-class science and biotechnology institutions across the globe; and

• LabXchange, a free online science education platform developed by Harvard University and the Amgen Foundation that gives students access to personalized biology instruction and virtual lab experience.

These programs have proven especially valuable during the past three years, as the pandemic has disrupted traditional learning, particularly for low-income students. LabXchange, for instance, launched in early 2020 just as COVID-19 was forcing schools to move to virtual learning. It has been used, to date, by more than 16 million students, teachers, and lifelong learners of all ages, all over the world.

“LabXchange helped me to sharpen my skills at a time when access to my physical lab at school was cut short due to constant COVID-19 lockdowns,” says Rutendo Kahari, a student and aspiring researcher from Zimbabwe.

Just last year, LabXchange launched a groundbreaking project — supported by a $1.2 million grant from the Amgen Foundation — to tackle the structures that have perpetuated racial inequity in health care and science education in the United States. Under this initiative, graduate fellows from Historically Black Colleges and Universities are preparing new digital learning resources for use by high school and college educators to build public awareness of racial health disparities, teach critical thinking skills needed to dismantle structures that perpetuate inequities, and provide evidence-based practices to support Black students’ sense of belonging, identity, and success in science.

Only by building a diverse bench of scien tific talent we will be able to tackle today’s global challenges — and the inevitable future ones — from climate change to pandemic disease.


News Literacy Project: Building A Future Based On Facts

There is no cause that is more essential to journalism — and to democracy — than the free flow of facts. In creating the First Amendment, the founding fathers understood that the choices citizens make — who to vote for, which policies to support or oppose — can only be as good as the information on which the decisions are based.

Enter the News Literacy Project (NLP), a national nonprofit dedicated to teaching and promoting news literacy. Its nonpartisan mission — to ensure that people of all ages and backgrounds know how to identify credible news and other information — empowering them to have an equal opportunity to participate in civic life, their communities and the country — is more critical than ever to our lives in the United States. NLP wants to make sure that today’s students are schooled not in what to think, but how to think.

A glimpse of today’s conversations on social media and the mis-and disinformation driving many “news” stories makes this need evident.

Long before the phrase “fake news” entered the lexicon, NLP in 2008 started this mission. Realizing that even kids in good schools often couldn’t distinguish fact from opinion and rumor, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Alan C. Miller founded NLP on a small budget that has received increasing support from a wide range of media, business and academic outlets including Apple, Microsoft, the Knight Foundation, the E.W. Scripps Company and The New York Times, among many others.

This year, NLP’s mission has become a movement, jet-fueled by a new $10 million commitment by Melanie and Richard Lindquist. The Lundquists are co-founders of the nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, and Melanie is also a member of USC President Carol Folt’s Leadership Council.


Janet Clayton is the board director at CalMatters and a strategic advisor at VectisDC. She is an Annenberg alumna and a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

NLP, based in Washington, D.C., already collaborates with schools in New York City, Chicago, Dallas, Birmingham, Nashville and Indianapolis. Now the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest public school district in the nation, has started using NLP’s digital learning platform, called Checkology©, with sixth to 12th graders.

Checkology is a virtual classroom, a free online platform with 19 engaging, authoritative video lessons that focus on

subjects such as how to discern news from other kinds of content. It is designed to help students appreciate the role of the First Amendment and a free press, and demystify how journalists do their work, while teaching students how to apply critical-thinking skills to evaluate and seek credible news and other information. Checkology, through online and teacher discussion materials, shows students how to separate fact from fiction and how to know what to trust, share and act on — and what to dismiss and debunk.

There is no cause that is more essential to journalism — and to democracy — than the free flow of facts. In creating the First Amendment, the founding fathers understood that the choices citizens make — who to vote for, which policies to support or oppose — can only be as good as the information on which the decisions are based.

News Literacy Project: Building A Future Based On Facts


The best examples of NLP tools and how they work can be found on its site, An effective video shows a teen awakening in the morning, checking her phone, sharing something that looks interesting, something that is wrong and potentially dangerous. Soon, a better-informed friend warns her about sharing bad info and lets her know there’s an easy way to check out whether information found on social media is actually true.

In its Viral Rumor Rundown, the site keeps updated examples of interest to anyone who comes across stories of suspicious origin. Recent posts took a step-by-step approach to show how anyone could determine which recent stories making the rounds were false. After going through a checklist that scrutinized assumptions, sourcing and images, users can reach their own conclusion: “Viral List of Banned Books in Florida Isn’t Real” and “No, the Simpsons Did Not Predict Monkeypox”.

CEO Chuck Salter, a constitutional lawyer, is also a former teacher (“the hardest job I’ve ever had”). With the support of the Lundquist donation and others that will follow, he said, NLP hopes to mirror previous successful public education efforts that targeted common bad behaviors as uncool and unhealthy: smoking, drunk driving and littering.

The goal is to support an educational system schooled in facts and bolster a culture that honors cool-headed rational discourse. Right now, that may feel like a tall order — but it’s required for the healthy, functioning democracy to which Americans continue to aspire. ▪


One Planet

A Sustainable Future Must Not Leave People Behind

As companies focus on their sustainability goals it’s imperative that we prioritize people most impacted by climate change to ensure a just transition.

