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R E L E VA N C E REPORT 2021


TA B L E O F C O N T E N T S FOREWORD

Stranger Things...............................���������������������������������������������� 1

A TIME FOR CHANGE

A Time For Radical Change��������������������������������������������������������� 6 Diversity Officers Are More Relevant Than Ever�������������������������� 8 Youth Activism Is Creating Lasting Change������������������������������� 10 How to Become a Fan of Fan Activism��������������������������������������� 12 Business Steps Up To Help ‘Fix’ Society������������������������������������� 14 Brands and Communicators as Agents for Change��������������������� 18 Tear Down that White Wall!������������������������������������������������������ 20 We Can All Learn from Hollywood������������������������������������������� 22 A Lesson in Mobilization����������������������������������������������������������� 24 Our Words Matter���������������������������������������������������������������������� 26 What Every Communications Leader Needs Today������������������� 28 History and Myths Marginalize Asian Americans���������������������� 30 #AgenciesSoWhite��������������������������������������������������������������������� 34 The Power of Journalism������������������������������������������������������������� 36 #Change: Activism in the Age of Social Media �������������������������� 38 "New Activism"�������������������������������������������������������������������������� 40

ADOPT AND ADAPT

COVID-19 Remains Relevant��������������������������������������������������� 46 Localizing the Fight Against Disinformation����������������������������� 48 In Influencers We Trust – Especially During a Pandemic����������� 50 The Psychological Impact Of 2020 May Last For Long Time����� 54 The Auto Industry Adapts Its Customer Experience������������������ 58 The Future of Live Experiences��������������������������������������������������� 60


Facial Recognition: Promising, Polarizing, Here to Stay�������������62 The Timing of COVID-19���������������������������������������������������������66 Sports and Live Entertainment Post-COVID 19�����������������������68 Creating A More Adaptive, Empathetic Team����������������������������70 The COVIDization of Sport�������������������������������������������������������74 The Return of Retail�������������������������������������������������������������������76 Building A Brand Connection During A Crisis��������������������������78 Technology Gives Us Hope We Can Do More Than Cope���������80 It’s Only Getting Tougher����������������������������������������������������������82 Defying Loneliness in the Era of COVID-19�����������������������������84 Staying Globally Relevant in the New Normal���������������������������86 Interactive Content for a Hybrid World�������������������������������������88 Saving Local News���������������������������������������������������������������������90 Authenticity in Times of COVID-19�����������������������������������������92

ACTIVATE WITH PURPOSE

How To Engage In Purpose-Driven Conversation���������������������96 Best Practices in Brand Purpose Communications���������������������96 Are We Using Our Inside Voices?���������������������������������������������100 Why Google Cast Its Vote For Election Security����������������������102 Cash, Credit and COVID-19���������������������������������������������������104 Managing US-China Business Relationships���������������������������106 Connecting Through Data��������������������������������������������������������108 Greater Understanding through Research��������������������������������110 Does Brand Nationality Still Matter?���������������������������������������112 How Organizations Used Twitter to Collaborate ���������������������114 COVID-19 Ushers in, Humorous Branded Content����������������116 BLM and the Shift to Purpose-Driven Brands�������������������������118


USC ANNENBERG CENTER FOR PUBLIC RELATIONS 2020-2021

DIRECTOR

ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR

Fred Cook fcook@usc.edu

Burghardt Tenderich, PhD tenderic@usc.edu

CHIEF PROGRAM OFFICER

SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW

Ron Antonette ron.antonette@usc.edu

Ulrike Gretzel, PhD gretzel@usc.edu

STUDENT RESEARCH ASSISTANTS

Sandra Stanisa MA '20

Michael Bronstein MA '22

Anthony Baca MA '21

ZaZu Lippert '22

Ruby Callahan MA '21

Kyle Pavia MA '22

Sara Lattman MA '21

Allyson Staton MA '22


The mission of the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations is to connect corporations, agencies, academics and students to define the future of our industry and to develop those who will shape it. Our annual Relevance Report identifies emerging issues, examines current strategies and forecasts future trends.

FRE D C OOK is Director of the USC

last 30 years, he has been providing

Center for Public Relations, where

marketing advice and crisis counsel

he advances the study and practice

to blue-chip companies like Ninten-

of PR through research, education

do, McDonald’s and Toyota. Fred is

and innovation. He is also the chair-

the author of Improvise: Unconvention-

man 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

al Career Advice from an Unlikely CEO, and host of the USC Annenberg

podcast #PRFuture, which explores industry and societal trends.


STRANGER THINGS

BY F R E D COOK

2020 has been the most chaotic year in modern history. Coronavirus infected our bodies and our minds. Quarantines drained our economy. Protests rocked our communities. Political warfare divided our nation.

struggling economy led to canceled internships, salary reductions and layoffs. Under internal and external pressure, consumer brands rushed to support Black Lives Matter, while their agencies released disappointing reports on their own diversity.

As of this writing, more than 6 million Americans have contracted COVID19. Nearly 200,000 have died. Fourteen million have lost their jobs. Forty-two percent of the labor force worked from home. One hundred percent of our lives were changed-forever.

Like never before, Americans devoured content. Consumers lived on the internet. Audiences inhaled cable news. Politicians convened daily press conferences. Corporations announced social initiatives. Activists mobilized on social media. Teens weaponized TikTok.

In the middle of this global crisis, George Floyd was brutally murdered by the Minneapolis police, triggering an unprecedented nation-wide protest on our city streets. These spontaneous demonstrations changed the conversation around racial justice. Systemic racism, unconscious bias and cancel culture became trending topics on social media and at the dinner table.

Communications became essential.

Adding Politics to the mix created a perfect storm. Wearing a mask became a political statement. Sporting the Black Lives Matter logo got people fired. Boycotting beans became a symbol of resistance.

That’s why we devoted the 2021 edition of the Relevance Report to examining the impact these unprecedented events will have on the future of the PR profession. No one could have predicted what happened in 2020, but we can speculate on how those profound changes will affect our work and our lives in the coming year.

These epic events rocked the Public Relations industry. While corporate communicators worked overtime to reassure their customers and protect their employees, the

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2021 USC ANNENBERG RELEVANCE SURVEY RESULTS The USC Center for PR partnered with the Institute for Public Relations and GOLIN to survey 1,087 Americans about which products, brands and people will be MOST relevant to them in 2021. The results of the survey, which was conducted via Survey Monkey on August 15-16, 2020 (the start of USC's school year), are shared throughout this book.

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TIME FOR CHANGE


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A TIME FOR RADICAL CHANGE

BY WILLOW B AY

DEA N , USC A NNE NB E RG S C H O O L

As an institution of higher learning, we recognize the significance of this moment as one that demands radical change. It calls upon us to challenge our assumptions, assess the policies and practices upon which they are based, and fundamentally change our behaviors — institutional and personal. Radical change is what we need, but what does radical truly mean? Latino media studies scholar and Director of USC Annenberg’s School for Communication Hector Amaya posed this critical question to our faculty this summer. I am struck by the magnitude of considering what it means to be “radical” at this moment. What it means to bring our teaching, scholarship and practice to confront two pandemics: COVID-19 and racial injustice. And what it means to be confronting the increased polarization and erosion of civil discourse that also define this moment. If ever there was a moment made for reaching across divides, this is it. We must face the challenge head-on, beginning at the root of the structures, practices and behaviors that reinforce racial injustice. As institutions and individuals, it is time to combat the structural racism embedded in our history and revealed with such devastating clarity and ferocity in our present. 6

This is why I am so pleased that USC Annenberg is involved with the Dialogue Project, an initiative supported by our school, businesses and other organizations, to help their people, and society, have more constructive conversations on difficult topics. Institutions like business — including the business of higher ed — are well positioned with resources and access to reach across this chasm, breaking through divides to facilitate dialogue and build community. Fortunately, a school for communication and journalism has some powerful tools at its fingertips. Advancing our understanding of the profound changes brought on by technology and communication, reporting on and analyzing networks of communication and community, while speaking truth to power, is what we do. And this has never been more important than right now, as we re-examine our culture, our politics, our economy, our health and our very core values. It begins with listening. Our students are using their voices to press for change and we are supporting them with platforms to amplify their message. In his essay posted on our Annenberg site and published in the Undefeated, college sophomore Reagan Griffin, Jr writes:


"Vocalize your support on social media. Talk with your families, particularly your younger siblings, about racism. Champion Black leaders and organizations in your community. Demand justice for the victims of police brutality. Advocate on our behalf in the spaces where we are not and cannot be present. Make it known that you will not tolerate injustice, even when it doesn’t directly affect you." Griffin, like so many of us, is watching words and action break down silos as Americans walk hand in hand at protests across the country. According to Pew Research, 67% of Americans say they support the Black Lives Matter movement. With roughly 20 million participants, BLM has become the largest social movement in American history. Our scholars, too, are documenting the ways activists deploy tools of contemporary communication to build movements. With the publication of a timely and important new book, Bearing Witness While Black: African Americans, Smartphones, and the New Protest #Journalism, Professor Allissa Richardson speaks to the way Black activists, “continuing a tradition of using news to challenge racism,” are harnessing the power of mobile and social media, covering the news in their community, while documenting and confronting racism at a scope and scale that is unprecedented in its reach and impact.

W IL LOW BAY is Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and holder of the Walter H. Annenberg Chair in Communication.

racial justice. In July, activist April Reign, who created the movement #OscarsSoWhite told him: “It’s imperative that the brands and the organizations that want to stand in solidarity do so not just with their statements, but also with their bottom lines, their financial statements.” As we work to confront racial inequality and combat polarization, we must lean in to this transformative moment. Universities — like businesses — are uniquely equipped to listen across silos and respond with action and innovation that creates a more just and equitable future. Neither is comfortable. Both are critical to our path forward.

A new podcast series created by Professor Fred Cook at the USC Center for Public Relations explores the ways in which activists are using contemporary tools of public relations to fuel social movements, including 7


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D I V E R S I T Y O F F I C E R S A R E M O R E R E L E VA N T THAN EVER

BY M A RG E NE T T M OO R E-RO BE RT S CON STI TU E NC Y M A N AG E ME N T G RO U P

Years ago, the role of the Chief Inclusion & Diversity Officer (CIDO) was more figurehead than business head, a symbol of an intention vs. a commitment. A placeholder for action that would begin as soon as other business priorities and investment dollars cleared up and could be reallocated to “nice to have” initiatives. Although corporations instinctively understood the need for a dedicated focus on improving diversity within their businesses, a full appreciation for the CIDO role was, and is, still being developed. Although a bit generous, it is not inaccurate to say that the role of the CIDO, the work of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), and the pathways to creating effective organizational change were previously under-valued and under-understood. During these early days, CIDOs were focused on finding and hiring diverse talent. Sensitivity training and unconscious bias sessions were sometimes included, but the role primarily revolved around changing the complexion of the organization’s workforce, focused on representation. To be sure, there were many positive impacts from the early work of CIDOs. Individual contributors who identified as part of under-represented groups/minorities (URG/ 8

Ms) were granted internships, some careers progressed by a level or two, and extraordinary minority contributors were sometimes elevated to senior roles. However, scaled, consistent, and lasting change remained elusive with even the most committed organizations taking two steps backward for every half step forward. This is not a cynical view. Rather, it is an observation. Over time, the imperative for action strengthened and the role of the CIDO became a more prominent part of the corporate aesthetic for companies wanting to show a visible proof point of their progress around DEI. Chief Diversity Officers began to take center stage at corporate meetings and on company websites, and were granted discussion status on corporate board meeting agendas. The role evolved to include targeted talent development programs designed to drive career progression for URG/ Ms and crafting talent success stories to weave into an “effort narrative” for their corporations. However, few CIDOs held the levels of organizational authority and support necessary for implementing the broad, horizontal changes that we now understand to be necessary for lasting change. 2020 IS A YEAR OF EXTREME EVIDENCE

COVID-19 laid bare the concrete impact of


compounded, unaddressed systemic inequities in healthcare, employment, and all of our major social systems. Then, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and the shooting of Jacob Blake sparked a series of nationwide protests across race, religion, geography, and other dimensions of identity. The strength of this broad coalition of protestors was symbolic of the collective realization that societal events have enormous impact on employees in the workplace and on consumers in the marketplace. As a result, corporations must respond to the call for increased accountability for using their considerable influence and resources to counteract the societal injustices that affect their consumers and their employees. Inside organizations, these events forced conversations about racial justice and systemic inequity that were urgent, pervasive, and difficult — further expanding the role of the CIDO to that of activist and, sometimes, therapist. Now, CIDOs hold the added responsibility of translating the context of these events into terms that majority groups can grasp, appreciate, and respond to internally and externally. While heavy, this additional scope to the role enables the vital shift in organizational conscience that is necessary for true transformation.

MARGE NE T T MOORE-ROBE RT S is Chief Inclusion & Diversity Officer of Constituency Management Group (CMG), the Interpublic Group collective of marketing services brands. She previously held the same role at Golin.

nice-to-have figurehead to essential executive. In successful scenarios, CIDOs will work alongside other key organizational leaders to transform every aspect of the organization’s culture and business.

As the dogged impacts of societal inequities are more deeply understood and more fully accepted, the work of enabling organizations to become more diverse, inclusive, and equitable is both newly relevant and newly urgent. Progressively, recent events and age-old learnings have solidified the role of the CIDO from 9


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Y O U T H A C T I V I S M I S C R E AT I N G L A S T I N G CHANGE

BY BRE NDA G ONZA LE Z OFFICE OF SE N. K A MAL A H AR R IS

In 2020, our country faced many challenges: a global pandemic that claimed thousands of souls, chronic unemployment, a housing crisis and foreign adversaries threatening our constitutional democracy, just to name a few. The bright spot amidst the chaos has been the rise in youth activism and the arc of change it has inspired. Recently we’ve seen America and its youth take to the streets to march, protest and call for reform. We’ve seen children as young as 5 years old protesting for Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. We’ve seen students demanding that no other child’s life is lost to gun violence. We’ve seen women across the nation marching to dismantle systems of oppression. Their message is clear: it’s time for justice. All over the world, young people are pushing back against the status quo. And it’s working. When a mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 people dead, students launched a gun safety campaign that resulted in 50 newly enacted reforms across the United States. Swedish activist Greta Thunberg took to the halls of the United Nations during the world’s Climate Action Summit to demand answers for the failure to recognize the existential crisis of climate change, which has helped 10

"ALL OVER THE WORLD, YOUNG PEOPLE ARE PUSHING BACK AGAINST THE STATUS QUO." motivate more than 60 countries to eliminate their carbon footprints by 2050. Their activism is creating an impact. But our youth can’t do it alone. Communication professionals have the responsibility to help define the narrative of these movements. Our stories ensure that the public is equipped with the knowledge and information to make decisions about their participation and their vote, and help link generations that may be removed from today’s politics with the young people that inspire it. Today’s world requires that every business, organization, and political leader understands the next generation consumer, voter, and individual. What resonates are tangible human stories, captured on social and digital media that are widely accessible and easily shareable on a large scale. Through social media, young people have been able to study activism outside of what they are taught in their textbooks. Students


can learn about César Chávez and Dolores Huerta fighting to protect farm workers, and see the organization they founded tweeting about farm workers’ rights. When schools teach about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., students can follow his daughter’s work in social change. Or when we celebrate the anniversary of the 19th amendment, and reflect on the work of Sojourner Truth, they can learn what organizations are doing to ensure Black women’s access to voting. Communications professionals can make these leaders more accessible than ever before. Movements for social change and calls for increased youth activism are not new. But today, our generation has realized its power. We understand that we have an outsized stake in the future of our country, and we have said enough is enough when it comes to prolonged and institutional forms of discrimination spreading like a burning flame that can’t be contained. We as communications professionals need to work to ensure that this moment doesn’t flame out. It’s up to all of us to spread the word about phone banking, sending postcards, and registering to vote. We must work to turn a moment into a movement, and then to a way of life.

BR E NDA GONZA L E Z is State Press Secretary for U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris. Brenda directs all internal and external communications for the Senator's five district offices and 25 state staff members. She is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

When I think about youth activism and voting, I think about Malala Yousafzai and how we must lead, take action and “realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced.” Youth activism is teaching us just that. We must all listen, stand up, speak up, and vote. All elections are important. Whether you’re voting for the next President of the United States, or you’re voting for your local city councilmember — your voice matters, your vote counts and you will make the difference.

To continue the legacy of leaders who came before us, we must increase voter turnout. We have seen how youth activism can drive voter turnout in unprecedented ways. A 2018 study by targetsmart found a significant uptick in voter registration among people aged 18-29. Young people, inspired to ensure their institutions and leaders reflect their values, have the ability to create lasting change through the electoral process. 11


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HOW TO BECOME A FAN OF FAN ACTIVISM

BY HENRY JE NK I NS, P H .D. USC A NNE NB E RG SC H O O L

This summer, the mainstream news media discovered fan activism when a group of K-Pop (Korean popular music) fans hijacked the registration system for Donald Trump’s Tulsa rally, causing his campaign staff to grossly overestimate turnout. This was not the first time K-Pop fans had interjected themselves into contemporary political debates, whether helping boy band BTS raise several million dollars in support of Black Lives Matter or flooding white supremist sites with pictures of their favorite pop idols.

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other means. Around the world, young people are using the vernacular of popular culture to express their desire for more equitable and just societies, whether it is young women dressed as Handmaids protesting for reproductive rights or the millions marching in Hong Kong using a song from "Les Miserables" to express their democratic aspirations. Fan activists are pushing back against sports mascots that demean indigenous cultures or long-standing brand icons that replicate Jim Crow stereotypes.

A number of factors enabled these mostly Generation Z fans to deploy rapidly in support of progressive social movements. First, these fans were already tightly networked through more traditional fan activities. Second, they have already been engaging in discussions around racial politics: many K-Pop artists are inspired by Western hip hop, attracting many fans of color but also offering uncomfortable examples of cross-racial and cross-cultural appropriation. Third, they had technical capacities to manipulate registration systems since many of their activities involve moving their idols up the charts.

Fan activism is not new. Fans have a long history of developing grassroots communication systems, from the toy printing press of the mid-19th century to Amateur Radio in the 1920s and 1930s and down to today’s webzines, blogs, podcasts, and video sharing sites. Their communication practices constitute what historian Michael Saler calls “a public sphere of the imagination,” a space where people with shared interests and passions center debates in and around fictional worlds. But networked communication has expanded the scale and speed of fan interactions, allowing for rapid and global responses to evolving conditions.

Fandom offers spaces for forging networks, pooling knowledge and rehearsing skills that might later get deployed towards political change. Many young fans are not yet allowed to vote but want to make change through

I recently participated in the Granger Leadership Academy, an annual training weekend for young fan activists. Across a series of workshops hosted by groups such as the Harry Potter Alliance, Black Girls Create and Nerds


of Color, young fans studied the fundamentals of self-care, broke down gender and racial stereotypes, learned to dissect misinformation, talked about empathy, love, and joy as forces for social change, and generally modeled what an alternative political culture might look like. We will be hearing more from these fan activists at younger and younger ages, because they are growing up in what Parkland activist David Hogg describes as a “no permission necessary culture.” They are finding their voices through fandom and directing them towards social change by any media necessary. Companies dealing with fan activism should: • Figure out who they are actually dealing with. Keeping in mind that fandoms do not speak with a single voice on ANYTHING. • Understand the distinction between fan entitlement (where people assume the right to make demands) and fan empowerment (where fans feel they can offer constructive criticism).