In addition to my CEO role at WE Communications, I’ve been working on the ground with relief organizations in Africa for nearly two decades, as my personal passion. One of the inventive projects that comes to mind when I think about sustainability is one that I collaborated on with a group of women in the organization called Women in Self-Employment (WISE), based in Ethiopia. These women were turning garbage into fuel pellets, creating a new energy source that people in their community could use for heating or cooking. The women said this project not only offered them a good income; it also provided a strong sense of purpose. They were helping their community transition to more sustainable energy sources and play their part in creating a better world.

These purpose-driven women got the same message about climate change that is ringing in our ears today: Communication works! But the message isn’t landing everywhere with the same urgency, particularly for the richest nations and most powerful organizations when it comes to their sustainability efforts and targets. In 2023, the conversation must shift to prioritize communities on the margins already suffering the fierce impacts of climate change today. Our work to save our planet must be equitable; it must be a just transition.

At first glance, the link between climate change and social equity isn’t immediately clear. Here’s a brief explainer: For many years, there has been a conversation among high-level government leaders and other policymakers about how to move the world to a more sustainable economy. Most leaders agree that the rules and guidelines for this journey should be fair to all people and communities. But we aren’t starting on a level playing field. In well-resourced


nations like the United States, leaders in the public and private sector can get excited about innovative technology solutions and ambitious sustainable infrastructure plans. Solar panels! Wind farms! Electric cars! But where do developing nations fit in? People disproportionally suffering the impacts of climate change don’t have the resources to start making a meaningful switch to renewables without outside investment. If we want to see real climate progress, the public and the private sector will need to step up and provide resources — in the form of technology, expertise and capital — to make the transition a reality. And the communications industry will need to explain why this is critical.

The good news is there is a huge public appetite for such investments. WE Communications 2022 research finds that 69% of respondents said brands should make concrete investments in projects to protect jobs and livelihoods in the communities most affected by climate change, with sustainable tech investments, community outreach and reskilling workers identified as the top three solutions.

Yes, the issue is complex. No, it’s not easy to talk about. But the time to act is NOW. In 2023, business leaders will need a firm understanding of the link between sustainability and equity so they can take the action needed. Our superpower as communicators is the ability to ground ourselves in the fundamentals and lead conversations that drive change.

The women in Ethiopia making fuel pellets were doing everything they could with the resources they had to make a positive impact. They’re my inspiration. Positive impact happens only when we connect all stakeholders. Those with power and platforms need to get the same memo so we can ensure no one is left behind. To save the planet, our job is to land that message. ▪

Melissa Waggener Zorkin is Global CEO and Founder of WE Communications, one of the largest independent communications and PR agencies in the world. She is a PRWeek Hall of Fame and Hall of Femme dual honoree and a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

We All Have A Seat At The Table Of Food Insecurity

In an era saturated by celebrity chefs, reality cooking competitions and cable channels dedicated to cuisine, the glamourization of food can be found everywhere. On top of that, vacations and special events have become as much about the food that are central to the experiences as they are about the destinations or occasions. There is a thrill in planning and experiencing these moments that revolve around the big question — What are we going to eat?

For millions of people around the world though, this question is asked daily with fear and anxiety because the question for them is not what should we eat, but are we going to eat at all today?

According to the 2022 United Nations report, “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World,” hunger impacted as many as 828 million people in 2021, and it contin ues to grow. A shocking 50 million people

in 45 countries are on the brink of famine, and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 38.3 million people lived in food-insecure households in the United States in 2020.

This crisis continues to worsen because of climate change affecting farmers and their ability to grow crops, the economic impact of COVID-19, rising costs of providing aid, and conflict — including current events in Ukraine. In fact, 60 percent of the

A shocking 50 million people in 45 countries are on the brink of famine.

world’s hungry live in places where war and violence are a part of everyday life. While this issue is not new, it remains critically relevant and organizations like


Chris Kuechenmeister is senior vice president of communications for PepsiCo. He currently serves as senior counsel to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Board of Directors and as a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

the World Food Programme have challenged governments, companies and individuals to provide technical knowledge and financial aid in the fight to address this crisis.

For a global food and beverage company like PepsiCo and its PepsiCo Foundation, this issue is extremely important, and through a program called Food for Good, the company has committed to advance food security through collaboration with local partners in communities where we live and work across the globe.

Food for Good invests in solutions that increase equitable access to nutritious food and increase productivity and incomes of small-scale farmers as we aim to realize zero hunger. This includes leveraging PepsiCo’s unique capabilities and resources to make nutritious food more accessible, and tapping into the company’s expertise to improve the livelihoods of more than 250,000 in the company’s agricultural supply chain and communities by 2030, with a focus on economically empowering women and making farming more diverse in the face of an aging global farming population.

Through Food for Good, PepsiCo has delivered more than 245 million meals to more than 41 million people around the world and has partnered with more than 60 nonprofits across 28 countries to ensure we are implementing local solutions

that meet the unique challenges of each community. In the United States, Food for Good currently operates in 25 cities and is actively seeking partners to expand further.

This is one effort to address a complex problem, and we all can play a role in responding to it. Importantly, food insecurity and its relevance to the PR industry — the businesses, communities and clients we serve — will increase.

At its most basic, our work is focused on storytelling to reach and influence audiences — but those audiences are human beings who live in a world dealing with this crisis. They are your consumers, your employees or other stakeholders. They can be local or far away, and be financially secure or struggling to make ends meet. They come from all walks of life — and given the scale of this crisis, every organization or individual likely has some connection to food insecurity, directly or indirectly.

It is important to be conscious that our work exists within this reality and the messages, timing and delivery of our efforts are received in this context.