H E N RY JE NK INS , PH. D. is the Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education at USC. His blog, Confessions of an Aca-Fan, is at HenryJenkins.org, and he co-hosts the discussion podcast How Do You Like

It So Far?

they are coming from and recommend alternative models for addressing any underlying tension. Fans are important stakeholders in your company. If you enable their participation and explain your decision making, you will build trust with your fans and value for your brand.

• Recognize the distinction between fans advocating for changes within your company and fans using your IP to seek change elsewhere. • Distinguish between fans seeking to improve your products and anti-fans who have no real investment in your success. Once you’ve identified the fans who want to work with you, assume their good will and actively listen to what they are saying. You do not have to fully embrace their proposed changes, but you need to understand where 13


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BUSINESS STEPS UP TO HELP ‘FIX’ SOCIETY

BY BOB F E LD M A N ICF NE XT

What a difference a year makes. Last September I was honored to receive the Page Society’s Distinguished Service Award for contributions to our profession. Page is the association for the communications industry’s senior executives. I focused my acceptance speech on the declining state of civil discourse and increase in polarization in our society. In my remarks I announced the launch of The Dialogue Project — a year-long global research effort to explore what role business should play to solve these twin problems. USC Annenberg is one of the program’s title sponsors. Well, if discourse and polarization were problems a year ago, they’ve grown exponentially since. COVID-19, a shattered economy and racial injustice have magnified our divide. Today, one year since that speech, I can share with you some of the insight we’ve gleaned in the research for Dialogue Project, which is being made public this fall. First, based on research done for the Dialogue Project by Morning Consult among 5000 adults in five countries (Brazil, Germany, India, U.K., and the U.S; 1,000 per country), we now know: 14

• Having a respectful conversation with someone we disagree with is a major problem across the world. • The problem is seen as especially acute by respondents in the United States (57%), Brazil (64%), and India (49%). • Americans, even more than the citizens of European countries like the United Kingdom (28%) and Germany (26%), think the polarization is a major problem. • Women see the inability to engage in respectful dialogue as a bigger problem than men especially in the U.S (63% to 51%) and India (54% to 45%). • In the U.S., rural residents (72%) said they were more comfortable having conversations with other people who have different perspectives than urbanites (58%) and suburbanites (61%). • Eight-in-10 respondents said people need to be more respectful when talking with those who hold opposing views, but only half were said they should spend more time doing so. • Despite the hope expressed by some pundits that COVID-19 would help people recognize their common humanity, survey


respondents across countries were evenly divided on whether the pandemic is making people more able, less able, or having no impact on their ability to engage in respectful dialogue. However, in the U.S., 46% of respondents said they were less able. • Similarly, the eruption of issues surrounding race, police brutality, and Black Lives Matter has had a mixed impact on people’s ability to have respectful dialogue with those holding different beliefs. Compared to the other countries, the U.S. (57%) and the U.K. (41%) were significantly less able to have conversations about the recent racial unrest. • To help solve the problem, respondents across countries suggested electing leaders who inspired people to be more civil (72%), encouraging family and friends to communicate with people of opposing views (70%), and reforming elections by improving transparency in the campaign reporting process (70%).

The report wasn’t all research. We also reached out to a cross section of top business executives for their perspectives on the issue and what they thought business should do. Jamie Dimon, chairman and chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, said “The excessive focus on our own self-interest is part of what is destroying the glue that holds our society together. Companies can aggressively work to improve society. They can take positions on public policy that they think are good for the country. In the past, boards and advisors to boards advised company CEOs to keep their head down and

BO B F E L DMA N is Vice Chair of ICF Next. He is on the Board of Trustees of the Arthur W. Page Society, and is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

stay out of the line of fire. Now the opposite may be true.” Mary Barra, chairman and chief executive of General Motors, said, “Listening is the singular first step on the path to any positive change in the world. As business leaders, we have the responsibility to start down this path. We must listen to our own teams and engage in conversations that elevate our collective understanding and ultimately, inform our actions to make the world a better place.” Michael Sneed, executive vice president of

“THE EXCESSIVE FOCUS ON OUR OWN SELF-INTEREST IS PART OF WHAT IS DESTROYING THE GLUE THAT HOLDS OUR SOCIETY TOGETHER." JAMIE DIMON

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Johnson & Johnson, said, “Having diversity of thought, experiences and backgrounds—and sharing those things liberally—is the spark that fuels new ideas and forward progress. Corporations in particular know this. Businesses understand that being closed off to new ideas and constructive conversation will most certainly lead to failure, so we have an opportunity to lead. We must play a role in civil discourse.” The Dialogue Project also profiled some great examples of work companies are doing to be part of the solution. Two, in particular, stand out: General Mills and Allstate. General Mills has a four-year-running program called Courageous Conversations. Every two months, the company invites thousands of employees to regularly participate in “difficult” conversations, on issues ranging from police brutality to immigration, from social justice to LGBTQ. It’s been a great success and has earned tremendous support throughout the company. Allstate, in partnership with The Aspen Institute, leads The Better Arguments Project, an outreach effort in a growing number of communities across America to help people learn how to have better, more productive arguments. Yes, arguments; the program embraces conflict and seeks to help people learn to how to bring those differences to a productive resolution. The bottom line: as people become increasingly disillusioned with politicians and our civic 16

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institutions, businesses (and business leaders) need to step up to become a more active part of healing society and allowing us to move forward more productively. For much more information on the Dialogue Project, including more research, more byliners and more case studies, visit www. dialogueproject.study.


2021 RELEVANCE REPORT RESULTS

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B R A N D S A N D C O M M U N I C AT O R S A S A G E N T S FOR CHANGE

BY M AT T H E W H A R R I N GTO N & T R IS C H S MIT H EDEL M A N

In 2020, we are battling two converging crises that highlight inequalities within American institutions: COVID-19, which has a disproportionate impact on Black and Brown communities, and the sustained outcry surrounding the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others, which has unveiled a deep societal need to address systemic racism. The collision course of these crises is reshaping how we interact with each other and what we expect from both our institutions and the leaders of our society. Increased awareness and demonstration of racism in America is fueling dialogue about the challenges facing Black communities and infusing deeper cultural competency into our personal and professional lives. As communicators, we must ask: how do we better understand the experiences and perspectives of our diverse audiences? How do we meaningfully and appropriately engage on an ongoing basis? And, how can we serve as a positive force for change within our institutions and throughout society? NEW EXPECTATIONS

At Edelman, we recently conducted a survey to glean insights into the mindset of people on this topic and found a universal call for change: 60% of respondents said that brands 18

must take a stand to speak out on issues of racial justice. That same 60% also said that they will buy or boycott a brand based on if and how it responds. Business is expected to lead where other institutions have failed — in fact, 56% of Americans view it as a brand’s ‘moral obligation.’ To that end, 60% of Americans believe that brands need to use their marketing dollars to advocate for racial equality and educate the public on the issue. Equally critical is that 63% of respondents say that brand promises must be backed with action. Put another way: brand inaction speaks volumes and increases business risk. AGENTS FOR CHANGE

As communicators and marketers, we have an expanded license to ‘do the right thing’ and are empowered to spark change and help address today’s inequalities by forging deeper connections with our employees, customers and stakeholders. This journey starts with an honest internal assessment on a personal and organizational level. Listen to and facilitate conversations among your employees to understand what is top of mind. Identify issues, gaps or company blind spots. From there, chart or update your


action plan. Make commitments to change that are authentic and aligned with your values and are clearly defined and measurable. Finally, find ways for your organization to advocate. Businesses can rewire entrenched systems and address root causes of inequality through education and other actions. As you build engagement programs, consider ways to elevate Black voices and experiences, and advance broader efforts through partnering with diverse community organizations.

MAT THE W HA RRINGTON is Global President & COO of Edelman. He is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

FORGING AHEAD

As the late Congressman John Lewis said — with the unique perspective of having joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the 1963 March on Washington and also as a witness of this year’s unrest and activism — “it was very moving, very moving to see hundreds of thousands of people from all over America and around the world take to the streets to speak up, to speak out, to get into what I call ‘good trouble.’” Today’s social protests are bringing people together, which is cause for optimism about future change.

T R IS C H S MIT H is Global Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer of Edelman.

Americans want brands to advocate and agitate for “good trouble.” As individuals who guide messages and programs, we all must play a key role in helping to create and sustain an equal and equitable playing field within our organizations and beyond.

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T E A R D O W N T H AT W H I T E WA L L !

BY JUL I A A . W I LSON

WIL S ON G LOB A L COM MUN IC AT IO N S

Black people are tired, and yes, angry. Waiting so long, for so many decades and generations, for the communications industry to begin, in earnest, to take down the Wall of institutionalized racism, brick-by-brick. It has not. Some companies have hired a few Black employees to handle diversity and inclusion projects. Others made Juneteenth an annual holiday once they recently learned the day existed. But where are Black decision-makers in major PR firms? Where are the Black executives in C-Suites, and as paid board members? Where are the Black voices telling our much-soughtafter Black stories? For far too long, Black people have prodded Corporate America for more involvement in decision-making, for earned promotions to senior positions, for inclusivity in board representation, and to tell our own stories. But instead of concrete action aimed at the root of America’s racism problem, we’ve received a continuum of insincere lip service and token gestures. Racism will not “magically disappear,” as some have claimed the coronavirus will do. The majority white population actually has to do something — or else, like the community-spreading virus, everyone gets sicker. Some corporations and elected leaders began listening last spring, when masses of people filled America’s streets with Black Lives 20

Matter protests. Following several incidents of video-documented police violence against Black people, most obviously the horrific murder of George Floyd, hundreds of thousands of people — young and old, Black and white, straight and LGBTQ — marched arm-in-arm to denounce systematic racism, and to call for police reform and social justice. The rage manifested through mainly peaceful protests forced major corporate brands to reconsider propagating insidious portrayals of Black Americans. Quaker Oats retired Aunt Jemima, the mammy who cooked for white folks on plantations, the smiling Black chef on the Cream of Wheat cereal box, and Uncle Ben. NASCAR stopped allowing the Confederate flag to fly. Even the NFL agreed to listen more intently to its Black players and embrace their legitimate right to protest against racial injustice. And who would have ever thought the controversial Mississippi state flag embedded with Confederate symbols would ever be shelved. One by one, corporate brands are being forced and cajoled to make needed changes. It’s a start, but only the beginning of what needs to be done to rid the consumer market of institutionalized racism. Institutions can no longer depend on guidelines from the federal, state or local governments. They must continue listening to their increasing-


ly diverse consumers to save the brands they represent from major collapse. Here are five important steps for white leaders and firms in our industry to stop the 3 D’s: Denial, Denigration, and Deferment of action on racism. • Take the lead. Acknowledge and address the prevailing institutionalized racial prejudice existing in white-owned companies. • Educate yourselves about Black lives, families and stories — they are human, just like you. • Empower Black leaders in C-Suites and on paid corporate boards. Your board should reflect your consumers.

J U L IA A . WIL S ON is CEO and founder of Wilson Global Communications, a Washington, DC, based international public relations consultancy. She is a USC graduate and a member of the USC Center for PR Board of Advisors.

people. This must change now. The peaceful prosperity of our great Republic depends on it.

• Include Black voices to tell Black stories. Black people know how they want to be portrayed. It is imperative to listen to the source. • Do business with Black-owned companies. Hire Black consultants. Promote Black brands. Form partnerships with Blackowned PR firms.

Our industry must take heed to this urgent call to action today. We must become champions of truth, reconciliation, and equality. I remain hopeful to the possibility of the tumbling of that White Wall. But I know it will take a change of heart, the understanding of what is right and the commitment to actually do it. White privilege has stood for much too long with a knee on the necks of Black 21


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W E C A N A L L L E A R N F R O M H O L LY W O O D

BY CA R R I E DAV I S

HOL LYWOOD C OM M I S S IO N

The Hollywood Commission for Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality was founded in 2017 by Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy and talent attorney Nina Shaw and is Chaired by Anita Hill. In 2019, it conducted the first large-scale survey of the entertainment industry to understand the experience of working in Hollywood and identify gaps that increase exposure to harassment and discrimination.

As an industry that is expert at creating awareness, we must leverage results like these to drive attention to the real structural issues facing all of us, including our entertainment counterparts:

Nearly 10,000 workers participated from across the entertainment industry, 91 of which worked in Public Relations. Of those 91 PR respondents, 73 were women and 18 were men. Given the small sample size for this cohort, the findings are not conclusive but paint a clear picture of a vulnerable sector of the entertainment economy:

• As a sector, women make up nearly 72% of staff in PR agencies but only occupy 30% of management positions. Further, 62% of PR agency boards are dominated by men and 74% of communications recruiters are men.

• 59% reported experiencing bullying in the past 12 months • 77% reported experiencing discrimination in the past 12 months • 64% reported experiencing gender harassment in the past 12 months • 73% reported experiencing unwanted sexual attention in the past 12 months

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• PR overindexes in women, and female workers are more likely to face discrimination and harassment than other genders in the workplace.

• The average salary for a female in PR is 20% less than her male colleagues. Equity and equal opportunity are critical for women to ascend to top positions in communications. • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the ethnic makeup of the PR industry in the U.S. is 87.9% white, 8.3% African American, 2.6% Asian American, and 5.7% Hispanic American. • PR is a “service” industry which creates a power dynamic that can be easily exploited by those with more perceived power, such as a client or senior executive.


• 65% of PR respondents to the Hollywood Survey did not think that a powerful person who harasses an employee would be held accountable C AR RIE DAVIS operates CD

The Hollywood Commission made several cross-industry recommendations and launched a suite of resources for workers to begin to address the systemic issues it identified in the entertainment industry. While there are some nuances, the Commission’s approach can also apply to the broader PR industry: • Review internal policies to ensure they provide for equal opportunity employment and advancement and are appropriately rigorous on issues of bullying, harassment and discrimination • Extend company conduct policy to include third parties (clients), off-site events and meetings where harassment often occurs

Consulting, based in Los Angeles, which provides communication counsel to entertainment and corporate clients. She previously led communications at Live Nation Entertainment. She is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

The people in Hollywood who provide communication counsel on issues of discrimination, harassment and equity must address these same issues in their own industry. As the entertainment business begins to reckon with and mitigate gaps in accountability, entertainment, PR has a timely and auspicious opportunity to lead the way.

• Provide resources and information to employees about reporting issues of workplace discrimination and harassment • Mandate bias and bystander trainings • Invest in pay equity studies and address gender pay gaps • Establish recruitment pipelines with diverse colleges and universities to broaden talent pool • Set diversity and inclusion goals and mark progress against them 23


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A L E S S O N I N M O B I L I Z AT I O N

BY A M A R A AG U I LA R

USC A NNE NB E RG SC H O O L

The stories began flooding in during the month of June. Stories of Black students at USC feeling invisible, threatened and scared on the very campus they call home. These stories were no longer contained within the walls of a classroom, dorm room or within the campus grounds. They were no longer whispers in the halls or forgotten complaints tucked away in file cabinets of administrators. They were gathered and posted on Instagram for all the world to see. The posts detail the horrors faced by many Black students, bringing issues of systemic racism into the public eye along with a compelling call for change. Using a Google form and the reach of Instagram, a USC student launched the @black_ at_usc account with a brutally honest post: “It is no secret that USC has a racism problem. From the constant assault of learning in buildings named (or previously named) after famed racists to the daily, more covert microaggressions, being a Black Trojan entails constantly experiencing and/or confronting racism and anti-Blackness within the community. USC has acknowledged its problem and vowed to listen to our voices so use this space to share your stories and experiences of being Black at the University of Southern California. Anonymity guaranteed, always.” Within months the Instagram account had 24

"THE POWER TO CREATE CHANGE TAKES POWERFUL VOICES." thousands of followers and hundreds of posts. While this isn’t the first “Black At” social media account, the effects at USC have been powerful, helping to initiate the launch of campus-wide forums and discussions, as well as programs to support Black students and other students of color. The power to create change takes powerful voices. Stories can be gathered and amplified using technology and social media. As media professionals, we must embrace the power of platforms to listen to and empower our communities and create change. We must learn from students and young people who are at the forefront of digital movements, courageously calling out truth to power and breaking down barriers to spark transformation. Instagram isn’t the only platform young people are using to make their voices heard. They are mobilizing on TikTok too, in addition to other platforms and digital spaces. Hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and #MyPride populate TikTok feeds that also feature dance challenges and the ever-popular lip sync videos gone viral. Teens on TikTok


even claimed they were at least partially responsible for decreased attendance at a presidential rally earlier this year. People are mobilizing. Now more than ever, young people in particular are uniting and using the power of technology and social media to raise awareness, amplify their voices, create community, and call for change when it comes to vital issues related to Black Lives Matter, systemic racism, climate change, gun control, and many other vital issues facing the nation and the world.

AMAR A AGU IL A R is an associate professor of professional practice in digital journalism at USC Annenberg. She teaches journalism for mobile and emerging platforms, and interactive media design for publishing, among other courses.

Media professionals can take a lesson from these students. Be authentic. Be personal. Be genuine. Be truthful. Be persistent. Be brave.

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O U R W O R D S M AT T E R

BY L ISA P E C OT- H É B E RT, P H . D. USC A NNE NB E RG SC H O O L

Words have a magical power. They can either bring the greatest happiness or the deepest despair. Sigmund Freud made this statement over a century ago however his words remain relevant today. I recently spent 20 minutes in a faculty meeting explaining to a well-intentioned white colleague why he couldn’t say the n-word in class, even if he is quoting someone else. I told him the more appropriate language to use would be “n-word.” He appreciated the open dialogue and thanked me for the explanation. Others ask if African-American youth have “reclaimed” the n-word in hip-hop music, a genre largely consumed by whites, why can’t everyone use it? Simple answer… context is central to the way language works. The n-word is historically rooted in America’s ongoing racial power dynamic, something we as a nation are still overcoming. Conversations like these are happening all over the country and corporations are investing in diversity and inclusion professionals to help guide these discussions. In fact, data from Glassdoor Economic Research indicated D & I job openings increased 55% between June 8, 2020 and July 15, 2020. George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter protests ignited long overdue conver26

sations around the country about equity and inequality. While unequal treatment in the workplace is not new; having open, honest, and in many cases uncomfortable conversations around how we use words and who gets to use them is new. As teachers and professionals, it’s imperative we understand the meaning behind the words we use in the classroom and the boardroom. LANGUAGE IS POLITICAL.

Words are spoken unconsciously, often out of habit. While our intentions might be good, we take for granted the impact our words might have on the people we are speaking to or about. I call this impact versus intent. 2020 has taught us multiple lessons about impact versus intent when it comes to the power of words. Case in point… Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter. The words Black Lives Matter don’t suggest that Black lives are more important than all other lives. The words are pointing out that Black lives have been historically undervalued and undermined in America, and we should recognize that inequity. LANGUAGE IS GENDERED.