It should influence our considerations, our thinking and our choices and make clear that we will always have a seat at the table of food insecurity. ▪


Turning Ambition Into Action

I spent my childhood summers in the Northwoods of Wisconsin — swimming, sailing, camping, and falling in love with the outdoors. As I got older, I realized the impact humans were having on the environment and how climate change was shifting everything around me — including the special place I spent my summers. This inspired me to get involved.

After college, I moved to DC to turn my ambition into action. I got a job in the White House — a manifestation of my passion for politics — and began my journey with sustainability. I was in Kyoto as governments from around the world negotiated the Kyoto Protocol, in the room when Walmart decided to reduce packaging by five percent, and worked with leaders from the UAE as they launched Masdar. Along the way, I have witnessed the public perception shift from skepticism to acceptance. My wife and I, like many others, worked together to make lifestyle changes that would reduce our family’s carbon footprint.

Today, we know hybrid cars and reusable water bottles alone will not solve climate change. We need technology to act as the catalyst for scaling solutions in sustainable agriculture, air pollution, and clean energy. That’s where IBM comes in.

As organizations and governments around the world shift from baby steps to bold steps, IBM’s goal is to accelerate innovation in sustainability. We are turning ambition into action. Although IBM’s advocacy for environmental sustainability dates back decades, earlier this year we relaunched our internal structure to further embed sustainability in everything we do. Our approach is aptly named IBM Impact, and it places the environment, equity, and ethics at the center of our clients’ business and our own.

One of the efforts I am most proud of is IBM’s Sustainability Accelerator, which helps the world’s most vulnerable commu nities become more resilient in responding to climate change. It works by connecting


Jonathan Adashek is the chief communications officer and senior vice president in marketing for IBM, overseeing a team that operates across more than 170 countries globally. He is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

governments and nonprofits with the IBM technology and expertise to scale their most urgent initiatives.

For example, as part of the program, we are helping India’s Nature Conservancy monitor and educate on alternatives to harmful crop burning, digitizing farmer co-ops with Heifer International in Malawi, and guiding decisions made around water usage with Texas A&M. This is only the first year of the program and we are helping communities around the world address some of the most

important environmental challenges related to sustainable agriculture. Later this year, we will widen the net to include organizations focused on clean energy. This is just one way IBM is making a difference.

As I write this, my kids play in the same Wisconsin woods I mentioned earlier. It makes me proud to be part of an organization that is using its platform to help protect the places we call home. ▪

Today, we know hybrid cars and reusable water bottles alone will not solve climate change. We need technology to act as the catalyst for scaling solutions in sustainable agriculture, air pollution, and clean energy.

Hollywood Is Finally Representing South Asians As We Truly Are

From sports teams to board rooms, representation is one of the most pressing issues of the 21st Century, and Hollywood is responsible for much of the confusion — most of the problems and much of what we understand as cultural representations are derived from media.

In particular, finding positive representation of South Asian characters in U.S. film and television has been a challenge for decades. The South Asian character in Western content was often a “spicy addition,” ste reotype-riddled comic relief thrown in to fulfill some kind of diversity quotient. But recently, the industry has begun producing and promoting shows headlined by South Asians. How has Hollywood transitioned from stereotypical, trope-peddling shows like “Outsourced” to South Asian super hero Iman Vellani playing “Ms. Marvel” or Maitreyi Ramakrishnan starring in Netflix teen romance “Never Have I Ever”?

While the Indian Peninsula region in South Asia includes India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan,

its natives share a collective memory of deep, postcolonial trauma — one of newly drawn borders separating families forever. South Asians are distinctly different from East Asians in terms of culture, language and social norms. But in Western media, the representation of this ethnically rich region has been colorized (no pun intended) with broad brushstrokes of stereotypes, microaggressions and racist tropes.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, waves of immigration brought South Asians to American shores, and today 21% of Asian Americans trace their origins to Indian ancestry, about 4.6 million people . Often working blue-collar jobs, many Indians went on to earn degrees and attend graduate school, with research stating that over 75% of Indian Americans ages 25 and older held bachelors and higher level degrees .

Despite rapidly shattering glass ceilings in the corporate world and public life, representation of South Asians improved little between the ‘60s and early 2000s. Many examples in old American cinema


...often a “spicy addition,” stereotype-riddled comic relief thrown in to fulfill some kind of diversity quotient.

show us white actors who have simply worn makeup to play “Oriental” characters or those of color. While that has changed, the precedent remains that Asian or South Asian actors are depicted stereotypically — Apu from “The Simpsons” and Raj Koothrappali from “The Big Bang Theory” come to mind.

South Asia is often represented as one country, with one spoken language and one single landscape. This is nowhere near real ity. Even The Economist reported in 2015 that “India is a continent, masquerading as a country.” In fact, it is a subcontinent with more than 4,000 years of recorded history and culture, and more than 500 former princely states and kingdoms, ruled by colonial overlords, ripped apart by

circumstance but stitched together by fate. Moving forward, representing each of these individual cultures, their languages and their histories sincerely is a responsibility that Hollywood must take upon itself wholeheartedly.

Landscapes are also crucial in storytelling, and American impressions of South Asia are highly romanticized ones, brushed over as dirty, poor and in need of a white man to save it. Epic American stories from India include the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” both guilty of setting the scene as being humid, dusty and underdeveloped, with ancient ruins illustrating a once wealthy land now inundated by poverty.

Mythily Nair MA ‘24 is a second-year PR and Advertising graduate student, passionate about the intersections of media and communications. She is a graduate research associate for the Center for Public Relations.

Hollywood Is Finally Representing South Asians As We Truly Are

But there is progress. Streaming platforms Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ are releasing series and films highlighting a variety of different stories from the sub continent. The programming emphasizes the contrasts between the nations, as well as their intricate similarities. The popular series “Never Have I Ever,” based on a Tamil-American family and produced by Indian-American comic/actor Mindy Kaling, is spearheading the effort. Disney+’s new “Ms. Marvel” series highlights the intergenerational impact of the Partition of the Indian subcontinent.

The impact these shows have are far reaching. Besides giving every Desi kid a chance to see someone like themselves on television, they’re a unifying mechanism for every South Asian living away from home. No longer do we see ourselves as being from just Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi (among others), but we begin to recognize our shared histories, experiences and our similarities, and cheer each other on. More and more, we are able to see that beyond every stereotypical Apu and Raj there is more than one part to every story.



Brands & Society: An Ever-Growing Set of Issues

One of my colleagues asked the other day, “Has running a business always been this complex?” My initial instinct was to model resilience — of course, there have always been challenges, both internal and exogenous. However, the only accurate response was simply: no.

Recent risk reports validate this fact. For example, OnSolve measured an astonishing increase in threats facing businesses on a global basis over the past two years: shooting-related risks are up 193%; transportation-related risks are up 143%; national security threats are up 48%; extreme weather events are up 47%; and, sadly, the list goes on.

CEOs, Chief Communications Officers, and Chief Marketing Officers experience this complexity on an increasingly intense basis. Premier brands have been in the hotseat this year for their responses — in particular, the timeliness (or lack thereof) — to issues ranging from marriage equality to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, among other matters. Many companies have kept

out of the headlines, although their angst about the prospective next issue is palpable.

Why has the business landscape gotten so much more complicated in recent years?

There is a new set of expectations for business. Topics that once seemed to be the responsibility of government or perhaps too personal for the workplace — for example, geopolitics or access to reproductive rights — have not been adequately addressed by traditional institutions. This fuels even greater expectations for business to fill the void where others have failed.

Our most recent study of Trust At Work (September 2022) shows that “My Employer” is the single most trusted institution globally, with a record 21-point trust advantage over other institutions. Seven in 10 respondents want their job to create social impact; they want their employers to take a stand on human rights (71%), consumer privacy (67%), racial justice (66%) and climate change (63%).


In fact, employees are more comfortable discussing societal issues with co-workers than neighbors because the workplace ranks just behind friends and family as their most important community.

Alan Murray, CEO of Fortune, and author of Tomorrow’s Capitalist: My Search for the Soul of Business, offered some thoughts in a recent interview: “To be successful, companies need to pay attention to their returns and shareholders but also to how they’re serving multiple stakeholders. This includes their employees, customers, the communities they live in, and the planet they inhabit.”

Of course, stakeholder capitalism is complicated by punitive politics and anti-environmental, social and governance movements. A corporate initiative that might be heralded in one state, could be taken to task in another. Layer on top of this the reality that many executives are exhausted by the sheer volume of issues and opinions to navigate, in addition to a complex economic environment.

How can business better navigate such broad stakeholder expectations? How can they identify issues that matter and get ahead of future curveballs?

First, it’s not possible for a company to opine on every issue. And, when they do, it must be backed by action. This can range in intensity from creating safe forums

for dialogue to engaging with legislators and launching industry-leading action. However, acknowledging an issue is different from providing access to health care or giving a day off to vote.

Second, it’s critical for companies to evolve decision-making and have a clear framework to do so in today’s environment. These issues can be polarizing and deeply personal; they require new ways of working and listening, including convening diverse perspectives and drawing on data in order to facilitate healthy debate.

At Edelman, we developed a framework — a societal issues navigator — to help clients determine when they should speak out. While we customize this to every organization’s unique context, our baseline is grounded in ensuring consistent, guiding principles that consider: 1) strategic and business impact; 2) alignment with their organizational purpose; 3) expectations of key stakeholders; and 4) credibility and authenticity.

Finally, organizations should aspire to anticipate and assess issues proactively. While challenging, it is a healthy sign if your team feels increased pressure from heightened stakes around societal issues; harness this urgency. Taking action can be an extremely valuable way to build trust with your stakeholders, especially when it aligns with your organization’s purpose. ▪

Matthew J. Harrington is global president & COO of Edelman. He is a member of the Public Relations Society of America and the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

Business Must Play A Greater Role In Reducing Polarization

Few things are more troubling to our society than the polarization gripping our country. It impacts our ability to deal with the most pressing issues of the day, ranging from climate change to energy production and consumption, from public health to economic growth. Just as impor tantly, it impacts our ability to have civil conversations with one another, friends, family and colleagues.

No one is happy about this, but what can we do?

There are many reasons why we are in this mess and there are many potential pathways to help us get out of it. None are easy. But what is the role of business? Can business — should business — play a proactive role in reducing polarization and improving civil discourse?

Interestingly, the acceleration of polarization has paralleled the acceleration of stakehold er capitalism. Is there a cause-and-effect here? I doubt it, but there is a relationship. And broader recognition by the world’s

leading CEOs of the role they need to play in our society has come at a fortuitous time. Or, as Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff wrote in Alan Murray’s new book, Tomorrow’s Capitalist, today’s successful business leaders must practice a capitalism “that is more equal, fair and sustainable, where profit and purpose go hand-in-hand and business can be the greatest platform for change.”