2020 marked the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment. Despite recent historic wins in both the House and Senate — and the inclusion of high-profile female candidates


for the 2020 presidential election — women in political positions are still being marginalized by words. The media often describes congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as “outspoken,” a term rarely used to describe a man. Jen Agg, author of the book I Hear She’s A Real Bitch said it best in a VICE op-ed. "When you're a woman... having opinions always translates to 'outspoken’. What the writers actually mean when using "outspoken," even if they aren't always fully aware of it, is "rabble-rouser," "shit-disturber," "troublemaker." Speaking of the word b*tch, Ocasio-Cortez was called one by congressman Ted Yoho on the Capitol steps after she made a public statement about increasing crime being linked to poverty and unemployment as a result of the pandemic. Yoho also called Ocasio-Cortez “crazy,” a word that has historically been used to describe women who display emotion and stigmatizes mental illness. We need to teach our employees and students to consider whether they would use the same term in the same way if they were speaking to or about a man versus a woman. If the meaning changes depending on who they are speaking to or about, that may be an indication the language is gendered. LANGUAGE IS RACIALLY CODED.

The above rule also holds true for race. Take the word “articulate” for example. Long before then Sen. Joe Biden was lambasted in the media for calling then Sen. Barack Obama “smart and articulate” the word had racial undertones. This word came up at a meeting I attended that was dedicated to discussing

L IS A PE COT-HÉ BE RT, PH. D. , is an associate professor of professional practice of journalism at USC Annenberg, and serves as the director of graduate journalism. She also serves as the advisor for the USC National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Chapter.

systemic racism. After a Black student spoke very candidly about his experience, a few faculty members commented on him being so “articulate.” While meant to be a compliment, when spoken about a Black person by a non-Black person the word is off putting and implies a note of surprise, suggesting the person exceeded a pre-determined expectation of not being able to put words together in a coherent sentence. LANGUAGE HAS IMPACT.

As communications professionals, we need to educate our clients. As communication teachers, we need to educate our students. As communication leaders, we need to educate each other. Diversity and inclusion should be less about checking statistical boxes, and more about understanding words — their history, their meaning, and their impact.

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W H AT E V E R Y C O M M U N I C AT I O N S L E A D E R N E E D S T O D AY

BY OSCA R SU R I S ZENO G ROU P

It has been one of the surest ways for a communications professional to reach the C Suite: Show the kind of business acumen and crisis management skills that puts CEOs, CFOs and boardrooms at ease. However, 2020 has demanded something different. We’ll call it “Societal Acumen” — the ability to discern what today’s societal currents mean for businesses and their stakeholders — communications professionals have never needed it more. The simple reason: Business is no longer just about business, and this is demanding communications professionals who are intuitive, observant, learned, and empathetic enough to guide clients through a world today where the convergence of business and social issues is now an everyday occurrence. Consider the events of June. Societal Acumen became an indispensable talent as social unrest filled streets, social media feeds, and workplace conversations, and reenergized movements (Black Lives Matter) and spawned new ones (#StopHateforProfit). As events unfolded, this required communications pros to size up the cultural and business implications of the moment, as their clients, facing rising stakeholder expectations, confronted a host of 28

thorny questions. Should we say we support the protests? If so, should we say, “Black Lives Matter?” If we speak up, will we alienate our customers, employees or investors? What boycotts should we join? What actions should we take? Fortunately, hundreds of corporations and brands pushed past those concerns to show unprecedented and unequivocal support for the civil and human rights issues being raised by June’s developments. CEOs and their communications counselors no doubt appreciated how broad and powerful these latest societal currents had become, and how they resonated deeply with many consumers and co-workers. The business and communications and Public Relations communities likely also recognized — as they had done with COVID-19, climate change, and other social issues, such as gay marriage rights — that it was another moment to lead beyond their bottom lines. As trust in government and media has diminished, employees and consumers have come to expect the private sector to address the issues affecting their everyday lives, and this would include the social issues June called to the world’s attention.


From the protests to the boycotts, the most effective communications pros likely used their Societal Acumen to help businesses and brands understand what protesters meant by “systemic racism,” why invoking “All Lives Matter” would offend, and why they shouldn’t expect high praise for posting black squares on Instagram. With sensitivity and an appreciation for context, these communications leaders helped companies understand the importance of affirming Black lives do matter, and why deeds must now reflect their words. The perspective, empathy and listening ultimately led to a dramatic and faster-than-expected “woke” moment for Corporate America, as dozens of companies last month began to mark the historical significance of Juneteenth — the June 19th date marking the end of slavery in America — that before this year infrequently got mentioned in our popular culture. This year, many companies gave employees a paid day off to celebrate.

O S C A R S U RIS is Executive Managing Director, C-suite strategy and crisis, at Zeno Group. He is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

about how others live, and how seemingly unrelated events and trends, and moments, have everything to do with their bottom line success and reputations.

Surely, there are those who long for a return to the days when business and societal issues were tidily compartmentalized; they made for easier days at the office. But don’t expect those days to return. Today’s court of public opinion is too energized, too engaged, and too influential for a generation accustomed to launching movements with a tweet. The world needs leaders with the kind of Societal Acumen to understand how cultural, economic, and political forces form and move. This doesn’t mean all CEOs and Chief Communications Officers need to have liberal arts degrees, but rather they should have a greater curiosity about the world around them, 29


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HISTORY AND MYTHS MARGINALIZE ASIAN AMERICANS

BY BIL L I M A DA IW GROU P

George Santayana, a philosopher and essayist of Spanish-American heritage, once observed that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” As we review U.S. history over the past several decades, Asian Americans have been marginalized repeatedly since the first Asians arrived on our shores. Chinese and Japanese laborers arrived in the late 19th century, seeking jobs, fortune, and fresh opportunities. With growing numbers of Asians, white Americans grew fearful of the “Yellow Peril” rising before them. Asians were perpetual foreigners that needed to be managed and tamed; otherwise, they would steal jobs from Americans of European heritage. To alleviate public concerns over the growing number of Chinese immigrants, the U.S. Government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act and other measures to restrict immigration. Asians already living in the country were barred from owning land, marrying non-Asians, testifying in legal proceedings, becoming naturalized citizens and receiving legal protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Decades later, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were denied their constitutional rights as U.S. citizens and were forcibly placed in internment camps, many losing their homes, prop30

"SUCCESS HAS TYPECAST ASIAN AMERICANS AS A 'MODEL MINORITY' IN THE U.S., A MYTH THAT PERSISTS TODAY." erty, and livelihood. Even after World War II, Asian Americans were blamed and targeted for recrimination as American automakers faced stiff competition from the rise of Japanese automobile manufacturers in the early 1980s. In other cases, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) — especially Sikhs — were targeted after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York in 2001. Anti-Asian sentiments also rose during the breakout of SARS in 2003. Once again, AAPIs were viewed as foreigners responsible for bringing destruction and disease to America. Despite experiencing several setbacks over the years, AAPIs have achieved a level of success in the U.S., but not without controversy. Today, more than 50% of Asian-American adults are graduates from a post-secondary institution of higher learning. The median


household income of Asian Americans is the highest among all U.S. racial groups. Homeownership, a leading economic indicator for the country, is highest for Asian Americans than all other communities of color. But success has typecast Asian Americans as a “Model Minority” in the U.S., a myth that persists today. Former Asia Society President Vishakha Desai noted that being labeled a model minority makes Asian Americans invisible. She explains that other Americans—including individuals of color—only see the success of the Asians and Asian Americans and not the issues and concerns that hold AAPIs back as a community. For example, Asian Americans represent nearly seven percent of the U.S. population, but hold less than 2.5 percent of C-Suite positions within the Fortune 500 and even fewer senior-level positions within PR agencies and industry associations. The spread of COVID-19 has fueled antiAsian sentiments across the country, with more than 1,500 reports of anti-Asian bias, discrimination, hatred, and xenophobia recorded by AAPI civil rights groups from March to April alone. Incidents of prejudice and hatred against AAPIs are linked to Americans of all races and ethnic groups and worsened as the world witnessed what Black Americans experience almost daily. After the senseless murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, and a host of others, AAPIs raised their voices in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Asian-American leaders recognize that there will be no justice in America without

BILL IMADA is Founder, Chairman and Chief Connectivity Officer at IW Group, a marketing and communication firm that specializes in reaching the growing multicultural market in the U.S. He is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

addressing the social inequities and systematic racism that has negatively impacted Black Americans for more than four centuries. However, as conversations resuscitate the need for broader diversity, equity, and inclusion within corporations, agencies, and industry associations, AAPIs do not always feel included in these discussions. Panel discussions about diversity often focus on the socio-economic disparities, social injustice, and racism that have impeded Black and Brown communities throughout the U.S., but not AAPIs. Moving forward, Asian-American leaders want to be an integral part of the movement to have a genuinely diverse and just society. AAPIs also want to be part of finding intentional solutions that will broaden representation and end systematic racism. The PR industry can and should play a significant role. As allies, PR practitioners can help in the following ways: 31


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Islanders in diversity, equity, and inclusion discussions since the community is diverse, and is the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. 2. RECOGNIZE that being labeled and viewed as “model minorities� hides the fact that one in eight Asian Americans and one in five Pacific Islanders live below the poverty line. 3. ACKNOWLEDGE that AAPIs are also impacted by systematic racism, discrimination, racial profiling, social injustice, and historical inequities. 4. ENABLE AAPIs, who lack representation at the highest levels of corporate, agency, and industry associations, to advance into visible, decision-making leadership roles. 5. BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT INCLUDING AAPIs in conversations about

DE&I issues.

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within corporations, agencies, and industry organizations to ensure they have a pathway to career and personal success. 7. ENSURE that AAPIs have an opportunity to share their stories of unconscious and intentional bias. PR industry leaders must play a part in eliminating the marginalization that individuals and groups feel when they are overlooked or taken for granted. Furthermore, they can stop history from repeating itself by taking steps to learn more about the root causes of racism, social injustice, and the historical inequities that have kept AAPIs from advancing in our profession.


2021 RELEVANCE REPORT RESULTS

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#A G E N C I E S S O W H I T E BY DEANNE YA M A M OTO GOL IN

It’s not a coincidence that Gen Z, those born after 1996, is leading the fight for social change. They are the most diverse generation — nearly half (48 percent) are racial or ethnic minorities, compared with 39 percent of Millennials and more than double the percentage of early Baby Boomers, according to Pew Research. They will surpass the Millennials as the most populace generation on the planet, tipping the scales, for the first time ever, away from the “mass” market. While this is not new news, our industry has been caught unprepared. We’ve watched the racial shift from the sidelines without evolving our own staff or campaign compositions to match the profoundly diverse, $44 billion purchasing public. We’ve fallen into a comfortable sea of sameness, using phrases like “color blindness,” to prove that we were making strides against racism. But this very concept has not only left people without the language to discuss racism and examine their own bias, but it has also allowed our industry to maintain stubbornly homogenous C-suites and senior management. This is a defining moment for agencies – to start to reflect the diverse markets we serve, to ensure our clients understand the profoundly diverse market and its changing demands, and to dismantle systemic racism. But we all know change is not easy. Here are five things 34

"THIS IS A DEFINING MOMENT FOR AGENCIES – TO START TO REFLECT THE DIVERSE MARKETS WE SERVE." to consider as we strive toward racial equity in our industry: Racial equity is a complex journey. There are no silver bullets. No quick fixes. No talented copy writers whose words alone can make change. It is a commitment to the long haul, to investing and to holding everyone accountable because the only way we can make progress is by doing the work. Diverse people think and act differently. That’s the point. For decades, we’ve hired people who look and think like us. Now, we’ll miss half the world by staying color blind. Be ready to be challenged and questioned. It will happen. Often. Put your fear aside and revel in knowing that engaging diverse personalities will bring new perspectives, different problem solving and ideation that result in better campaigns and new growth. Diversity and inclusion are not synonymous. We’ve made that mistake too many times. Even if you get diverse recruiting and hiring


on track, work still needs to be done with retention. Studies and exit interviews from diverse talent have proven that we need to dedicate time and resources to establishing an inclusive culture. Mentoring, dedicated training, executive sponsorship and a true shift in power and organizational authority need to be embedded so that well-meaning commitments to diversity don’t devolve into tokenism. There will be uncomfortable conversations. The only way is through them. Opening the floor to challenging topics encourages employees to voice their thoughts and feelings. Being heard is critical and it supports a feedback loop that can surface progressive actions that build toward a more inclusive environment.

D E ANNE YA MA MOTO is Managing Director at Golin, Los Angeles, where she focuses on enhancing brand relevance, engaging consumers and driving cultural conversation. She is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

Everyone needs to be involved. This isn’t just a leadership, HR or people of color issue. The entire organization needs to be committed to active learning, conversation and allyship. The time is now. We can’t fall into the trap of business as usual or checking the boxes. We need to attack systemic racism in our agencies at its roots to ensure that the racial equity and inclusion work is different from anything we’ve ever done.

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THE POWER OF JOURNALISM

BY JA NE T CLAY TON V ECTIS D C

Never before have we seen corporate public relations embracing racial justice with both arms. A once-touchy subject reserved for annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day ads and ethnic media, racial justice and anti-racist messages now flood the airwaves and social media. Journalists have a lot of do with the astounding flip.

after conflicts in the street and criticism from President Trump, current American support is still at 55% and more than two-thirds among people of color. Now, the litany of those killed by police under suspicious circumstances are sadly familiar: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray, to name just a few.

Twitter this year gave its employees Juneteenth as a company holiday. Several other major corporations also gave employees the day off as a day to reflect on social justice. President Trump foolishly took credit for making “famous” the day that Texas slaves finally got word, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, that slavery had been abolished ( June 19, or Juneteenth was already “famous” among African Americans). Yet there’s no doubt that many whites had not heard of it before. (This year, I had white friends wishing me “Happy Juneteenth.” That is a first.)

How did a narrow cause become a broad one? Some say COVID-19-induced stay-at-home orders gave people more time to absorb and think about police killings, while watching the horrific “I can’t breathe” Floyd video over and over. Others say young Americans, more interracial than previous generations and more likely to have friends of different races, pulled the rest of the country into awareness by taking to the streets by the tens of thousands. One reason for the change in public attitude is clear: the frequency and pattern of deaths of African Americans at the hands of police finally got a lot of mainstream media attention.

The speedy business world embrace of the racial justice cause followed growing public support. Black Lives Matter, the group that spurred the nationwide, and then worldwide street protests, had limited support from most Americans five years ago. Initial polls showed that two-thirds of Americans supported Black Lives Matter’s drive to end police brutality against African Americans. Even 36

As there was with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, there was a symbiotic relationship between the Black Lives Matter protests and journalists. The sheer visual spectacle of multi-color crowds taking to the streets peacefully in unprecedented numbers was a huge news story. When journalists themselves—like CNN’s Omar Jimenez—


were arrested, and others tear-gassed with protestors, it only added to the drama of the story unfolding. Journalists, as during the Civil Rights Movement, began to show more skepticism about the official police version of why a person was shot, beaten or choked — especially when video cast doubt on the original police explanation. Just as the pandemic caused virtually every national advertiser to jump on the “we’re here for you” bandwagon, the clamor for racial justice had its own marketing effects. Many companies put out statements to make clear that they were repulsed by the George Floyd killing, to reaffirm their commitment to fairness and diversity and beyond that, their commitment to be “anti-racist.” The question is—what’s next? The organizers who want to “defund” the police would be wise to take a public relations lesson from the protests. “De-fund” is an imprecise and isolating word. “Reform," or something like it, is brings people in. When Black Lives Matter was explained by and through journalists as a movement that wanted to protect African Americans from police brutality evident in the George Floyd video—with the names of other victims repeated to emphasize that police brutality often had the specific result of killing Black people—then Black Lives Matter was embraced by large numbers and by all races. The “All Lives Matter” counter-slogan was then no longer seen as inclusive, but as an attempt to take the focus away from where the

JANE T CL AY TON is senior strategist at VectisDC, and a member of the CalMatters board. She was a reporter, editor of the editorial pages and California editor for the Los Angeles

Times. Janet is an Annenberg alumna

and a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

problem was. The power of journalists to enhance understanding and shape opinion on racial justice has never been stronger. And the desire by American business to be seen on the right side of history will continue to fuel advertising and image-making. The image-making public statements are the easy part. Companies should know that their anti-racism pledges had better match how they treat people of color in the workplace, or today’s employees will call them out with a hashtag. And journalists will cover that story, too.

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#CHANGE: ACTIVISM IN THE AGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

BY A NO NYM OUS USC ST U D E NT

Media has always been a channel through which people could communicate ideas, educate, and inspire one another to make change. It is no surprise that social media created a new realm for social engagement to be facilitated. The birth of the hashtag saw social media become a legitimate means of advocacy for social movements. Where social media was once seen as a frivolous and vain space for self-indulgence, it became a real force to be reckoned with as in the cases of #MeToo and #BringBackOurGirls. My Instagram account, @black_at_usc, was one of many that were made in response to the prevalent anti-Blackness in our communities. Black At USC was born out of a need to prove that racism is a much bigger, systemic issue than we would like to admit. The account has amassed a following of more than 13,000 people and it has been the force behind some positive changes in our USC community. Black At USC is an archive of over 500 testimonies from members of the USC community detailing their experiences of racism and anti-Blackness as students, alumni, and staff. These stories went unheard for so long that the result was the pervasive veil of ignorance around campus that insisted racism was a thing of the past. Racism, surely, did not 38

exist...especially not in 2020...in California... at USC. The 500+ cardinal and gold images on @black_at_usc say otherwise. “Success is not a random act. It arises out of a powerful and predictable set of circumstances and opportunities.� - Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers) I attribute the popularity of this account to three main factors: the establishment of social media as a tool for activism, the global lockdown due to COVID-19, and the tragic killing of George Floyd. Not to state the obvious, but Black At USC would never have been a possibility a decade ago. This is not because the issues I aimed to address are novel. The technology to address them in this way was simply not available. After witnessing the success of movements on social media such as the prosecution of sexual predators after #MeToo, the efforts to celebrate diverse stories after #OscarsSoWhite and the awareness raised thanks to the #ALSIceBucketChallenge, social media has become a realistic means by which people can advocate for the causes they believe in. The lockdown in response to the COVID19 pandemic saw people spending more time


online. This fact, coupled with the resurgence of the already established Black Lives Matter movement (#blm) after the killing of George Floyd in May, contributed greatly to people’s willingness to learn, empathize, and be inspired to fight for racial justice. Critics of internet activism discredit the method as an effective means of enacting change because of the difficulty activists face when trying to translate likes, views, comments and shares to tangible action. This seems to be the case when you notice that, even with such a large following, Black At USC was unable to implement the action items on the published list of demands from the Black community at USC to the USC administration. However, the account succeeded in its mission of “sharing the unheard stories of Black Trojans.”

BL ACK AT US C is an Instagram account sharing the unheard stories of Black Trojans. Its founder, the author of this essay, is a USC student.