The intersection between stakeholder capitalism and tackling polarization is often crystal clear. Consider the acceleration of employee activism. When a company’s employees protest a company’s behavior on issues ranging from voting rights, gun safety, immigration, LGBTQ rights, and more, they are forcing a company to engage in social issues of the day. Whether or not the company’s engagement goes public, or stays within the four walls of the company, the fact remains: corporate America is engaging. And in doing so, it can play a constructive role in educating both sides of many issues and help to turn down the temperature on the debates.


Bob Feldman is founder of Feldman + Partners, a purpose-driven strategy and investment firm, and of The Dialogue Project, which promotes the role of business in reducing polarization and improving civil discourse. He is on the Board of Trustees of the Arthur W. Page Society, and is a founding member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

I founded the Dialogue Project in 2020 after doing considerable research into this matter. CEOs want and need our society to be less hostile and more productive. Our citizens don’t enjoy the tribalism of today’s politics.

The Dialogue Project’s purpose is to educate and inspire business leaders to do as much as they can to help meet these challenges of polarization and discourse.

Last year the program found its long-term home at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. The school’s interest is to both inform and educate not only their students and faculty, but also to be a resource for business leaders on important thought leadership along with actionable examples of how companies are dealing with this today.

We’ve held important conferences, such The Risks & Rewards of Stakeholder Capitalism, which featured leaders from MasterCard and Deloitte. We held a session, The Calculus of Engagement, featuring Southwest Airlines, Allstate and new research from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. And just this fall, we conducted a remarkable crisis simulation exercise delving into how a public health crisis can morph into a highly political crisis and the challenges that pres ents to corporate America. Our simulation featured leading business executives from Procter & Gamble, United

Airlines, Gilead Sciences, Boeing, World Health Organization and the CDC.

What were the key insights from all this activity-to-date?

• Corporate leaders must invest time to really understand their own company’s values.

• Be sure those values are understood and respected by all employees; violations must have consequences.

• Consider what role those values play in determining if, when and how you engage on social issues.

• Understand that regardless of what public posture you may choose to take, employee activism is stronger than ever and communication by the CEO and other leaders to all employees is often essential on a range of issues.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, business is now America’s most trusted institution. If so, corporate leaders must leverage that trust to help their employees (aka our citizens) learn how to listen and respect varying viewpoints, much as they do in the day-to-day operations of business.

None of this is easy, but if a company‘s values are understood and its actions reflect its values, even those who disagree will offer respect. For those leaders who try to have it both ways, and not be grounded by a core set of values, their actions will have negative consequences. ▪


How To Thrive In The Generational Power Shift

The Hippocratic Oath is one of the oldest and most famous ethical codes. It is often summarized as “first do no harm.” Yet the original recitation was closer to “abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption.”

Why does it matter? It tells me even back in 400 BC, cognoscente understood human instincts to manipulate the narrative and subsequent outcome. Today’s “cause”: restoring an oath mentality to uphold facts, truth and accuracy while abstaining from any mischief. In other words: first, do no harm.

Turns out that for this generation, avowing a trust oath became more the domain of business instead of medical school. Since I graduated 20 years ago, the Edelman Trust Report has chronicled a toxic cycle of distrust corroding our increasingly polarized society. The public squarely blames media and government, with business emerging as the only trusted institution today, even ahead of NGOs.

This last Trust Report revealed a new element of internal communications responsibility: my CEO and “my employer” were the most trusted sources around the world. Today’s employees believe policy information from their employer and accept it as truth, even from a single recitation. Consequently, communications professionals are now unforeseen global keepers of truth and trust.

The authors of Zconomy, Dorsey & Villa, highlight industries where generational power is shifting based on Gen Z’s trust view. Their last report, which surveyed Gen Zs between 14 - 22, found a more parsimonious population: 12% were already saving now for retirement. Gen Zs will also benefit from history’s greatest capital gift in the “Great Wealth Transfer:” an estimated $60 trillion of wealth (give or take a few trillions) going from boomers to youngers. Gen Z is saving and inherit ing — and they will spend according to their values.


The great wealth transfer is abruptly colliding with the “Great Resignation.” Apparently during the pandemic, we weren’t only on TikTok, but also re-examining all people, places and things in our lives. I predict this involuntary introspection and infusion of trillions in financial freedom will catalyze a pursuit of passions, professions, and purpose.

Which brings us to generational power. The 2021 Visual Capitalist Generational Power Index (GPI) provides a composite of economic, political, and cultural power.

diverse in history in all areas - except age. In fact, this is the oldest Congress ever; boomers are 56% of the 117th Congressional seats (68% of Senate seats) but 21% of the population.

But in 2023 the oldest Gen Zs reach Congress’ electable age. Legislation already reflects different opinions of younger voters on issues from cannabis to climate change. Perhaps newly transferred great wealth and resignation will endow younger generations to re-enter such passé fields as public service or academia. I’d like to think these blue flame thinkers will increasingly gather for convocation at journalism or public policy schools.

The great wealth transfer is abruptly colliding with the “Great Resignation.”

The GPI validates Boomers’ wealth and computes they punch above their weight at things like S&P CEOs, Chief Justices and Governors. GPI data tell that “golden-agers” also tower in power when it comes to election campaign spending, with boomers and the Silent Generation controlling nearly 80% of all political spending. This is the 6th Congress in a row that is the most ethnically and racially

Or, perhaps these best and brightest Zs will join our cause as communicators. I predict a return to accountability where the power of a truthful and trusted pen will pave the way back to constructive discourse. I also predict that — even while we have a long way to go — climate change and equality are already tables takes and the next big cause this generation will embrace could be democracy and civil society.