While the lack of action regarding the demands may be seen as a failure, the page has inspired change in our community. Many of the complaints showed that oftentimes people were relating to one another oblivious of the harm their words and actions were causing, so it wasn’t enough for the USC community to talk about the problem without truly accepting that there was a problem to begin with. Black At USC succeeded in sharing accounts that educated people and made them realize that they were complicit. This realization was necessary for real change to be seen on this campus.

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A USC CENTER FOR PR PROJECT

"NEW ACTIVISM"

2 02 0 USC A NNE NB E RG G LO BAL C O MMUN IC AT IO N RE PORT BY FRE D C OOK USC A NNE NB E RG C E N T E R FO R P R

In January 2020, the USC Center for Public Relations conducted a global survey on what we called “New Activism.” At that time, we were aware that activism was a growing force in our society, but we couldn’t predict the topic we chose would become so relevant, so soon. A few months later, the brutal killing of George Floyd sparked an explosion of activism on the streets of America, which has created a series of complex challenges and opportunities for the corporate world. In our study, we talked to activists and public relations executives — both are experts at using communication tools to support issues and promote brands. They agreed that the continued growth of activism is driven by a declining trust in our political institutions and a lack of government action, which are fueled by changing demographics and the prevalence of social media. This lowering of expectations for government leads to increasing responsibility for business. In fact, today’s activists believe CEOs have a greater ability to affect social change than NGOs, politicians and religious leaders. Conversely, the majority of corporate communicators, who represent these CEOs, do not place a high priority on speaking out about societal problems, unless they’re addressing 40

issues that directly impact their bottom line, like healthcare and diversity. Working with activist groups, who support a wide variety of causes, is even lower on their list of things they intend to do. Despite the fact that two-thirds of the communication professionals we surveyed believe activism will grow in influence in the next five years, a mere 11% say they plan to engage with an activist group in 2020. The recent protests and the pervasive conversations they’ve generated will raise this level of engagement. But “getting involved” can be tricky for businesses who have never stepped into the minefield of activism, where any gesture, regardless of its intention, can be misunderstood. In fact, two-thirds of the PR professionals we studied confess they’re not fully prepared to deal with activist groups. Their lack of preparedness stems directly from their lack of experience. While almost half of the communicators in our survey say they consider the potential reaction from activists when they develop new policies and initiatives, only 14% actually engage them in the process. Interestingly, two-thirds of those who do engage find their relationships with activists to be beneficial to their companies.


In the aftermath of the recent protests, many companies with no track record on activism felt unprecedented pressure to speak out by making a statement in support for Black Lives Matter, stopping their advertising on Facebook or changing their HR policies. Responding to these demands was a lay-up for companies like Ben and Jerry’s, P&G and Levi Strauss, where activism is ingrained in their corporate mission. But for the uninitiated, it was a trickier shot and many missed it. Even progressive Starbucks was forced to revise a policy prohibiting associates from wearing Black Lives Matter slogans to work after pres-sure from the activist community. “What is smart from an advocacy standpoint is smart from a business standpoint," says Damon Jones, chief communications officer, Procter and Gamble. “We make no apologies that doing the right thing for society is, in fact, the thing to do for business. It's just a commitment to learning to listen and to constantly trying to be in a better place (that) helps take some of the sting out of those traditionally, sometimes combative relationships.” Given the obvious need to understand and address complex, sensitive issues, why are so many corporate communicators reluctant to reach out to the people who live and breathe them? Our survey suggests their hesitation may be based on outdated perceptions. Public relations executives, who serve the front lines of issues management for their clients and companies, generally perceive activists as people who walkout, strike and protest. They view those in-your-face tactics as a means to attract negative attention, rather than to create meaningful change. And negative attention is

FR E D COOK is Director of the USC Annenberg Center for PR.

the last thing they want for their brand. But in many ways, these New Activists are different from the crowd that occupied Wall Street 10 years ago and the generation before them who protested the Vietnam War. They’re younger, better educated, more diverse and more female. These are everyday citizens, not the charismatic leaders of the past. New activists are also more tech-savvy than their predecessors, which was confirmed when teenage TikTokers and K-poppers tricked the Trump campaign by reserving all of the online tickets to their Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally, resulting in lower-than-expected turnout. Social media is their preferred communication channel, but they also make movies and write books. Jamie Margolin, the 18-yearold founder of the climate change organization Zero Hour, recently published the book Youth to Power, which is endorsed by Al Gore. But Jamie’s book isn’t about global warming: It’s a guide for young activists on how to use modern communication tools to deliver their message. The most profound change in New Activism is the shift from protest to policy. As we have seen, today’s activists will protest when they want to gain awareness for an important issue 41


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they feel is being ignored. In 2018, high school students from Parkland, Florida, successfully mobilized a million young people to march against gun violence. But their long-term strategy is to get them to vote. The activists we surveyed chose voting in elections four times more often than protesting in the streets as the most effective tactic for creating long-lasting change. On this topic, they are in total agreement with communication professionals. This alignment means New Activists are open to collaborating with companies that share their mission – but finding the right partner isn’t easy. While activist groups welcome the credibility and the resources corporations can bring, they’re skeptical of working with companies who are “just checking the box” on corporate social responsibility and lack a real commitment to change. Inside the organization, senior executives have the most influential voice in determining how and when their company takes a public stand on a social issue and they listen mainly to their employees and customers. Today, activist groups exert little influence on the corporate decision-making process, but that is changing. “Today’s activists aren’t interested in lip service from corporations, politicians or peers,” says Brendan Duff, co-founder of March for Our Lives. “The goals go beyond just raising awareness for a cause — they are rooted in achieving authentic social and political change. That’s what makes activism so effective today.” Given employees’ growing engagement with all kinds of issues, it’s striking that less than 42

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one-third of communicators report that their organizations have policies regarding employee activism. And half admit they don’t know if their companies support employee involvement in activist activities. This lack of guidance raises a lot of complicated questions. What if a passionate staffer posts something inflammatory on Instagram? What if a longterm employee is arrested during a protest? What if an office worker wears a t-shirt featuring a controversial slogan to work? Should their employer support their freedom of expression or punish them for actions inconsistent with management’s beliefs? What employees say and do after work used to be their business, but the internet age has erased those boundaries. It takes three minutes of online research to discover an individual’s work history and another three to publicly attack the company they work for. As the NBA learned when the Houston Rockets’ general manager commented on the Hong Kong protests, every employee has the potential to damage their company’s reputation with a tweet. Powered by purpose and armed with modern communication tools, New Activists are committed to creating seismic societal shifts. They are full of hope, but they’ve learned from previous generations that hope is not enough. They will participate in the political process to produce the long-lasting changes they seek. The corporate world should welcome their participation, listen to their perspectives and look for opportunities to collaborate to help


solve the problems they address. New activism requires new communication.

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C O V I D -1 9 R E M A I N S R E L E VA N T

2021 USC Annenberg Relevance Survey Results BY RON A NTONE T TE USC A NNE NB E RG C E N T E R FO R P R

Even though the global pandemic appears to be receding and cable news is obsessed with Presidential politics, COVID-19 will remain the dominant topic for Americans in nearly every aspect of their lives in 2021, according to the results of our annual Relevance Survey — conducted by the USC Center for Public Relations, in conjunction with the Institute of Public Relations and Golin. Beginning with the news they will consume, 44% of average Americans say the topic they will be most interested in hearing and reading about in 2021 will be the COVID-19 vaccine, three times more than those interested in learning about politics. They will trust doctors the most to provide accurate, credible information, followed by journalists and educators — way more than politicians. Continuing their focus on health, survey respondents chose virtual doctor visits as the number one activity they began during the quarantine and plan to continue in the future, even more than everyday activities like grocery and meal delivery. They also reported the primary behavioral change they hope to make in 2021 is to improve their health and fitness, which ranked higher than spending more time with their families and social distancing. On the flipside, eating also 46

remains a top priority for many Americans, who state they’re very interested in information on food and recipes and looking forward to dining in restaurants more than going to movies, concerts or the beach. COVID-19 also influences their fashion choices. When asked what slogan they would like to wear on a t-shirt next year, 21% of respondents chose “Wear A Mask,” well ahead of “Make America Great Again” (15%) and Black Lives Matter (14.5%). Their choice of technology is also quarantine-related, with more than one-third predicting Zoom will be the meeting platform they will engage on most next year. “In a normal year, many different topics are relevant to Americans. But in 2021, they will be paying closest attention to COVID-19 and it will continue to impact their lives," says, Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for PR. "Information on the virus is what they will listen to, share with others and act upon.” When it comes to promoting social issues, the majority of Americans said they expect to vote in elections (58.5%), share opinions on social media (39.1%) and sign petitions (34%). They will continue to favor Facebook as the site where they will most frequently share


opinions, with 47% of respondents choosing that service over Instagram (17%) and Twitter (11%). But who will we trust if another crisis arises? When reflecting upon the performance of public officials during 2020, our respondents are most likely to trust public health officials (18.4%) or their governors (17.7%) in a future crisis, far ahead of other electeds, mayors, police and council members. Yet the answer given by 25% of respondents: None of the above.

RO N ANTONE T T E is Chief Program Officer of the USC Annenberg Center for PR, and proprietor of R. Antonette Communications in Long Beach. He previously held senior roles at Golin and FleishmanHillard. Ron is a USC Annenberg graduate.

Despite the challenges they faced in 2020, Americans are hopeful about the future. Thirty-seven percent chose “fingers crossed” as the emoji that best expresses their feelings about the new year, more than double those who said they are worried. “Americans are remarkably resilient,” says Cook. “After one of the most dismal, divisive years in recent memory, we have every reason to be pessimistic about where things are headed, but somehow we are renewed by our shared optimism.” The survey of 1,087 Americans was conducted in August, 2020, using the Survey Monkey online platform. The respondents represented a cross-section of Americans as defined by the U.S. Census; the margin of error is +/- 3%. Find the results of our survey throughout this year's report.

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LOCALIZING THE FIGHT AGAINST D I S I N F O R M AT I O N

BY TIN A M CC OR K I NDAL E , P H . D. , AP R IN STIT U TE FOR P U B L IC R E L AT IO N S

While we have seen how threatening disinformation can be to democracies and elections— cue the 2016 U.S. election—little attention has been paid to preventing and combatting it in the public relations industry. Disinformation (I prefer this term over fake news) is defined as deliberately misleading or biased information. This is different from misinformation, which is erroneous information or news but without the malicious intentions of the sender. Disinformation has created what Dr. Kevin Young refers to as the colonization of doubt, or the increased mistrust in truths, which deteriorate our society and institutions, including journalism. Multiple entities charged with safeguarding domestic interests agree disinformation is an issue and that the U.S. is underprepared to deal with it. In a rare move, federal intelligence and security agencies, including the Department of Justice, FBI, and the National Security Agency, released a joint statement warning against the threat of “foreign malicious actors” using disinformation to interfere in the 2020 U.S. election. Foreign entities are not the only concern as domestic actors, including social media networks, help spread false or misleading content in a number of ways, according to a report on safeguarding democracy. These include selling microtargeted ads that leverage 48

user data to spread disinformation, amplifying disinformation, and allowing participation from Trojan horse outlets which conceal their agenda and mimic news outlets. In 2020, the Institute for Public Relations released its second annual “IPR Disinformation in Society Report” based on a survey of 2,200 Americans to find out the prevalence of disinformation in the U.S., the parties most responsible for sharing disinformation, the level of trust the American public has for different information sources, and whose job it is to combat disinformation. Disinformation was rated by 58% of Americans as a “major problem” in society, more so than gun violence, crime, and drug use or abuse. Additionally, 72% believe disinformation is a threat to democracy, and 69% said it undermines the election process. However, the U.S. has placed few resources behind how to deal with disinformation compared to other social problems, such as healthcare, social security, and the economy (even though disagreements exist about the way to best deal with these issues, policies and programs do exist). The IPR study did find differences among respondents, and where they put the blame for disinformation, the most significant gaps are


based on political affiliation. Republicans and Democrats were at opposite ends of the spectrum as to whom is responsible for spreading and combatting disinformation, as well as the sources they most trust. However, both political parties agree on one information source they both trust: local media outlets. In fact, 70% of Americans had “some” trust in local broadcast news and 60% in local newspapers, which was rated higher than friends and all other media outlets. But local media outlets are in trouble. Over the past 15 years, according to a 2020 report by Dr. Penelope Muse Abernathy of the University of North Carolina, the U.S. has lost 2,100 newspapers, turning at least 1,800 communities into news deserts. Similarly, the number of ghost newspapers, or thin papers with little local news coverage, has increased. Some are consumed by larger dailies or bought by investment firms with limited local ties.

T IN A MCCORK INDA L E , PH. D. , AP R , is President and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations, an independent research non-profit that studies the profession of PR.

nalism Sustainability Act HR7640. The time is now for companies to take a stand against disinformation to help protect democracy and one way to do this is through supporting local journalism.

While scholars have debated how amicable the relationship between public relations professionals and journalists is, both sides without a doubt would agree that they need each other. Local newspapers are a trusted source for combatting disinformation. Though companies have not spent much time combatting disinformation from an industry standpoint, they can help fight it. Companies should not invest in social media networks or news outlets that do not actively counter disinformation or avoid those that sell user data to dark sources. Companies should help fund newspapers through ads and subscriptions. Additionally, companies can support favorable legislation such as the Local Jour49


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I N I N F L U E N C E R S W E T R U S T – E S P E C I A L LY D U R I N G A PA N D E M I C

BY UL R I K E GR E T ZE L , P H .D.

USC A NNE NB E RG C E N T E R FO R P R

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Right from its start, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a big crisis in the influencer marketing world. Influencers saw their content creation potential evaporate before their eyes as lockdown measures were put in place. Especially those focused on retail, travel and dining domains faced an immediate need to change their content creation strategy. Brands paused their marketing either to cut costs, to not appear to be putting profits before people, or simply out of a fear of striking the wrong tone. Sponsored posts reportedly almost disappeared from influencers’ Instagram accounts in March and April. Although brand deals seemed to be bouncing back after April, some sources continue to expect a 10 to 20% overall decrease in influencer investments in 2020.

"BEING PAID TO SPREAD OFFICIAL HEALTH MESSAGES LEGITIMIZED INFLUENCER MARKETING IN LASTING WAYS."

At the same time brand deals took a nosedive, social media engagement soared (most notably on TikTok), and livestreaming turned mainstream. Even in China, where livestreaming already had a much larger footprint, the pandemic took it to new heights and pushed it from the cities to rural areas. Faced with outdoor market closures, ordinary farmers in rural China increasingly started promoting their produce with funny TikTok videos or on livestreaming platforms. The Alibaba Group made its Taobao Live platform free for farmers through its Rural Support Program,

Several other aspects played out in favor of influencer marketing. Consumers not only craved entertainment but needed help with an array of practical issues, such as gift-giving during the crisis, personal fitness, insurance, and taking care of the new houseplants they had acquired as part of their panic purchases. Niche influencers like plantfluencers (e.g. @ Cleverbloom and @Bloomandplume) quickly filled the gaps. As the pandemic continued, it became very clear very fast that brands were running out of content as commercial production opportunities remained shut down. Influ-

resulting in success stories like the mayor of Sanya in Hainan Province selling 30 tons of mangoes in under 2 minutes. In many ways, COVID-19 accelerated the changes in media consumption and online or app-based buying habits (think Doordash or Instacart) that were already on the horizon in 2019.


encers were happy to come to the rescue and cater to new content needs. While there is talk in the influencer industry of a shake-out, there is also recognition that many influencers have already risen from the ashes of the pandemic stronger than ever before — and more appreciated as professional storytellers.

U L R IKE GRE T ZE L , PH. D. , is a Senior Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for PR, and Director of Research at consumer insights company Netnografica. She has

THE LEGITIMIZATION OF INFLUENCER MARKETING

published extensively on the

Trust is especially important in times of crisis. Even before the pandemic began, influencers had not only acquired sizable audiences but also worked hard to gain their trust. Most importantly, they had become brokers of trust between brands and these audiences. While brands were reluctant to capitalize on this trust in the beginning, the opportunity to use trusted communicators to spread critical information encouraged government organizations to finally dip their toes into the waters of influencer marketing.

on consumers.

Facing the urgent need to reach young people who seemed to ignore traditional COVID-19-related messaging and to communicate with vulnerable communities who have little trust in medical professionals and public officials, government organizations around the world paid influencers to spread their public health alerts. The governments of Great Britain and Finland were among those who prominently used influencers and so did cities in the US, including Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Bangladesh even created a council of 500 influencers to reach its very young population. Being paid to spread official health messages legitimized influencer marketing in lasting ways.

impacts of emerging technologies

Influencers themselves also worked hard to legitimize their positions of influence by demonstrating their goodwill and sharing COVID-19 information for free. Influencer marketing agency Obviously reported in April that 80% of its influencers would participate in a charitable campaign and 97% would post about a business or cause they care about. Influence Central stated earlier this year that 89% of the influencers they surveyed were actively looking for ways their content could help small businesses and brands during times of closures. BUT DO INFLUENCERS STILL TRUST IN BRANDS?

While brands have been wary of engaging influencers during the crisis, influencers have to be equally careful which brands to associate with in order to avoid eroding that hard-earned trust and newly-gained role as public spokespeople. Many have emancipated themselves from brands and successfully explored new revenue streams. Some have ventured into launching their own brands or have started consulting and coaching businesses. Fashion influencer Courtney Trop, for 51


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instance, officially launched her CBD product line in March and claims that it “saved her life� as her fashion engagements had come to a halt. Others have taken advantage of the break in their usual online content creation frenzy to write books. Most notable is the increase in merchandising opportunities for influencers and growing reliance on e-commerce affiliate revenues. Subscription-based services, such as those offered by YouTube or Patreon, have also become a lot more important recently as many influencers seek new ways to engage with their audiences. WHAT’S NEXT?

As both brands and influencers are starting to adjust to the new realities of marketing during a pandemic, new trends are already emerging. For instance, platforms like Guru Club are trying to create a future in which everyone is an influencer by incentivizing and rewarding customers to create content after a purchase. Another trend to watch is the explosion of livestreaming e-commerce in China that will certainly spill over to other countries in the near future. At the core of livestreaming e-commerce are complex influencer-brand-platform relationships that will further elevate the status of influencers in 2021. Overall, the pandemic has strengthened the trust placed in influencers, and influencer marketing can now strategically exploit this. The last few months have also shown how resilient influencers and influencer marketing are and there is no doubt that brands and governments will continue to invest in it. 52

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T H E P S Y C H O L O G I C A L I M PA C T O F 2 0 2 0 M AY LAST FOR A VERY LONG TIME

BY JEFF R E Y C OLE

USC A NNE NB E RG SC H O O L

Our recent Coronavirus Disruption Project is full of countless trends, insights and numbers. One number stands out from the rest: 37%. That’s the percentage of Americans who— even after a vaccine is found and the pandemic fades away—plan to reduce their face-to-face contact with other people. Once we feel safe (if we ever do) we may quickly revert back to old habits and behaviors. But, in the middle of the pandemic, more than one-third of Americans think they will be uncomfortable in large gatherings, crowded public transportation, packed beaches and swimming pools, shoulder to shoulder in bars and restaurants, full stadiums, theme parks and movie theaters. In short, 37% will view other people as a potential threat. THREE YEARS

What we are seeing in this 37% figure is the psychological long tail of Coronavirus. Our psyches will carry the toll of the virus long after our bodies are safe. When people are thrust into dangerous situations that put their lives at stake and where they lack control, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) commonly follows. 54

"NOW AND FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE, WE ARE MORE LIKELY TO VIEW OTHER PEOPLE (PARTICULARLY STRANGERS) AS A DANGER OR A THREAT." Common symptoms include invasive memories, flashbacks, intense feelings of distress, and avoiding certain activities. All the disorders that the pandemic has brought—fears for our safety and that of our loved ones, our economic and job security, foreboding about the future of the world—will linger for a long time. When it comes to creating stress and foreboding, 2020 is turning out to be a perfect storm, combining three of the most difficult years in American history. • 1918: With the Coronavirus pandemic, we have been reliving the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. Books about the 100-year-old flu have catapulted to the top of best-seller lists, and movies about it top Netflix’s most-watched list. We are looking for the parallels in how the flu started,


continued to infect, and then eventually disappeared. • 1933: The economic toll of joblessness and despair from Coronavirus is also bringing up a psychological return to the year 1933—at the height of the Great Depression. Few are around who remember those years, but almost all of us are the children and grandchildren of those who lived through this period. • 1968: The tragic and unnecessary killing of George Floyd and the resulting demonstrations and unrest in cities across the country raise difficult memories of 1968. That was the year when the nation’s campuses and cities felt like they were on fire because of demonstrations against the Vietnam war. Things got worse following the assassination of Martin Luther King. The demonstrations culminated in the streets of Chicago at the Democratic National Convention and led to the election of the “law and order” candidate, Richard Nixon.

We have had difficult years before but never in our 231-year history as a country have we lived through three of the most difficult years rolled into one. In the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic, before we could see the full economic devastation and the coming police brutality and demonstrations, anxiety was at record levels among Americans. In mid-April, the Center’s Project saw that 62% of people were feeling more anxious, with 19% feeling much more anxious. Only 4% were feeling less anxious.

J E FFRE Y COL E is Director of the Center for the Digital Future and a research professor at USC Annenberg. Dr. Cole previously served as Director of the UCLA Center for Communication Policy based in the Anderson Graduate School of Management.

If anything, these numbers have grown over the past few weeks as the memories of 1933 and 1968 have entered our psyches. This is, we believe, the lasting legacy of 2020: we may carry the fear and apprehension with us the rest of our lives. B.C. AND A.C.

A pandemic, a depression, and now, mass demonstrations and civil strife, make a perfect trifecta. For a long time, perhaps the rest of our lives, we will split our reckoning of history between “B.C.”—before Corona—and “A.C.”—after Corona. Some of the things that Americans currently say they might soon want to do (like going to sporting events and concerts, movies, restaurants) might be too pleasurable or necessary for us to refrain for very long. Work and school may force us to do uncomfortable things like take public transportation or sit in classrooms or lecture halls. We may wait longer before we go into theaters or theme 55


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parks. Ultimately, these things are likely to return too, although with new rules and perhaps some social distancing. The pandemic arrived in a country that is more divided than it has been in decades. The last three years, no matter which side you feel close to, has exacerbated those differences. Now we have been hit hard by an economic depression and civil unrest. It seems more than we can take. This will lead us to stay closer to home, narrowing our relationships to those we know and love the most and could reduce our empathy for people we don’t know. This is yet another effect of post-traumatic stress.

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Now and for the foreseeable future, we are more likely to view other people (particularly strangers) as a danger or a threat. Today, over one-third of us believe even when the vaccine comes we will want to keep distance from others. This may be the lasting legacy of the pandemic. If it is, and if we don’t revert back to life as it was B.C., the changes in our social, economic and political lives will be unlike anything we have ever seen.


2021 RELEVANCE REPORT RESULTS

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THE AUTO INDUSTRY ADAPTS ITS CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

BY M IC H A E L STE WA RT HYUN DA I M OTOR A M E R IC A

The stereotype of the pushy, aggressive and untrustworthy car salesperson remains in the minds of many consumers to this day. Despite significant progress by dealers and car companies to improve the experience, nearly 90% of consumers dislike buying a new car according to recent surveys. Purchasing a new vehicle with the latest design, technology and safety features should be something that creates anticipation and excitement. It’s clear the industry has more work to do. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted nearly every industry, including automotive. It has faced significant sales declines that are slowly recovering and is a traditional hightouch industry that has had to adapt to new realities. But like it has done throughout its 100-year history, the industry’s resiliency and entrepreneurial spirit has come through. THE COVID-19 EFFECT

In recent years, dealers and car companies were well on their way to transforming the customer experience and making it more efficient, digital and transparent. The pandemic has accelerated that process and consumers are on board as well. A recent study by Urban Science and the Harris Poll in June 2020 found that 61% of 58

consumers agree the entire vehicle purchase process will change forever due to COVID19, and more than three-quarters (78%) see some benefit to shopping for a new vehicle entirely online versus in-person. Car companies have responded. New digital tools allow for the entire purchase to be completed online. More transparent pricing policies have reduced negotiation anxiety and financing. Paperwork, trade-in valuation and every other step in the process can now be done digitally. At Hyundai for instance, all of our dealers now offer this capability on their websites. But who would buy a car without even seeing it? There are solutions for that, too. The resources for independent and credible research have never been more robust. Virtual reality and video walk-arounds (live and taped) allow consumers a more realistic view of the vehicle digitally. At Hyundai, we offer a remote test drive where we will bring the vehicle to the customer for evaluation. And once a purchase decision is made, in most places we’ll deliver the car right to the customers' home. All of this is modernizing the automotive retail experience and keeping everyone safe. SAFETY PRECAUTIONS AT RETAIL


Even with more flexibility in buying a new car, there are still many people who want to go to the dealer and kick the tires. Like many other high-touch industries, the in-person experience has changed too. Dealers are altering their processes and putting a variety of safeguards in place. This includes more frequent cleaning of the facility and vehicles, social distancing, wearing masks and thorough training for their staff. There are also more options for service and maintenance, with many dealers offering a pick up and drop off option. At Hyundai, we introduced a program called Clean Assurance. These are health and safety guidelines that customers can expect at dealers across the country. This is something dealerships are taking seriously and ensuring the in-person experience is putting safety at the forefront. There are predictions the pandemic will increase personal vehicle ownership as people consider it less risky than public transportation. With the potential increase in demand, customers will have more flexibility than ever.

MIC HA E L S T E WA RT is Senior Group Manager, corporate and marketing communications, at Hyundai Motor America. He is a USC graduate and a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

have new expectations about retail. Transforming a traditional business model is never easy, but the automotive industry is ready to meet the new realities, expectations and opportunities of a COVID-19 world and whatever comes next.

While some new car companies are pursuing a direct sales model and the internet dramatically changing the car-buying experience, dealerships will continue to have an important role. The direct connection dealers have with customers to navigate a sometimes complex purchase, the impact they have on their local communities, and the ability to offer high-quality service are still critically important and here to stay. The difference being that dealers will be more digital, transparent and flexible in selling vehicles to consumers who 59


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THE FUTURE OF LIVE EXPERIENCES

BY A DRI E NNE C A D E N A HAVA S STR E E T

At the start of this year, never could anyone have imagined the drastic changes that would immediately affect all facets of life as we know it. As a young executive at a global communications agency, I have relished in the fact that there is so much more to learn. A global pandemic; however, was not one of those learning moments I had anticipated. I did not anticipate something that stops me in my tracks, induces unprecedented global challenges and shakes so many industries to their core, including mine — the experiential marketing industry.

HYPER-FOCUSED SHIFT — Large scale

Over the past months, we have become students of the changing landscape. From virtual events to state-by-state phased re-openings to what essential workers need, we have successfully identified new societal pain points that our expertise could impact in a positive way. Not only did we identify what the future of our industry will look like for our clients now and into 2021, more importantly, we identified that our future will continuously evolve without advance notice. So, the question becomes, how can we stay ready as communicators?

PASTIMES REINVENTED — As local

Here are four ways that live experiences are shifting now and into the foreseeable future based on the work we’ve done since we first heard the term social distancing. 60

festivals were shut down seemingly overnight and the new focus is on hyper-focused quality interactions that reward loyal customers and perhaps amplify in a word-of-mouth-style manner leading to inquisitive new consumers. Tiered activations like working out or dining bubbles have also seen an uptick in popularity — bringing scalability and smart, nimble engagements together during an ever-changing environment. This approach is also effective to turn on or off as states continue to move along the re-opening spectrum.

governments put restrictions on gatherings and happenings, the simple pastimes and things that Americans loved were quickly reinvented through the lens of experiential marketing. In a short time, we have seen drive-in movies, “boat ups” and concerts become a sought after social activity. Parking lot events become more prevalent at big retailers like Walmart. Drive-up stands have popped up and community ice cream trucks are more popular than ever. Even pop-up pamper service activations are becoming a way in for consumers missing out on one of their favorite “treat yourself ” moments and provide a glimpse into what the future could look like for these services.


CONTACTLESS TECHNOLOGY — Tech-

nology used to be centered around innovative ways to engage with consumers. The focus has shifted to how it can allow us to even attend a live experience and keep everyone safe. There are four categories where the use of technology applies. Event arrival (think virtual queue to enter), on-site safety (thermal imaging cameras), contactless engagements (AR/VR), and data collection. While some examples are not new to industry experts like QR codes, RFID or iBeacons, they are making a huge comeback in the COVID era. However, newer technology like vibrating wristbands when you get too close or gesture-recognizing vending machines are smarter options for event organizers to limit contact yet make an experience memorable.

ADR IENNE CA DE NA is President of Havas Street, one of the foremost experiential marketing groups in the country. She is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

our message and solve our logistical hurdles during a global pandemic, there isn’t anything that we cannot overcome to keep our industry moving forward.

GET TING BACK TO ACTS OF KINDNESS — Everyone can relate to appreciating things

we may have taken for granted before the pandemic. We’re seeing that thoughtful acts of kindness and humanitarian efforts are more popular than ever before and brands should mobilize to enable these acts not only from the brand but from person to person. Whether it’s utilizing food trucks to deliver meals to essential workers at distribution centers or companies like T-Mobile thanking first responders with a surprise engagement, simple acts of kindness build brand affinity and establish an emotional connection with consumers. In closing, the only thing we can count on in the foreseeable future is change. The only way we can continue to bring live experiences to consumers globally is if we adapt and do so quickly. At our core, we are communicators and problem solvers. If we can pivot 61


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F A C I A L R E C O G N I T I O N: P R O M I S I N G , P O L A R I Z I N G , H E R E T O S TAY

BY GA RY B ROTM A N

SECON D M I ND, LTD.

A friend recently tagged me in a Facebook post with a comment that I looked like someone in the photo. That someone was Ira Glass, host of ‘This American Life.’ I’m a big fan of Ira, but never thought we looked alike, at least not until seeing this photo. There was indeed a resemblance and it made me smile. Some find it flattering when someone says they look like a famous individual. But what if that someone isn’t a person? What if it’s an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm that doesn’t just think you resemble someone, but that you ARE someone else? This is exactly what happened in early 2019 to our very own Fred Cook, Director of the USC Center for Public Relations. A few weeks after the COVID-19 tidal wave washed over the United States, Facebook suggested Fred tag himself in a photo, only the photo was not of him but of Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York. Fred and Governor Cuomo do share similar facial features, but Facebook’s algorithm believed there was a close enough match to suggest Governor Cuomo was Fred. This error was relatively benign, and no doubt made for some interesting conversations, but it also highlighted a flaw in one of the fastest growing applications of AI: facial recognition. 62

"FACIAL RECOGNITION IS A POWERFUL TOOL WITH POTENTIAL TO ENABLE VERY GOOD AND EQUALLY DANGEROUS OUTCOMES." AI-powered facial recognition has exploded the past few years across myriad industries, government institutions and applications. An explosion that’s been met with excitement, fear and outright rejection. UPSIDES:

Proponents of facial recognition laud the technology for enabling convenience and security. Google and Facebook use facial recognition to help us easily tag friends and family in photos so we can organize our memories. Companies like Apple and Google offer facial recognition as the primary way for customers to unlock their mobile phones. Facial recognition promises to make our streets safer and to make travel a more seamless and secure experience. Airlines like JetBlue employ it at check in — no physical ID, no problem. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security predicts facial recognition


will be ubiquitous at airport security checkpoints with 97% of travelers being screened this way by 2023. As a means of contactless verification, facial recognition will replace fingerprint recognition and other forms of physical ID in our post-pandemic, socially distanced future.

G ARY BROT MA N is Vice President of Product & Marketing at Secondmind Ltd. He is a member of the

DOWNSIDES:

USC Annenberg Center for PR

The lion’s share of facial recognition coverage in the media this past year was critical of the technology. Threats to privacy and human rights, fears of unlawful police and government surveillance and inherent racial bias topped the list of concerns.

Board of Advisors.

January 2020 marked the first reported wrongful arrest using facial recognition. The Detroit Police Department wrongfully arrested a Black man named Robert Williams based solely on a false positive with no human oversight. The New York Police Department (NYPD) recently defended its use in identifying a Black Lives Matter activist accused of assaulting an officer. At a time when law enforcement agencies were being accused of racial profiling and using excessive force against Black people, criticism was harsh. NYPD investigators mitigated risks of wrongful arrest by using their judgment vs. relying on the technology alone. Facial recognition is accused of racial bias by both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Institute for Standards in Technology (NIST), citing high error rates when identifying Black faces. A NIST study from December 2019 found facial recognition systems to be 10 to 100 times more likely to generate false positives for Asian and Black

faces when compared to white men. It’s unclear how many law enforcement agencies use facial recognition, but one company, Clearview AI, claims to have contracts with 600 U.S. law enforcement agencies. In the wake of mass protests resulting from the killing of George Floyd, claims of racism in law enforcement, coupled with irresponsible use of facial recognition, have spurred calls for police reform and laws governing the technology. Amazon and Microsoft have already responded by publicly announcing they will stop supplying facial recognition technologies to law enforcement and IBM is getting out of the business altogether. Despite the downsides, facial recognition is the future. It’s here to stay. Like other game-changing technologies that came before it. It holds much promise but a few things need to happen for it to become commonplace and accepted. • Answer calls for national laws governing all aspects of facial recognition development and usage to ensure racial and other biases are reduced, accuracy is increased and 63


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privacy is preserved — all with complete transparency. • Facial recognition is a tool, not a complete solution. The collaboration between the human decision maker and the AI technology that powers it will be the key to safe and effective use. • Even with stricter regulations and transparency, there must be trust in the institutions that deploy the technology. Facial recognition is a powerful tool with potential to enable very good and equally dangerous outcomes. Future acceptance will be a direct reflection of our trust in the government institutions and companies that put it to use. In what is arguably one of the most politically and emotionally charged periods of our lifetime, the negatives are in the spotlight and an absence of trust has created a void for fear and skepticism to fill. The tide will eventually turn.

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T H E T I M I N G O F C O V I D -1 9

BY STE P H E N JONE S GOL IN

In public relations, as in life, timing is everything. Find your brand in the wrong place at the wrong time, and marketing is looking for a Plan B, while the finance folks dial back revenue projections. Hit that sweet spot of timing with market demand and pop culture trends, and all the tumblers click magically into place.

flooded with beauty shots of home workout equipment and yoga pants. With gyms closed and nowhere to go, Peleton became the “panic purchase” of choice, evidently the perfect product to help offset the extra calories from all the whipped lattes, banana bread and the spike in adult beverage sales.

Even though our sense of timing was ravaged in 2020 by pandemic-induced quarantines and stay at home orders, time marched on and pulled with it brands and consumer proclivities, creating wonderful and sometimes unexpected unions.

Not surprisingly, streaming services like Netflix and Hulu offered distraction and comfort in the form of bingeworthy shows. As people craved at-home entertainment options, the timing was especially right for Disney+, which saw its initial subscriber base double.

An early example: Purell, Clorox wipes and Charmin were flying off the shelves. After a short while, other household products became increasingly popular, including items like flour, active dry yeast and most anything to do with baking.

The cause and effect was even greater in the video game category as people picked up games for escape and pleasure at unprecedented rates. According to market research firm NPD, video game sales hit a 10-year high in June 2020. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was advising people that video games improved mental health during quarantine.

While people quarantining at home didn’t bake out of necessity, it was a productive way to pass the time and, more importantly, bring people together. Preparing a home-cooked meal became the trendy thing to do. Everyone was showing off photos of their best kitchen creations. It’s no wonder that #sourdough, #cinnamonbuns and #homebakedbread trended on Twitter throughout April. Outside the kitchen, Instagram feeds were 66

One title in particular, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, received an unprecedented amount of attention. In the game, players move to a deserted island and live life at their own pace, interacting with charming animal residents, participating in relaxing activities like fishing, catching bugs, helping a neighbor water their flowers and designing their


dream island paradise. As the world tucked in for a seemingly interminable quarantine, it was exactly what the doctor ordered. If people weren’t playing Animal Crossing, they were talking about it. Even non-gamers were searching everywhere for a Nintendo Switch system on which to play the game and join the fun. According to Google Trends, Animal Crossing became one of the most talked about entertainment brands around the world through the first quarter of 2020, rivaling Netflix and outpacing conversation about juggernaut video games like Fortnite. The many media outlets that reported on the game’s popularity noted consistently that it was due, quite simply, to being the right game at the right time. It launched in March as COVID-19 was taking hold, and instantly proved to be an escape and calming influence in a time of stress and anxiety. The Atlantic, hardly a publication to typically cover video games, even pondered Lockean theory in considering the game’s balance between pastoralism and capitalism as a telling sign of the pandemic times.

STEPHEN JONES is an Executive Director at Golin, where he leads one of the firm’s largest accounts, Nintendo of America. He is an adjunct professor at USC Annenberg.

on the fates of timing, but rather control their destiny as the world catapults forward? Data has always been an answer, peeking into the hearts and minds of consumers to predict how they’ll act in the future, based on actions of the present and past. Imagine the analytical riches that await in understanding the motivations of the pandemic consumer and how they will evolve into long-term behaviors. Those who capture and apply the learnings of 2020 have the opportunity to bend the arc of timing to their advantage and lead the way to the next normal of communication and advertising. Hopefully, with a fun video game and warm cinnamon bun by their side.