First, do no harm…and maybe even do some good. ▪

Jessica Adelman is vice president, corporate affairs and head of global external communications for Mars Wrigley. She is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

Looking For The Positive In Social Media

In a world dominated by all things digital, the internet — social media, specifically — frequently infiltrates our everyday actions, thoughts, and even our mental health. With a career centered around technology and a 13-year-old daughter who would spend the majority of her free time scrolling through Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram if she were allowed, I’ve become hyper-aware of the effects the toxic environment of social media can have both on our personal lives and society as a whole. Although it is intended to be a space to share the most joyful moments of our lives or your favorite comical meme, social media often breeds negativity and encourages harmful habits such as “doom-scrolling” and adopting unrealistic expectations of lifestyles, body image, materialism, and more.

According to Pew Research, about 64% of adults in the United States agree that social media has an overarchingly negative effect on our country today. Whether this is through implanting false political narratives in vulnerable minds or chronic cyberbullying of younger generations, social

media can have a drastic impact on uniquely vast audiences that would not have been able to be reached elsewhere. As the world becomes increasingly reliant on technology with the expansion of the internet from web2 to the already booming world of web3, it is important to address the harmful effects of social media and the internet now before it becomes an insurmountable concern for parents, law enforcement officials, business leaders, and educators around the world.

Several nonprofit organizations have been established to work to resolve the toxicity of social media since the internet was made public in the 1990s. The Organization for Social Media Safety, for instance, is the first consumer protection organization focused exclusively on social media and works to protect against all of its related dangers, including cyberbullying, hate speech, sexual harassment, the spread of propaganda and more. Many organizations work to protect and support younger internet users and provide them with the information they need to navigate their


online lives and internet safely, including Common Sense Media, Enough is Enough, and Connect Safely.

Aside from getting involved with these organizations, there are many other ways to address the negativity of the online world without having to go completely cold-turkey off the internet. Many digital media companies are making a point to integrate positivity into social media users’ timelines, including internet-first animation studio Invisible Universe. which develops and debuts original IP in partnership with high-profile celebrities and artists.

The start-up’s first and best-known animated character, Qai Qai, is created in collaboration with Serena Williams and is “living” proof that there is still good to be found on the feeds of TikTok, Instagram, and beyond. Qai Qai’s contagious personality and knack for always being on trend have captured fans’ hearts around the world, earning her over 4 million followers across social platforms.

With an abundance of wildly unrealistic beauty standards and body images piling up on the timelines of TikTok especially, social media accounts like Qai Qai provide a positive community for children through her diverse and inspiring voice as well as much-needed representation on social platforms. Despite the toxicity found on social channels, companies like Invisible Universe give me hope that the next generation, including my own daughter, will not be completely destroyed by the internet’s downsides.

To avoid the trap of social media negativity, make a conscious effort in your own online habits. Limit your screen time, avoid going on social media right before bed, and unfollow any accounts that are not promoting positivity on your feed. Although technology has in many ways changed our world for the better and has single-handedly made many amazing societal advancements possible, it is important to remember the immense power the platforms hold unless you are confident with your “real life” self. ▪

Jenn Stephens Acree is the founder and CEO of JSA Strategies, a Los Angeles-based communications agency specializing in servicing consumer technology, digital media and esports/gaming industries. She is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.
According to Pew Research, about 64% of adults in the United States agree that social media has an overarchingly negative effect on our country today.

Addressing Truth Erosion

I dislike the term “disinformation.” It whitewashes the danger and damage caused by the creation and distribution of false information. It is simpler to use a clearer word — lies. The objective of sharing information — every communicator’s core goal — should always be to provide clarity in a truthful, authentic way.

Disinformation does the opposite. It obfuscates, breeds doubt, and undermines credibility. It also erodes trust — not in just in our discipline, but in our fundamental democratic institutions, which include a free and objective press.

Microsoft’s President Brad Smith has shared his perspective that technology is both a “tool” and a “weapon.” I view communications in the same light. Much has been written about the vital importance of truthful communications in a functioning democracy. History is replete with bad actors and examples of untruthful propaganda, weaponized to deceive and mislead.

The effects of disinformation are troubling because, like many of my peers, I’ve spent decades working to shed the disparaging image of the “spin doctor,” which is at odds with the core tenet of our craft. Truthfulness is necessary for any corporation, organization, government, or public individual. If that trait is missing, trust will erode. One needs only to observe the damage to the VW brand — and its bottom line — caused by Dieselgate, the carmaker’s outright fabrication of data for government emissions testing.

While social media plays a critical role in the dissemination and validation of disin formation, it is not the only source. Nor is disinformation a uniquely U.S. challenge — its rise is universal. So is the ascendance in distrust of the media, institutions, and political leadership.

What does all this mean for Communicators?

As an employee of Microsoft, I’m proud of our commitment to develop technologies


Doug Dawson is the general manager of global communications at Microsoft, where he leads a talented team of professionals responsible for the company’s global communications strategy. He is member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

and partner with organizations to combat the spreading of lies. In recent years, Microsoft has introduced video authen tication software using AI that identifies artificially manipulated imagery and videos. The company has partnered with the Trusted News Initiative and global media outlets like the BBC, CBC and The New York Times on a verification technology called Project Origin that aims to tackle the most dangerous disinformation worldwide. Microsoft has also partnered with peers like Adobe, Arm, Intel and the BBC to establish technical standards for publishers and creators to certify and trace the origins of media content. But no single organiza tion can combat disinformation alone.

equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath, or the formation of an organization like the bar association, where clear protocols and standards of conduct are universally applied and followed.

Whether we work in media relations or in the media, we share a common goal: the pursuit of the truth. The rise of systematic disinformation campaigns — often run by governments with limitless resources — means press and PR need to build stronger, more meaningful relationships if we are to have any hope of the truth winning out over carefully crafted, emotionally manipulative lies.

For communicators, this will also means sometimes taking your lumps.

I believe the normalization of disinforma tion is among the most pressing concerns for every communications professional today. We must use every weapon at our disposal to combat the war on the truth. Perhaps 2023 will be the year when we see the adoption of a communicator’s

Volkswagen got caught in a lie of its own making and took the reputational and financial hit it deserved. But good things came out of the beating the company took in the press — it pushed VW to lead the charge among legacy automakers in shifting to electric vehicles. That’s not something that likely would have happened had the press not done its job.

Better, truthful communication starts with us. It’s time to lean in to help address the erosion of truth. The credibility of our craft depends on it. ▪

I dislike the term “disinformation.” It whitewashes the danger and damage caused by the creation and distribution of false information. It is simpler to use a clearer word — lies.

Protecting New Voices Protects All Of Ours

Across the nation, school administrators are silencing student journalists. In Indiana, a principal prevented a high school student journalist from covering a story about a student who was convicted of sexual assault. The principal told her that the topic was “too sensitive for the students to tackle.” In Nebraska, school administrators completely shut down a school’s newspaper after student journalists dedicated an issue to LGBTQ issues. In a time when the journalism profession is under attack, the early cultivation of journalists is under attack, too.

Tinker v. Des Moines historically declared in 1969 that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

But in 1988, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier stripped student journalists of their First Amendment rights, ruling in favor of a school principal who censored stories about teenage pregnancy and the impact of divorce. The effects of the ruling are still prevalent today, with school administrators exercising prior restraint whenever student

reporting might threaten their or their school’s reputation.

The effects of Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier are detrimental. However, there is a movement that has set out to reverse the impact of the ruling. New Voices is a legislative movement powered by students to protect student press freedoms at the state level. The legislation, dubbed the New Voices Law, guarantees that public school students have the First Amendment freedoms of speech and the press.

California was the first state to enact a law protecting student journalists in 1977 — prior to Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier. After the ruling, from 1988-1995 five more states joined California in passing their own New Voices Laws. But despite being 34 years since the Supreme Court ruling, only 16 states have passed this important, protective legislation.

That’s 34 years that school administrators have been able to exercise prior restraint over student journalists. Thirty-four years


that young voices could be silenced at the whim of a school administrator.

Sixteen states are not enough: We need to ensure that the law protects every student journalist across the country as they protect professional journalists.

Public school journalism is often the start of a lifelong vocation and avocation for young reporters and freethinkers. By supporting public school journalism, we support the entire practice by paving the way for budding truth-seekers to develop themselves. Student journalists sometimes are the only ones covering their communi ties. So if we give them a voice, we provide a voice to many others in the process.

As we enter 2023, eight states are considering New Voices Laws and efforts are underway in over 20 others. New Voices Laws impact virtually every community nationwide — which means we should all be part of the fight. Find out if there is a New Voices Law in your state; you may be surprised that there isn’t. You can give a voice to a community by protecting the voices of its student journalists. Make sure we don’t go another 34 years without restoring student press freedoms. ▪

Grayson Wolff ‘24 is an undergraduate student studying public relations and entrepreneurship who is passionate about the First Amendment. He is a student research associate for the Center for Public Relations.
In a time when the journalism profession is under attack, the early cultivation of journalists is under attack, too.

One Nation, Divisible By Digital Access

Much has been said about the internet and social platforms becoming breeding grounds for spreading misinformation and sowing division, but what about when the internet becomes the source of division?

The “digital divide” is not a new concept, but per the most recent Broadband Deployment Report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 14.5 million Americans still lack access to broadband internet service. Concurrent to the release of the report in 2020, FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel proposed raising the minimum standard for internet connection speed to be deemed broadband, indicating the agency’s recognition that its current standard — a paltry 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload — is inadequate. Even those connected at this rate are still underserved.

Beyond FCC-driven discussions about connection speed, dialog in the industry centers on the importance of access — to the point at which a debate persists

about whether the internet should be recategorized as a utility.

Think about that. Water. Electricity. Internet.

While formal recategorization has not happened, the volume of the debate has kept the issue of the digital divide front and center with regulators. Yet, it wasn’t until three years ago that it became so plainly visible to the rest of us, as COVID-19 emerged and accelerated the digitization of society.

It began with workplaces going remote or hybrid but it permeated the rest of our lives as well. Telehealth has become increasingly important to patient access as healthcare faces a shortage of physicians. Distance learning has become a standard requirement for students. Delivery apps have become vital to consumers as brick-andmortar stores have shut their doors. The rate of disruption may slow as the pandemic subsides, but the way we live has changed forever, and the new reality is stark.