Most notably, the media coverage for Animal Crossing: New Horizons was primarily organic. Everyone wanted to write about it. It was a marketing dream — a massively relevant product supported by an endless wave of press coverage and positive word of mouth. This kind of serendipity is by any account a wonderful thing. But how can communication and advertising professionals not simply rely 67


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S P O R T S A N D L I V E E N T E R TA I N M E N T P O S TCOVID 19

BY M A RYA NNE LATA I F A EG

While much has been written about the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on the $80 billion U.S. sports and live music industries, the one thing that everyone agrees on is that it is impossible to replicate the excitement of live events. As human beings, we are hard-wired to share our stories and affirm our life experiences through face-toface interactions that provide us with a sense of belonging and community. So, while no one knows when live events with fans will return, it is safe to say that they will come back. Live entertainment was among the hardest hit industries, and is struggling with a number of challenges around health and safety, labor force reductions, ticket sales and refunds, event schedules and cash flow. Due to the logistical hurdles posed by mass gatherings, events with fans will be among the last sectors to reopen, and when they return, neither consumers nor the event experience will be the same. Fans will be cautious from both an economic and health perspective, and the way they interact in social settings has changed. The quarantine mindset may not go away immediately, and organizations will have to adapt the ways in which they operate. It will be incumbent on them to communicate what they are doing from a cleaning, sanitization, staffing, training, health monitoring, event production 68

and operational perspective to ensure that it is safe for fans and athletes to come back. In the U.S., the first events to return have been televised sporting events without fans. Following the models established by European soccer leagues, these broadcasts replaced fans in the stands with cardboard cutouts and fans cheering with AI crowd noise to create a more lively and authentic viewing experience. One of the first televised events was the opening game for the National Women’s Soccer League, which drew a record audience of more than 572,000 viewers. The increase was driven in part by consumer curiosity about the fanless experience, but it is likely that all sports will see increased viewership when games resume due to pent-up demand for sports content. Live events with fans will return in stages as countries around the world begin to reopen their economies. The protocols implemented in places like Shanghai Disneyland are indicators of the challenges that sports and live music gatherings might face when they resume. The theme park initially reopened with a limited visitor capacity of 24,000 people, which was approximately 30% of its regular 80,000 visitor capacity. In addition, the park introduced a number of new health and safety procedures including mask wearing, temperature checks and social distancing.


Additionally, visitors were required to make advanced ticket purchases and reservations and were assigned specific times to enter. Similarly, when live events resume in the U.S., sports fans should expect restricted occupancy, flexible season-ticket packages and social distancing requirements with empty seats or rows between themselves and other fans. Concerts in theaters, clubs and arenas may need to move to a reserved-seating model and eliminate all standing areas. And, music festivals will need to evaluate whether they can enforce social distancing, or if they can only resume operating once a vaccine is available. Regardless of the type of event, fans attending mass gatherings should expect to wear masks, submit to health scans or temperature checks, enter venues using digital tickets, make purchases through cashless transactions and buy pre-packed food and beverages. Since it will be costly for venues to implement new health and safety protocols, there is a good chance that several of these new practices will be permanently adopted. There is no doubt that the crisis has significantly altered consumer purchasing behaviors. Fans are evaluating brands through a new lens and how they are spending their leisure time has changed. Organizations will need to understand these shifts in consumer habits as they roll out new ticketing, hospitality and food and beverage offerings. Convincing fans it will be safe to return to events is as much about listening as it is about doing. By surveying consumers about what they can expect when returning to events,

MARYA NNE L ATA IF 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.

brands can gain insight into such things as how long it will be before fans’ feel comfortable attending events, entry and exit wait times, health check protocols and cashless transactions. By proactively reaching out to fans, organizations can not only show that they care, but can also collect valuable consumer data. The events of 2020 pushed brands to innovate their digital and social content. Text messaging and social media have become invaluable for athletes, artists and brands to engage with fans and show their support for communities, front-line workers, and medical personnel. When events return, digital marketing will continue to influence how organizations connect with consumers, as well spur new ideas for how fans can experience events. Although there remains much uncertainty around the long-term impact of the pandemic on the sports and live music industries, brands will need to keep adjusting their messaging, narrative storytelling and creative content as they navigate the complexities of this new era. 69


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C R E AT I N G A M O R E A D A P T I V E , E M PAT H E T I C TEAM

BY JOS H ROSE NB E RG DAY ONE AG E NC Y

We can anticipate many things that could go wrong during a production shoot, but melted chocolate was definitely not first on our list. As shelter-in-place orders swept the U.S. in March, we relocated our production studios to the homes of our studio leaders. Our newly hired creative in LA started on a shoot for a candy client, but it didn’t take long before we needed to make more quick adaptations. A blistering heat wave had hit the region and we realized he had no air conditioning! We had to move fast. We purchased an AC, and he turned his kitchen into a temporary candy land. His TV stand became a home for his gear, and we even hired his girlfriend as a hand model. We got some great shots and escaped a messy confection fate. Our agency has made other adjustments, too. And most weren’t as easy or obvious as buying an AC. We built our agency to be nimble, which has proved to be a critical to our survival in this challenging environment. Here's what we've learned over the last few months that has helped us become more adaptive for evolving client needs and more empathetic toward one another:

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1. SHIFT TEAM STRUCTURE TO ENABLE SPEEDIER SPRINTS

Beyond altering how we produce social content or evolving with a rapidly changing news landscape, we’ve changed in meaningful ways organizationally. We reimagined our structure, switching from a few larger teams to more teams composed of fewer people. For instance, to get an activation up and running in the past, we might have had 15 people across different departments involved in a variety of meetings. Today, we need to move more quickly and be more responsive. Paring down those teams to around five to eight people — we call them ‘WFH pods’ (i.e. work-from-home pods) — has empowered each person on every team with clear and direct responsibility. Ultimately, breaking down our organizational structure early on amid the chaos of COVID19 has allowed us to be even more agile. We’ve clarified more ownable roles for team members and bolstered our creative process through a more defined structure that enables speedier sprints, increased flexibility, more efficient cross-collaboration and better work.


2. APPOINT A ‘DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE INDIVIDUAL’ FOR MORE EFFICIENT VIRTUAL MEETINGS

Things are going great with one of our newer clients whom we’d met only once before our mid-March kickoff came just as COVID hit the US. Our second meeting for the integrated team with all the clients? It happened over Zoom. Since then there have been a lot of unexpected pandemic-related obstacles to maneuver around. Sure, everyone is meeting virtually now. But rather than simply trying to recreate via video what would happen normally in-person, we’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to modify how we meet in ways that have helped us do our jobs even better.

J O S H ROS E NBE RG is Co-Founder and CEO of Day One Agency, a creative communications agency with the ambition of "stopping the world in its scroll" with stories that earn. He is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

times people can get lost in the crowd. As a creative agency, we want to hear from everyone, including our most junior people.

Virtual leadership standups are one of those changes. We’ve set things up so our senior-level pod leaders filter information to and from internal meetings. From there, they drive work and ideas through to our clients. It’s a more streamlined process. Especially when we’re dealing with inevitable video meeting hiccups, there’s far less friction than there would be with larger teams.

By reducing meeting group size, our team members can listen to colleagues with more empathy and have a clearer role that provides more opportunity to directly contribute. Now, with only five Zoom participant windows up on the screen, there’s a lot better chance everyone’s opinion is noticed and recognized.

We’ve been able to define clearer roles for team members, ensuring there is a directly responsible individual for the work.

This has been a tough time for all of us, and we’re each experiencing our strange reality in individual ways. When we were no longer face-to-face, understanding how team members were feeling became a challenge.

3. REDUCE MEETING SIZES FOR MEANINGFUL INCLUSION

There’s another thing worth noting about the virtues of smaller WFH pod meetings. During larger video conference calls, some-

4. ENABLE A DIALOGUE TO CREATE A MORE EMPATHETIC CULTURE

Internal communications has become more important than ever. And admitting we don’t have all the answers during the now cliché

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phrase, ‘these uncertain times,’ is sometimes the correct answer. Our people want to hear from us and know that we’re in this together. We’ve also encouraged more active listening, regularly checking in with our team members and creating safe spaces that enable our employees to share their voices. This allows us to ensure that all our team members are heard with the empathy they deserve. For my team, the challenges of this era have helped us sharpen our mission, connect with our people and realize the importance of being nimble as we enter the ‘next normal.’ And I hope that we all emerge from this time as more empathetic leaders for our colleagues, clients and communities.

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T H E C O V I D I Z AT I O N O F S P O R T

BY KIR K STE WA RT KT STE WA RT

Never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d be watching the Cornhole World Championships live on ESPN from South Carolina in mid-July to satisfy my yearning for “real” sports competition. Welcome to sports in a pandemic. The NBA, NHL and MLS all canceled play mid-season, MLB canceled spring training, the NCAA canceled March Madness and ultimately all fall sports, the Pac-12 and Big Ten canceled their fall football seasons, and the Olympics was rescheduled to next year. What was a sports fan to do? In addition to losing the pure joy and passion that comes from sports, the shutdown also had a huge and painful economic impact. Hundreds of thousands of stadium concession workers, ticket takers, security guards and parking attendants; coaches; referees; and front-office personnel lost their jobs. Local professional and college town economies took a major hit with lost revenue from bars, restaurants and hotels. RECOVERING FROM COVID-19

Fortunately, the leagues, with varying degrees of success, created plans to resume their seasons. The NBA, WNBA and NHL created “bubbles,” MLB, the PGA and MLS made plans to compete without fans, and the NFL is planning to move ahead with its schedule as 74

planned, some games with fans, some without. More importantly, leagues and players stepped up in response to the pandemic. For example, approximately 100 NBA players and the NBA Players Association Foundation donated a combined $5.5 million to nonprofits to assist in pandemic relief. Dozens of other professional leagues and colleges made significant contributions to a host of local COVID-19 relief organizations. SUPPORTING THE BLM MOVEMENT

Then, just when you thought the sports landscape was prepared to return to some semblance of normalcy, George Floyd was murdered, sparking a nationwide outcry and protests. With a few notable exceptions, athletes have historically been reluctant to use their platform and celebrity to weigh in on social or political issues. But this time was different. And was it ever. Dozens of professional and collegiate athletes joined in the protests, “Black Lives Matter” was painted on all NBA bubble courts, and the players were able to choose from 29 phrases to wear on their uniforms, including “Say Their Names,” or “I Can’t Breathe.” WNBA players wore special uniforms with “Black Lives Matter” on the front, “Say Her Name” on the back, honoring Breonna Taylor.


MLB teams had the option of stenciling “Black Lives Matter” or “Unite for Change” on the back of the pitcher’s mound during opening weekend. The NFL is planning to play the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” before all week one games. And many high-profile players and coaches spoke out powerfully about racial injustice. Then Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a white police officer. NBA, WNBA, MLB and MLS players then used their collective clout to suspend their playoffs and cancel games, again in an uncommon show of support for a social and political issue. ALTERING THE FUTURE OF SPORT

So where does this leave the future of sport in America? It has perhaps changed the playing field forever. Athletes will increasingly advocate for the social and political issues that are important to them with their new found influence. This new activism is likely to cut both ways — further solidifying hard core fan support or alienating those who see sports as a place where they can escape politics. Fans, particularly younger ones, will increasingly engage with sports not by attending games or watching them in their entirety on television, but through more customized streaming services, or virtually via e-sports, VR and AR. This will create major issues for the value of media rights and sponsorship deals, let alone home attendance and television ratings, which for many sports are already in decline.

KIRK STEWART is Founder and CEO of KTStewart, a firm focused on enhancing value through integrated corporate communications campaigns. He is a USC graduate and a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

The future of college athletics also is in serious trouble if football, the biggest revenue producing sport at most institutions, is interrupted. Stanford cut 11 varsity sports as a result of severe budget cuts and 43 other Division I teams have been eliminated. In total, more than 130 programs in all levels of the NCAA have been cut, impacting thousands of student-athletes. Above all, sport ultimately has the power to unite people rather than divide them. Nelson Mandela once said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.” Let’s all hope he was right.

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T H E R E T U R N O F R E TA I L

BY M AT T F U R M A N BEST BUY

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” So said Mark Twain in a cable from London soon after learning that U.S. newspapers had mistakenly published his obituary. A similar message could be sent to pundits who have, for many years now, predicted the demise of big box retail. Over the past several years there have been a handful of retailers whose misfortunes have reinforced this notion and, needless to say, our current economic and medical crisis has already claimed a number of retail victims and may claim even more. Notwithstanding this fact, many American retailers are strong and vibrant and at no risk of disappearing. Need proof ? Look only to the first few months of the COVID-19 crisis, where many big box retailers were deemed “essential” to consumers, and allowed to remain open in virtually every jurisdiction, even as stay-at-home orders sprung up across the country. At the high-water point there were more than 100 state and local orders, each of them making specific exemptions for many big box retailers. Yes, some of those businesses sold groceries, but others sold home or auto repairs supplies while others sold consumer electronics. Of course, online sales did explode during this time, but, even as that was the case, stores across the country saw people ready to don 76

masks, get out of their cars and go shopping. There is every reason to believe that customers who shopped physical retail in the face of a pandemic will be just as inclined to shop when the pandemic is over, if not much more so. Yet another reason to bet on retail continuing to thrive is the fact that most are increasingly becoming “multi-channel,” a fancy phrase for being equally accessible online and in-person. Not surprisingly, more and more consumers expect a seamless shopping experience as they move between the virtual and real world. In fact, an astonishingly high number of people report using multiple methods of shopping… at the same time. What this means is that a physical retail presence has moved from being a distinct, singular method of consumerism to just one component of an integrated shopping experience. The most obvious example of this integration is “shop online, pick up in store.” For many retailers, a significant percentage of online orders are actually fulfilled when the shopper picks up the item at their closest store. This means the consumer can enjoy the ease of ordering a product online and the equally appreciated convenience of having that product in their hands, often in an hour or less and often via curbside pickup without leaving their car. Once again, stores are no longer an island unto themselves and have become, for the best run retail-


ers, a key part of their strategy. It has been said the we live in an age where mediocre retailing will no longer cut it. That is certainly true. Said a bit differently, the big box retailers who know their customer and are obsessed with finding new ways to serve them how, when and where they want are not just viable, they are thriving. To do this, retailers will need to rely on effective, targeted communications. Clearly marketing will play a role in this effort, but internal and external communications professionals are as important as ever. For instance, retailers must be able to reliably communicate with their employees regarding their safety, hearing their concerns and addressing them not just with the right operational decisions, but with clear and effective internal communications. Externally, a similar narrative must be told, giving customers the comfort they seek during the pandemic. More broadly, the kind of multi-channel customer experience described above, precisely because it’s designed to meet the customer need in every possible way, requires a more nuanced communications approach then may have historically be found in a corporate PR team.

MAT T F U RMA N is Chief Communications and Public Affairs Officer at Best Buy Co., Inc., the world’s largest consumer electronics retailer. He is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

As we look ahead, the future for retail is as interesting and innovative as it’s ever been. To anyone who might argue otherwise, Mark Twain might have said: “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”

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BUILDING A BRAND CONNECTION DURING A CRISIS

BY STE P H A NI E C OR Z E T T THE WA LT D I SNE Y C O MPAN Y

I first heard about a “mysterious pneumonia virus” back in December when I was alerted to it by my colleagues in Shanghai who were watching it closely. The holidays came and went and by mid-January, Disney’s Asia theme parks were shuttered, with the Paris and domestic parks and resorts following suit by March. As crisis communicators, it was go time. In those early days in January, we knew how important it was to stay informed (our team started daily reports of latest health information from the WHO and CDC); to get ahead of our communications needs (we developed more than 15 different scenario plans, and to date we’ve used almost all of them); and to find ways to share this information and support our colleagues around the world in any way we could. As I reflect on what we’ve learned — and continue to learn — from this time, three important principles rise to the top: 1. STAY INFORMED — USE RESEARCH TO LISTEN, ADAPT AND ACT. In a crisis,

information is paramount and when it comes to the pandemic, it’s a never ending spigot. We soaked it up, keeping our internal and external communications current and able to deploy 78

"TO BUILD AND MAINTAIN BRAND CONFIDENCE, IT'S CRITICAL TO SHARE REALTIME DECISIONS WIDELY WITH ALL OF YOUR KEY CONSTITUENCIES." in real-time. And research helped guide our path forward. For example, from the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and the Coronavirus and similar reports we learned early on how important it was to focus communications on how we were prioritizing health and safety for both our people and consumer and to do so in a candid way. 2. KEEP COMMUNICATION FLOWING TO YOUR TEAMS, YOUR CONSUMERS, AND YOUR PARTNERS. To meet the need

for frequent, transparent communications, we leaned heavily to our owned digital channels, particularly our blog and social channels. And after knowing from research how important it was to hear from medical experts, our Chief Medical Officer became a chief spokesperson. She unveiled our approach, plans and ways we were addressing the pandemic digitally and in


media. We created a strong communication chain of command to disseminate information in realtime to our internal teams. Our teams helped us disseminate this information widely to our people, our consumers and also shared it in personal conversations and public forums with industry and government stakeholders.

S T E P HA NIE CORZE T T is Director,

3. FIND INNOVATIVE WAYS TO FOCUS

PRWeek Hall of Femme honoree, and

ON WHAT YOUR BRAND DOES BEST. Our

brand is known for bringing people together, so as we thought about how to deliver Disney magic remotely, digital experiences were the answer. Our marketing and PR teams quickly launched a website called #DisneyMagicMoments to bring the experience of being in a Disney park to the homes and hearts of our guests, and to maintain that connection our fans and cast members craved. For example, Disney’s Animal, Sciences and Environment Leader frequently appeared on the site and on his Instagram page, sharing special ways we were caring for our animals in this time.

External Communications and Media Relations, for Disney parks, experiences and consumer products at The Walt Disney Company. She is a a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

What is clear coming out of this time, is that with everything changing from minute-tominute, communicators should continue to help their brands act nimbly. To build and maintain brand confidence, it’s critical to share real-time decisions widely with all of your key constituencies. Gone are the days when an important business message stays inside a company’s walls. The best brands are using their communications as a free-flowing tool to educate, inform and maintain the connectivity that everyone can use, especially right now.

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TECHNOLOGY GIVES US HOPE WE CAN DO MORE THAN COPE

BY JON ATH A N A DA SHE K IBM

The other day, as I was in my home office conducting a Webex meeting with my leadership team, my 10-year-old son, Simon, sat nearby at the rolltop desk that sometimes doubles as his study carrel. He was on Zoom, taking a virtual robotics class one of his teachers is offering as a summer-enrichment program. It struck me yet again—how much daily work and life has changed, and yet has been able to carry on, thanks to technologies that even a few years ago weren’t as widely used as they’ve suddenly become. That’s why, even as the world continues to battle COVID-19 and—at least in the U.S.— to reach an overdue reckoning with racial injustice and economic inequality, technology can give us reason to hope. By more fully embracing technologies whose adoption the crisis has made essential, we can hope that businesses and society more broadly can emerge smarter—and fairer. I’m thinking of technologies that have let business carry on, in new and more resilient ways. Consider the accelerated adoption of more robust, secure, flexible and ubiquitous networks that will make it possible to do all sorts of jobs remotely—even operating machines like the ones scientists use to conduct experiments. This 80

has been made easier by the business world’s growing adoption of cloud computing. There has also been a faster transition to the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) —whether to help public health agencies handle a flood of COVID-19 queries, or AI algorithms and blockchain digital ledgers that have helped food companies quickly find new, trustworthy workarounds for interrupted supply chains. And as more commerce has gone virtual, we’ve come to realize that at least some business travel may no longer be necessary. Besides saving wear and tear on the road warriors, the growing acceptance of virtual collaboration means geography will be less a factor in determining who can work with whom. We have greater ability to tap business talent and expertise wherever it can be found, whether in a large city on the otherside of the world or in a small town in the U.S. heartland. What’s more, the environmental benefits of fewer hours spent in planes, trains and automobiles can also help us address that other big continuing crisis: climate change. Technology can help us solve the climate problem in so many ways. Scientists are using supercomputers to develop batteries that


can store huge amounts of solar or wind energy to support the utility grid when the sun doesn’t shine, or the breeze dies down. They’re also using quantum computers to create molecular models that might lead to new materials that could remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere. And of course, technology is playing a big role in our response to the more immediate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks in large part to the sharing of supercomputers and AI technology by corporations and public agencies, medical research has gone into overdrive in the race to understand the coronavirus’ cellular mechanisms and develop effective therapies and vaccines. It’s way too soon to declare success. In coming years, though, the work now underway could lead to new, faster methods for medical research that better prepare the world for the next species-leaping virus. Not all the technologies that give us hope are as exotic as supercomputers or quantum machines. Think, for example, about the viral videos and the power of social media that have enabled Black Lives Matter to quickly grow into one of the largest and most socially inclusive protest movement in U.S. history.

J O N AT HA N A DA S HE K is Chief Communications Officer at IBM. Jonathan previously held senior roles at Nissan, Microsoft and Edelman. He is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

sure everyone has the chance to acquire the necessary know-how—the new-collar skills that can let people fully participate in the tech-enabled economic future, hastened by the pandemic. We need to make sure that, as businesses and society emerge smarter from these historic crises, we can do more than merely survive. We must ensure that the best technologies are accessible to as many people as possible. Only then, together, can we hope to thrive.

This movement has forced society to confront the social and economic inequality that have made the pandemic more deadly to people of color and low-income groups. These realizations have made something else glaringly evident: The best jobs now and in the future will be ones requiring access to, and a facility with, digital technology. We must make 81


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I T ’ S O N LY G E T T I N G T O U G H E R

BY DON SP E TNE R

WEBER SH A NDW I CK

The challenge of running the communications function has gotten exponentially tougher. The role of a Chief Communications Officer is now like a hockey goalie attempting to deflect nonstop slapshots, while simultaneously directing their team down the ice. It reminds me of what’s happened to educators over the past 20 years. Teachers used to focus primarily on educating students. But now they must navigate a daunting array of challenges including the distribution of pharmaceuticals, surrogate parenting, chronic hunger, homelessness, substance abuse, gender inequity, systemic racism, the politics of vaccinations, and saddest of all, gun violence.

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"IT’S THE HEAD OF COMMUNICATIONS WHO OFTEN MUST NAVIGATE THE COMPANY’S RESPONSE TO THESE PERIODIC AND UNPREDICTABLE ERUPTIONS." would emerge as the last bastion of civility and integrity?

A similar phenomenon is taking place in the corporate world. As our government splinters, our society polarizes, our religious institutions weaken and our communities fray, the workplace has emerged as a kind of emotional and intellectual refuge, where people actually treat each other with respect and civility, united in a common goal.

But it’s getting increasingly difficult for companies to maintain this distinction. Employees, customers and stakeholders are now demanding that brands take a stand on difficult issues. The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer found that 92% of employees believe their CEO should be speaking out on issues such as climate change, diversity, income equality, and immigration. This is where it gets particularly tough on management, and specifically on the communications department.

In 2018, a Civility in America Survey by Weber Shandwick found that while 84% of those surveyed had personally experienced incivility, 92% describe their workplace as civil. Who would have thought that corporations

Consider the case of Goodyear Tire. The President of the United States called for a boycott of the company after learning that Goodyear disallowed the wearing of MAGA hats or “Blue Lives Matter” attire, while allowing


Black Lives Matter or LGBTQ Pride shirts. The call for a boycott put Goodyear in a tough spot — however it chose to respond, the company could reasonably expect that half of the country would be upset. In these polarized and bizarre times, it’s the head of communications who often must navigate the company’s response to these periodic and unpredictable eruptions. The implications are significant for both brands and career paths. The good news is that the function has never been more appreciated. The bad news is that the demand and stress has never been higher. The tenure of CCO’s will probably continue to decrease, as evidenced by the highly public ousting of the head of communications for the FDA after only 11 days on the job.

D O N S PE T NE R is a senior corporate advisor for Weber Shandwick Worldwide, offering counsel and expertise on role, structure and efficacy of the communications function. He is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

There is some comfort, though. As the job gets tougher and the stakes get higher, the value of the function should increase. This means enhanced funding of the department, expanded scope of responsibilities, the ability to attract a deeper and more diverse pipeline of talent, and finally, a rise in compensation for key communicators. Assuming, of course, they can survive the role.

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SOCIAL SENIORS: DEFYING LONELINESS IN T H E E R A O F C O V I D -1 9

BY HEAT H E R R I M A ECOM

My father, Bill, is one of the most active social media users I know. Just a few months shy of his 92nd birthday, he is sharp as a tack, incredibly healthy, an avid traveler, and has a zest for life that is unrivaled by people half his age. He brings that unquenchable enthusiasm to his social media world, engaging with a broad spectrum of family and friends daily. In fact, at the start of the year, we Facebooked and Tweeted our way through Egypt – with my Dad carefully crafting and curating our posts along the journey. I have always been fascinated by the correlation between my dad’s online social connectivity and his outlook on life and overall health and well-being. While Bill certainly isn’t your typical nonagenarian, there’s much we can learn from his use of social media and the ways it has enriched his life – especially when so many his age are battling loneliness and its devastating effects. Just three years ago, the U.S. Surgeon General declared loneliness and social isolation among the world’s older adult population a “loneliness epidemic.” And that was before a global pandemic turned the world upside-down. According to a June survey from the Univer84

sity of Michigan, the pandemic has doubled loneliness among older adults. With mounting stay-at-home orders, many seniors have been robbed of traditional ways of connecting and find themselves increasingly isolated. Club and dining hall programs, exercise classes, group games and social activities have all been placed on indefinite hold. For better or worse, social media is the one avenue that has powered connectivity throughout the crisis for older adults. And for my dad and his social senior counterparts, the reviews are positive. The coronavirus pandemic has changed the game for social media and the way we build community. We’ve seen TikTok emerge as one of the top entertainment platforms, only to be overtaken by Zoom – a feat that would have seemed unimaginable just months ago. Of course, my dad has been right there, participating in virtual Rotary Club meetings, online Sunday School and our newly established family tradition – the Saturday night Zoom club. Not surprisingly, research shows that social video tools are having the most favorable impact on connectivity amongst seniors. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry recently published a study of older adults that


found “users of video chat had approximately half the probability of depressive symptoms at two-year follow-up compared to non-users and users of email, social media, and instant messaging.” Fortunately, Bill has always been laser focused on exercising his mind which includes being an early adopter of technology (it helps that he has three tech-savvy kids). He often speaks of the need to learn and grow at any age, and to never stand still and always move forward. Social media has created an avenue for him to do just that.

H E ATHE R RIM is Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing & Communications Officer at AECOM. A USC graduate, Heather is a member of the USC Alumni Association Board of Governors, the Arthur W. Page Society, and the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

What connects my dad to his followers is the level of care he brings to his social engagement. He often makes profound observations that engage his followers in unexpected ways. He studies expressions, looks for hidden details, and poetically remarks about the beauty he sees in the posts he reads. He offers words of hope and encouragement to build people up and shares just the right emoji for that special occasion – from birthdays and babies, to new homes and career moves. He’s also the first to wish you a very happy Facebook birthday. Only time will tell how we weather this unpresented pandemic and the role that technology will play in diminishing or exacerbating loneliness. What I do know for sure is that social media is here to stay, and the joy and connectedness that my father experiences through it might just hold the key to its highest and best use.

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S TAY I N G G L O B A L LY R E L E VA N T I N T H E N E W NORMAL

BY GUL D E N M E SA R A CIT Y OF H OP E

The phrase “think global, act local” has been around for years prompting many of us working in global businesses to be sensitive to how our initiatives play out in different parts of the world. But not until the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has there been a global emergency that has truly required everyone, everywhere to care about what is happening in their own communities, as well as the rest of the world. Globally, uncertainty has become our only certainty. Our work in the field of communications has taken on new purpose as people seek accurate information to help them answer questions about how to plan and live their lives. Like many of us, I spent the first half of 2020 devouring all of the content I could get my hands on — newspapers, TV, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and WhatsApp. In the U.S., Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefings became a critical reference point for me and millions of people desperate for clear and honest information. Scientists became our new figures of authority and trust. As the complexity has grown, government leaders everywhere continued to manage the cadence and content of their communication 86

"FIND THE RIGHT MOMENTS TO INTRODUCE NEW TOPICS THAT MATTER TO YOUR TARGET AUDIENCES." to create the perception that they have everything under control. Meanwhile, the average citizen has been left desperate for direction, clarity and leadership. Globally, entire industries and businesses have been demolished by job losses and changes in leadership. Numerous countries are closing their borders to each other. Those working in agencies, corporations and institutions have watched their jobs grow more intense with non-stop video meetings, a renewed focus on internal communications and a need to be relevant to external stakeholders in a world that is continuously focused on only one topic. The social and political climates demand business leaders be more aggressive and creative in communicating through new channels — beyond the standard company e-mail and in-person town hall meeting. It has also become imperative for corporations to take a


stand on social issues — from health care to the environment, to racial equality to workplace mobility, while factoring in the political backlash basic corporate decisions can create. The world continues to simultaneously mourn the past and fight for the future—for change, equality and hope. As communicators share experiences with each other and tips on what’s working in our new normal, a few themes emerge: • Keep an ongoing pulse on the environment and be ready to pivot your strategy as needed. Flexibility is key. • Find purpose in everything that you do. Communicate with real intention and meaning. The words we pick matter even more these days.

G UL DE N ME S A RA is Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at the City of Hope. She is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

area. Her caption said, “Did I mention it’s 2020?!” This is a year where everything seems unhinged but thoughtful communication can make this and next year more manageable.

• Use this environment for more listening vs. doing. Advise the organizations and leaders you work with to lead with empathy, patience and love. • Find the right moments to introduce new topics that matter to your target audiences. We are all tired of 24/7 discussions of COVID and politics, and have other interests. • Take care of yourself and your loved ones. And hold onto your sense of humor. Even when it seems like it’s impossible to. I recently received a text message from good friend in New Jersey with a photo of a huge tree which was uprooted in her backyard and crashed on her pool and outdoor sitting 87


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INTERACTIVE CONTENT FOR A HYBRID WORLD

BY ZA ZU LI P P E RT

USC A NNE NB E RG C E N T E R FO R P R

In our socially-distant new normal, the living room has become the office. The backyard has become the gym. And the internet has become the only channel through which we can create and maintain deep connections to the outside world. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: the internet as a primary space for deep connections? It seems pretty contradictory. Social media and other online channels are usually supplements to in-person interactions, a way to form quick, surface-level connections with target audiences. But now that online interactions are one of the only ways that we can safely engage with one another, they have become integral to forming and maintaining a sense of community. This new need for online community has changed virtual habits: When people go online, they're now searching for something more interactive. According to Nielsen Games tracking, engagement in video games is at an all-time high and still climbing every week. Nielsen research says 82% of consumers played video games and watched video game-related content at the height of quarantine, and “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” sales remained impressive in June. In March and April, Google searches for remote “watch party” apps spiked as Netflix parties became the new movie nights. And as people contin88

"INSTEAD OF JUST BRINGING PEOPLE TO OUR CONTENT, WE NEED TO THINK ABOUT HOW WE CAN BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER THROUGH IT." ue to search for a creative escape from reality, they’re turning to TikTok to see and try the latest video challenges. As PR professionals, we know that authentic connections come from a level of interaction beyond liking a post and scrolling on to the next viral tweet. So how can we create content that’s not only engaging, but rejuvenating and motivating to our audiences, who now more than ever are turning to the internet for connection? It’s time to get creative with how we build community online. Instead of just bringing people to our content, we need to think about how we can bring people together through it. Here are a few ideas. 1. CREATE AVENUES FOR ACTION ON A SOCIAL ISSUE THAT YOUR COMPANY IS ACTIVELY FIGHTING AGAINST. Now more than ever,

people are searching for a way to contribute to


a cause larger than themselves from quarantine. We’ve seen the power of this desire for greater purpose to engage audiences and make change in the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement on social media, and the subsequent mobilization of millions to fight for justice and equal rights. Set up avenues for audiences to engage with your company on social justice issues and make a difference.

Z AZ U L IPPE RT is the current Noemi Pollack Scholar at the USC Annenberg Center for PR. She is a junior majoring in public relations, with minors in digital studies honors and

2. MAKE A VIDEO, PODCAST OR SERIES OF

music production, and is a produc-

POSTS OUT OF AUDIENCE SUBMISSIONS. Give

er of the #PRFuture podcast and

your audience a stake in your multimedia content by asking for submissions from them for your next promotional video or public service announcement. This “Some Good News”-style approach will keep audiences engaged and wondering if you’ll use their submission, and will likely make the content more relatable, too. 3. GIVE YOUR AUDIENCE CHOICES.

Provide a sense of comfort and control to audiences through creating choices in your content. Interactive video programs like Eko Studio help corporations make “choose-yourown-adventure” style videos that can do just that. And while you’re at it, incorporate another call-to-action for a cause that your company is passionate about.

a managing editor at Annenberg Media.

Now, more than ever, audiences are hyperaware of the potential that online interactions hold — and what they may have been lacking in the past. When so many eyes are glued to screens, we can use this time to change the way that we see online audience engagement and focus on authenticity and community-building instead of surface-level views and likes.

4. HOST VIRTUAL EVENTS. Fill up the noti-

fications in your audience’s calendar apps by hosting a virtual book club with a special guest that they’ll love, or an online speaker series or industry festival. It won’t be the same as meeting in person, but it offers an opportunity for a deeper connection than most posts will. 89


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S AV I N G L O C A L N E W S

BY GA BR I E L K A H N

USC A NNE NB E RG SC H O O L

For the past two years, I have been working on a project at the Annenberg School called Crosstown that seeks to dramatically reduce the cost of producing local news while extending its reach. Our solution starts with data. We collect massive amounts of data about crime, traffic, parking tickets, traffic accidents, air quality, building permits and so forth. Much of this data is publicly available but buried in hard-to-access government websites. Scrolling through it in its raw form is as gripping as reading the phone book. But, if organized in the right way, it can unlock details about many of the core quality-of-life issues that animate good daily local news coverage. We collect all this data in real time, and our software engineers built a method for sorting it by neighborhood and other criteria. Having it accessible in a digital, searchable system dramatically simplifies the jobs of reporters and allows us to cover areas we never would have been able to previously. We used this system to figure out how much more trash Los Angeles residents are throwing out during the pandemic, and whether road rage is rising. The data acts as a force multiplier, allowing us to move from local stories (Los Angeles) to hyperlocal (every neighborhood in the city). One story on home burglaries 90

becomes 110 different stories about 110 different neighborhoods, each with specific info on the number of crimes in the community. The best part? The costs don’t rise. At times, our data even puts us out ahead of larger news outlets. For months, we’ve maintained a database on how many new COVID-19 infections there were in each neighborhood. We converted that into an interactive map that makes it easy for people to see how hard hit their area is. The map helped us identify early on a key trajectory of the disease: Wealthy areas of Los Angeles, which initially had the highest infection rates, had begun to flatten the curve, but infections in poorer areas were spiking. Others soon followed our lead. BREAKING CONVENTIONS

In journalism, we’re attached to numerous conventions that define what quality news coverage “should” look like, from the anchor desk to the 800-word article. There are quotes from eyewitnesses, on-camera interviews with officials. But the inconvenient truth is that those conventions are also exceedingly expensive. That’s why Crosstown has been searching for ways to automate as much of the report-


ing process as we can. Not because we prefer machines to humans, but because we realize that the journalists’ labor is precious and we need to keep them focused on high-level tasks, rather than busy work. Soon, we’ll be rolling out 110 different neighborhood newsletters, each with automatically formatted stories and charts. This will allow us to offer some level of coverage to every corner of the city with minimal extra costs. We were able to create this process because we are based at a university, which gives us access to world-class software-engineering talent. Building the system was difficult, but now it almost runs on autopilot. Expenses are low and the reporters can focus on high-level analysis. Our data-based approach to local news still allows us to hold power to account and carry out many of the traditional responsibilities of the Fourth Estate. One of our reporters recently examined LAPD data to break down how much time police spend on non-emergency and non-crime-related work, even how often they break for meals. Amidst the current industry-wide crisis, this type of data-driven news can fill in some of the rapidly expanding “news deserts,” places where local coverage has already dried up. SCALING UP LOCAL NEWS

The low-cost system we have built at Crosstown in Los Angeles can be replicated in just about any city in the U.S. It could be slotted into an existing newsroom or could spring up in places where the local paper has closed shop (Youngstown, Ohio?).

G ABR IE L K A HN is professor of professional practice and innovations manager & co-director of the M{2}E program at USC Annenberg. In 2018, he launched Crosstown, which pioneered a new approach to local news through data.

Our goal is to create a Crosstown-in-a-box model that can easily be set up anywhere. With a reasonable upfront investment, we can deploy Crosstown’s software, mapping and data-sorting tools into a new city. Other newsrooms could use this to track the vital signs of their city, along with every neighborhood in it. We know that if more journalists had the same easy access to data to cover their cities, they would break new ground and expand their reporting. More than a decade ago, Clay Shirky wrote “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,” which imagined a world in which papers disappeared. Though the title was grim, he was making the case for continuous, bold experimentation: “Nothing will work,” he wrote, “but everything might.”

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A U T H E N T I C I T Y I N T I M E S O F C O V I D -1 9

BY EUNJI N ( A NNA ) KIM, P H . D. , US C AN N E N BE RG S CHOOL

& HEAT H E R SH OE NB E RG E R , P H .D., P E N N S TAT E UNIVE RS IT Y

It happened fast. One day our favorite lifestyle social media influencer was posting photos of herself wearing Gucci sunglasses, holding a Chanel handbag at an exclusive offshore resort. The next, she was posting photos of herself at home, linking to Amazon. com attire. The COVID-19 pandemic almost immediately impacted advertising spending as brick and mortar operations came to a standstill and people clung to their wallets. Social media influencers, known for curating bright, lively and designer-filled lives found themselves with far fewer sponsorships and a dilemma. They could continue to feature their designer dresses, take a break from sponsored content or partner with less expensive brands. The question facing social media influencers is how to authentically incorporate advertisements that are in tune with the relative despair of their audience? Will people react positively if they begin to offer clothing suggestions from Amazon.com? Or move slightly outside their typical lifestyles to feature soap sold at Walmart.com? This is a balance that is tricky to achieve. On the one hand, the influencer survives on advertising. On the other hand, she doesn’t want to alienate her followers who are suffering, scared and not likely to be splurging on Louboutins this summer. One influencer went so far as 92

"INFLUENCERS WILL HAVE TO NAVIGATE BETWEEN REMAINING RELEVANT AND APPEASING THE BRANDS THEY WORK WITH." to note that she would not be linking to her favorite finds in the Nordstrom.com annual sale —­­a mainstay of social media influencers offering their picks to help customers navigate the retailer’s yearly event — because it was not the time to be spending money unless you really loved something. (And she hadn’t loved anything in the sale, apparently.) It seemed authentic. Then, in the middle of the pandemic crisis, there was the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Many social media influencers, regardless of their past and carefully cultivated personas, posted a black square on one of several of their social media accounts in support of the movement. The looming question, do they actually support or care about the movement or are they simply hopping on the bandwagon? Some influencers seemed to receive praise for their support while others suffered a mix of comments and responses from their followers.