Dale Legaspi is senior account supervisor at Zeno Group, with more than a decade of experience in B2B tech. He is an alumni from USC Annenberg, where he now serves as an Adjunct Professor in both the undergrad and grad programs.

An alarming percentage of the country still falls on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Rural communities unable to support an increasingly digital way of life are in danger of becoming ghost towns. It may seem like dystopian fiction, but considering the federal government’s focus on the issue, it is reality.

Washington has thrown unfathomable sums of money at the digital divide with the two most recent programs — the Connect America Fund II (CAF-II) and the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) — accounting for an investment of more than $20 billion in the last five years alone.

Despite these efforts, more than 14 million Americans remain on the wrong side of the divide, and their lack of access to this new “utility” puts them at a distinct disad vantage. With entire communities being left behind, the digital divide must be an issue that remains front and center for all of us — especially those of us with a platform to address it. ▪


RELEVANCE REPORT 2023 COMPILED AND EDITED BY Ron Antonette ‘90 Grayson Wolff ’24, Student Research Associate

Andrea Hubbard MA ’24, Graduate Research Associate



Fred Cook

ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR Burghardt Tenderich, PhD


Jennifer Acree* JSA+Partners

Jessica C. Adelman Mars Wrigley

Jonathan Adashek IBM

Christine Alabastro* DoorDash Vanessa Anderson AM PR Group

Clarissa Beyah Union Pacific Judy Brown Amgen

Adrienne Cadena* Havas Street Cathy Calhoun

Dominic Carr Lyft

Janet Clayton* Vectis Strategies Stephanie Corzett* Nordstrom

Carrie Davis CD Consulting




Ulrike Gretzel, PhD

BOARD OF ADVISORS / October 2022

Doug Dawson Microsoft Bob Feldman Feldman + Partners Matt Furman ExxonMobil

Robert Gibbs Bully Pulpit Interactive Brenda Gonzalez* USCIS

Cynthia Gordon Nintendo of America Simon Halls* Slate PR

Matthew Harrington Edelman

Bill Imada IW Group

Megan Jordan* PLBY Group

Seema Kathuria

Russell Reynolds Assoc.

Megan Klein*

Warner Bros. Discovery Chris Kuechenmeister PepsiCo

Maryanne Lataif* AEG Worldwide

Elizabeth Luke* Pinterest Gulden Mesara City of Hope Josh Morton Nestlé U.S. Torod B. Neptune Medtronic

Glenn Osaki* USC Erica Rodriguez Pompen Micron

Andy Polansky Weber Shandwick (ret.) Ron Reese Las Vegas Sands

Heather Rim* Optiv

Melissa Robinson Boingo Wireless Josh Rosenberg Day One Agency Barby Siegel Zeno Group

Hilary Smith NBC Universal Don Spetner Weber Shandwick

Kirk Stewart* KTStewart

Michael Stewart* Hyundai Grant Toups Hill+Knowlton Strategies

David Tovar Grubhub Gerry Tschopp Experian

KeJuan Wilkins Nike Julia Wilson* Wilson Global Comms & Hampton Univ.

Deanne Yamamoto* Golin

Melissa Waggener Zorkin WE Communications

* denotes USC alumnus


Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook

Articles inside

Protecting New Voices Protects All Of Ours

pages 99-100

Addressing Truth Erosion

pages 97-98

Looking For The Positive In Social Media

pages 95-96

How To Thrive In The Generational Power Shift

pages 93-94

Business Must Play A Greater Role In Reducing Polarization

pages 91-92

Brands & Society: An Ever-Growing Set of Issues

pages 89-90

Turning Ambition Into Action

pages 83-84

Hollywood Is Finally Representing South Asians As We Truly Are

pages 85-88

A Sustainable Future Must Not Leave People Behind

pages 79-80

We All Have A Seat At The Table Of Food Insecurity

pages 81-82

News Literacy Project: Building A Future Based On Facts

pages 75-78

Everyone Needs Science, And Science Needs Everyone

pages 73-74

The Trevor Project: Combatting Anti-LGBTQ Rhetoric

pages 71-72

The Rise of Historically Black Colleges & Universities

pages 69-70

The Suppression Of Voting Rights: An Assault On Our Democracy

pages 65-66

Disability And Disadvantage Start With The Same First Syllable

pages 49-52

Great Waters In Crisis

pages 67-68

Polarization Is Everyone’s Problem

pages 53-54

Standing By Or Standing Up?

pages 47-48

Break Silos And Prevent Cyberattacks By… Talking?

pages 43-44

Returning To Work: The War That Is Coming

pages 33-35

Is Antiwork A Movement Or A Moment?

pages 45-46

Creativity In A Time Of Crisis

pages 41-42

Flexible Working Options Are A Key To Alleviating Gender Inequality

pages 39-40

Corporate Citizenship As A Retention Tool

pages 36-38

Mental Health Solutions Grow As Work-Life Boundaries Blur

pages 29-32

Keeping Mental Health Concerns Relevant In College Life

pages 27-28

The Hard Skills Gap We Continue To Ignore

pages 13-14

Agency Allyship: A New Model For Change

pages 9-10

How Employers Can Actively Support Mental Health Awareness

pages 25-26

Focus On A Cause Relevant To Your Business

pages 11-12

Scaling Purpose Work Through Influencers And Discord

pages 15-18

Shaping The Conversation About Mental Health

pages 19-20

The PR Industry Needs To Finally Get Serious About Diversity

pages 7-8

Our Mental Health Is Connected To The Well-Being of Others

pages 21-24
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.