One user wrote under the black square post on the Instagram account of a lifestyle blogger, “So curious how you could fathom to make a statement about standing with Black people, when there has never been a single person of color on your page or website — ever. Truly reprehensible and cowardly.” It is clear from the comment that the influencer, in this case, had been seen as engaging in a bit of social activism that was not perceived as authentic. They had become a sell-out in the eyes of some, regardless of the intention behind their post in solidarity of the movement. An empirical question would be whether this interaction on Instagram was detrimental to the brands the influencer advertised, or to their own personal brand. Perhaps a better question for brands would be if the perceived authenticity of an influencer and his/her posts impacts the brands they advertise? The COVID-19 pandemic and BLM movement are relevant social issues of the moment and ignoring them seems impossible. People are suffering financially and emotionally. Influencer content will need to begin to reflect that reality. Influencers will have to navigate the balance between remaining relevant and appeasing the brands they work with. A wise strategy for influencers would be to portray themselves as “honest and relatable.” Back to the lifestyle blogger example, if the blogger admits they have never been engaged with or contributed to the issue and says they want to use their voice to contribute to social good by getting the BLM message out through their network, then their content (message) may

E UN J IN ( A NNA ) K IM, PH. D. , is an assistant professor at USC Annenberg. She is primarily interested in the persuasive power of storytelling in advertising. Other research includes branding and message strategy, persuasion knowledge and digital media effects.

better resonate with followers.

H E ATHE R S HOE NBE RGE R is an assistant professor at Belisario College of Communications at Penn State University.

The advice: be mindful about what you say, make it more relevant, and be authentic!

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A C T I VAT E WITH PURPOSE


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A USC CENTER FOR PR PROJECT

PROJECTING YOUR VOICE: HOW TO ENGAGE I N P U R P O S E - D R I V E N C O N V E R S AT I O N

Best Practices in Brand Purpose Communications BY BURG H A R DT T E ND E R IC H , P H . D. USC A NNE NB E RG C E N T E R FO R P R

The recent trend of brands engaging in purpose-driven conversations has been amplified by the events of 2020. From COVID-19 to #BlackLivesMatter to climate crisis, brands and organizations of any type are increasingly seizing the opportunity—but also feeling the pressure—to engage in complex conversations. This makes many corporate executives and communicators nervous, as they’re facing difficult questions: What is our topic? What is our angle? What is our voice? Practitioners are longing for guidance on how to approach this. To help fill this void, the USC Annenberg Center for PR partnered with PRWeek to research various strategies and best practices in brand purpose communication. In 2019, PRWeek seized the uptake in brand purpose communication by launching the inaugural PRWeek Purpose Award with the intention “to recognize activations that use creative ideas to genuinely further positive causes and also acknowledge the organizations and individuals behind them.” The initiative was well received by brands and 96

agencies, as indicated by the hundreds of entries to the inaugural competition. In early 2020, the USC Center for PR research conducted a content analysis of 183 campaign entries with the goal to offer insights for practitioners in these areas: ategorize predominant purpose topics: C what are the types of topics that organizations choose, and what is their prevalence? 2. Propose a typology for purpose-driven campaigns: offer insights into the authenticity of purpose as a motivator for a given campaign 3. Identify emerging best practices, along with examples of how not to approach purpose communication 1.

Here is a brief presentation of the findings. The full report can be downloaded on the Center for PR’s website. CAUSE CATEGORIES

The campaign cases considered for this study fell into five different types of cause categories,


with several cases qualifying for more than one category: • • • • •

Social causes—79 cases Health causes—43 cases Economic causes—32 cases Environmental causes—21 cases Political/policy causes—13 cases

BU RGHA RDT T E NDE RICH, 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

In the social cause category, prominent causes included diversity and inclusion, gender equality and LGBTQ advocacy. Diversity and inclusion, in particular, seemed to be a highly applicable social cause that almost every organization could adopt. Youth empowerment also received attention from various organizations. Health causes encompassed 11 distinct topics, including medical conditions such as cancer, mental health, disabilities and senior care, among others. The majority of health campaigns were led by nonprofits, although some for-profit organizations took on health issues if they operated in the health sector. Economic causes were the third most popular cause category. Banks, financial institutions and insurance companies embarked on initiatives regarding financial health and personal finance, which aligned closely with their brands. Among the 33 economic campaigns, five touched on workforce, welfare, and corporate culture. Four campaigns focused on poverty; one was on child poverty while the other three centered on an arising issue— period poverty—faced by women around the world. Three campaigns highlighting period poverty were conducted by feminine care

years of experience in marketing and communication in the information technology and Internet industries.

brands. A few campaigns focused on tourism and city development. Despite the global concern about the climate crisis in 2019, a surprisingly low number of organizations addressed environmental causes. Most of these programs were awareness or action-driven and organized by nonprofits, although a few were initiated by for-profit companies. Prominent political and policy causes include immigration, gun violence, reproductive rights and human trafficking. Similar to health-related causes, they were mostly conducted by nonprofits. Only two organizations focused on immigration. BRAND PURPOSE TYPOLOGY

The case analysis yielded a typology of brand purpose based on the apparent motivation behind the campaign as a measure of authenticity: Purpose-Led—Brands that link themselves 97


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directly and long-term to a particular cause, making this cause more central to the organization’s mission than CSR campaigns. It is considered the most authentic and genuine approach. CSR-Centric— Brands that choose a cause that in most cases somehow relates to the company or its brand(s) and turn this topic into a long-term campaign with broad organizational support. Branding Motivated— Brands that closely align with a particular purpose. If done genuinely, the brand will benefit while making a positive contribution to change. Opportunistic— Brands execute a purposethemed campaign as the opportunity arises. These initiatives tend to be short in duration and limited in impact. They have the potential to become more impactful if brands evolve the program by making a deeper and long-term commitment to the cause. Commercially Motivated— Initiatives where commercial benefits appear to be the primary motivation rather than the cause itself. Cases in this category tend to prioritize awareness for a given cause and stop short of action. Their KPIs focus on market visibility over actual change. Disingenuous— Campaigns that knowingly make false or misleading purpose claims to promote the brand with no positive impact on causes. Practitioners should stay away from disingenuous activations. 98

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This table illustrates the distribution of cases in each purpose category. It is encouraging that the three most genuine categories show the highest frequencies. But pure commercial gain as the primary motivation is prevalent, and disingenuous campaigns do exist—luckily only in a small number of cases. BEST PRACTICES IN BRAND PURPOSE COMMUNICATION

Based on our analysis, we propose the following best practices: BRAND FIT

There are pros and cons to each type of campaign brand fit. Organizations should think carefully about which brand fit is the most authentic given their mission and the other elements of their campaign. The cause should make sense given the context of the organization’s purpose statement, past efforts and expertise, and should not be selected purely for self-serving reasons. RESEARCH

Conducting research before implementing campaign activities reflects a real commitment to the issue and helps to position an organization as more knowledgeable about the cause or field. Organizations should dedicate campaign resources to research, so that the findings can inform campaign strategy and provide insight on how to advance specific causes. Research can be used to inform campaign strategy, but also to provide content for thought leadership. MESSAGING

Messaging should focus on coalition-building for change, instead of tearing down competi-


Purpose Typology

Opportunistic

Commercially Motivated

Disingenuous

42

21

36

4

31

33

17

35

4

11

9

4

1

0

Purpose-Led

CSR-Centric

Total # of campaigns

49

42

# of for-profits

23

# of nonprofits

26

Branding Motivated

tors. This puts the social cause first instead of the competitive advantage that the campaign may give the company. Brands should refrain from communicating what is a part of their normal business operations as purpose.

certainly stay away from reach and advertising equivalency.

Other best practices detailed in the full report include: NEED FOR AUTHENTICITY— This is the

overall guiding principle in genuine purpose communication. PARTNERING— Brands are encouraged to

initiate industry-wide cooperation in an effort to enlist partners and competitors alike in tackling important problems. INTERNAL EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT—

Internal stakeholders and employees should be involved in some way to help build the organization’s purpose from the ground up. INTERACTIVITY— There should be some

interactive component to the campaign that prompts people to take an active part in it, ideally in a creative way. MEASURING SUCCESS— KPIs should

include cause-related, action-based events rather than just media reach, and should 99


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ARE WE USING OUR INSIDE VOICES?

BY M ELI SSA WAG G E N E R ZO R KIN WE CO M M U NI CATI ON S

When we were creating our 2025 business plan, our team decided we needed a rallying cry to articulate our continued aim to put people and purpose at the heart of everything we do. After some brainstorming, we landed on a message around the concept “WE is rising.” This spring, when we unveiled our vision across the globe, the resounding feedback was positive. So, it took me by surprise when a colleague alerted me to a conversation happening in one of our employee resource groups. Several people thought the notion of “WE rising” used language similar to the U.S. civil rights movement. “Triggering” was the word one brave person used. For the record while I initially liked the concept of rising, my own worry was that it was less than humble. But still, I very much liked the declaration our time is now. So I did not see this interpretation and appreciated this input. This feedback drives my point: We must examine the actions and decisions we take broadly and in this case particularly around the topic of confronting systemic racism. In our enthusiasm for the concept, this angle had not occurred to a number of us. While this might seem a small thing, it is a reminder to always include a broad group of our most important stakeholders: our 100

"WHEN EMPLOYEES EXPERIENCE AN INCLUSIVE, SUPPORTIVE AND COLLABORATIVE ENVIRONMENT, THEY ARE MORE LIKELY TO ALIGN TOGETHER ON A BUSINESS MISSION." people. To run a relevant, successful and purpose-driven organization, we must listen and learn and lean heavily on our inside voices. When employees experience an inclusive, supportive and collaborative environment they are more likely to align together on a business mission. Internal audits and awareness of employee sentiment are vital. The 2020 Global Communication Report from the USC Center for Public Relations underlines the necessity to channel the passions of internal teams. The aftermath of the killing of George Floyd is only one example that your team needs to know exactly where your brand stands on important issues. So does recent research we’ve conducted with Quartz Insights. Of the 200 senior executives queried, 87% believe they’ll successfully adapt their approach to employee engagement as a result of recent events. Yet less than


20% are actually prioritizing investments to address factors like emotional health, equity and inclusion, and culture. That’s not a good ratio, frankly. Your team needs to own your purpose to be successful. And no, advertising alone will not cut it. Agility and adaptability are also critical. You must build in a new layer of feedback and incorporate this across every touchpoint — and then check your work with diverse voices.

ME L I S S A WAGGE NE R ZORK IN 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 Femme honoree and a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

Leaders need resilience to map their way through a lot of input. Knowing the declared intentions and ambitions behind our initial language, I might have responded to this input, "no, we’re going forward." After hearing more context for the input, I understood why it was raised. Every leader knows there are times to be the catalyst for change and bring your team with you. Leaders must also discern when you change because of what you learned. Growth and improvement can be uncomfortable. But it’s especially important in order to continue our evolution as empathetic and inclusive leaders and brands. People around the globe took to the streets and risked their lives in the middle of a pandemic to make their voices heard. Listening with the intention to act is mandatory. To evolve successfully in today's world, we must be sure we have broad representation — and that's the power of our people's voices in action.

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WHY GOOGLE CAST ITS VOTE FOR ELECTION SECURITY

BY COR E Y D U B ROWA GOOGLE

As a company built on information, protecting the integrity and credibility of that information is imprinted in Google’s DNA. That’s especially true when it comes to protecting election information. Trustworthy elections, in which the outcome can be counted upon and trusted, are the backbone of democracy. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a rise in the frequency and sophistication of digital attacks against individuals and organizations that jeopardize the validity of election information and the democratic process overall. As a company that has invested heavily in the privacy and the security of our users, we’re committed to helping equip public institutions and citizens with the tools they need to defend information when it matters most. That’s why leading up to the 2020 elections we doubled down on our commitment to enhance election security for campaigns, candidates, journalists and voters. We did this not only through providing the tools and technology to help, but also through meaningful collaborations with third parties and public organizations. BUILDING THE RIGHT TOOLS TO DEFEND ELECTIONS 102

"WITH OUR SUPPORT, USC DEVELOPED A COMPREHENSIVE CURRICULUM, BUILT A ROBUST TRAINING NETWORK AND IS CURRENTLY LEADING ELECTION SECURITY TRAINING ACROSS ALL FIFTY STATES." Last year, we created Protect Your Election, a suite of free tools to help candidates, campaign workers, journalists and election officials protect their accounts and platforms from attacks that can threaten account and site security. We focused on how to mitigate against the most pervasive attacks—such as DDoS and phishing attacks. Advanced Protection protects accounts from malicious or insecure apps, limiting which third-party apps can access sensitive data — emails, contacts and files. And Project Shield, created by Jigsaw and Google, provides free unlimited protection against Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks, a type of digital attack used to censor information by taking websites offline. Together these tools and others put the ability to defend information into the hands of those who are high-risk targets.


Simultaneously, our teams work around the clock to protect the platforms that people rely upon. Our Trust and Safety teams span the globe to monitor and disrupt account hijacking, disinformation campaigns, coordinated attacks, and other forms of abuse on our platforms on a 24/7 basis. WORKING TOGETHER TO MAKE DEMOCRACY RUN

Not only does election security require the right technology and tools, but it also requires full civic participation and cooperation. This responsibility should be shared across federal, state and local government and the private sector entities. One of the projects we supported this year was the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School Election Cybersecurity Initiative. This nonpartisan program was designed to help campaigns, academics, elected officials and NGOs prepare for election-related security challenges. With our support, USC developed a comprehensive curriculum, built a robust training network and is currently leading election security training across all fifty states. We also supported the Defending Digital Democracy Project's cybersecurity playbook, led by Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center, to provide best practices for campaign teams to keep their information safe

C O R E Y DU BROWA is Vice President of Global Communications and Public Affairs at Google. He is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

where our work is succeeding, and where challenges remain, is a priority for every organization committed to this effort. While the mark of any good democracy is vibrant debate, the other component—and one that crosses the political and philosophic spectrum—involves safeguarding the integrity of our elections—and at Google we remain steadfastly committed to doing our part.

All of this work helped bring the most relevant and helpful information directly to the entities that needed it most, and there remains much more to be done in collaboration with stakeholders across society. Amid the growing erosion of public trust in election security, getting the message out about 103


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C A S H , C R E D I T A N D C O V I D -1 9

BY GER RY TSCH OP P EXPER I A N

I got my first job when I was 16 — a pool cleaner. I was earning a paycheck for the first time, and my mom immediately took me to the bank and made me open an account. It was at this time I also got my first credit card at Mervyn’s. My mom said, “You need to start saving and building your credit.” This was the early 1980s; she was well ahead of her time with this important advice. Fast forward to today: 2020 is a year that has disrupted our economic and social realities, while spotlighting the power of the consumer. We saw restaurants shuttering, airlines reducing flights, retail stores closing, and the gig economy challenged. We experienced civil unrest and protests of social injustice. These challenges put a big spotlight on the country’s financial literacy woes. And it brought to light a larger, more prevailing issue: We, as a society, can do more to teach financial literacy as a fundamental life tool. According to an August 2020 Charles Schwab Financial Literacy Survey conducted by The Harris Poll, most Americans (89%) think that the lack of financial education contributes to bigger societal concerns, including poverty, lack of job opportunities and unemployment. This underscores a societal challenge and an opportunity for those of us in the financial services industry. 104

"MOST AMERICANS (89%) THINK THAT THE LACK OF FINANCIAL EDUCATION CONTRIBUTES TO BIGGER SOCIETAL CONCERNS." There is good news, however. Throughout the pandemic, at Experian we have seen demonstrable increases in consumer interest in financial literacy. For example: • Our weekly online credit education sessions have seen a 70% increase in social media engagement as we discussed ways COVID19 was impacting our economy, personal income and unemployment. • We saw a 66% uptick in consumers accessing their credit reports. • The number of consumers applying to potentially increase their credit score doubled from March to August.

In addition, we have seen an almost 55% increase in media coverage on the topics of “personal finance” and “credit” from Summer 2019 to Summer 2020. These statistics show a growing appetite for financial literacy. The financial services indus-


try can’t solve society’s economic problems alone. What we can do is take a hard look at the purpose of our respective companies and ask ourselves, what role can we play to improve financial health? The need and the opportunity are there. For most financial services companies, I’m confident we can use our expertise and products to help consumers navigate and optimize their financial health. But how do we take it further?

G E R RY T S CHOPP is Chief Communications Officer, North America, and heads global external communications at Experian, the world’s leading information services firm. He is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisor

We can’t just offer a webpage of information. A pamphlet of sources. The best, most effective way is to engage. We know first-hand that building a community of everyday, ordinary consumers along with experts keep the conversation around financial health strong. Community and social engagement make it real, credible and approachable — while consumers remain engaged in the topic, even when we pull away from the pandemic. This gets back to purpose. During these unpredictable times, we cannot stray from our purpose, our mission and our values. As an industry, we must remain steadfast in our quest to help consumers in their financial journey. Keep this in mind: The pandemic is merely a moment in history, but one that has driven a movement by and for consumers. And as we pass the moment, keep respecting the movement … and help keep the appetite up for financial literacy. Society will be better because of it.

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MANAGING US-CHINA BUSINESS R E L AT I O N S H I P S

BY RON R E E SE

L A S VE GA S SA ND S

The key to any business relationship, but especially a trade relationship where external factors, like governments, have a role to play, is making sure you’re committed for the long run and prepared to ride out any rough spots. You need to be committed to transparency and fulfilling your obligations. This is especially true for a U.S. company doing business in China. These principles can serve as guiderails for both business relationships between the U.S. and China, as well as the important trade relationship that must exist between the world’s two largest economies. Our company, Las Vegas Sands, the gaming and hospitality company founded by Sheldon Adelson, has a long history in China. Mr. Adelson traveled to China almost two decades ago, sharing a vision for the future of Macao and collaborating closely with decision makers to make that vision a reality. He saw opportunities to develop Macao’s economy that were of mutual benefit to Sands as well as Macao and its people. Too often that critically important phrase “mutual benefit” is getting lost in trade discussions. When people and companies trade, they do so because both sides win. Sands has prospered but only because we’ve invested billions to help develop Macao’s economy, provided 106

thousands of jobs for local citizens, generated tremendous amounts of tax revenue for important priorities, and supported regional social and environmental development. Companies hoping to build successful trading relationships cannot view them as purely transactional. That’s not the approach we’ve taken. Sands is committed to the business relationship, but we are equally committed to becoming fully part of the communities where we operate. Our company and team members are very involved in the local community through our Sands Cares initiative and other philanthropic programs. Since 2009, Sands China Care Ambassadors have served the local community, contributing almost 6,500 volunteer hours to host over 80 charitable activities. Beginning in 2002, we have donated MOP 116 million to benefit 225 organizations, 90 percent of these donations going to local charities to help them deliver social services to individuals and families in need. We’ve also succeeded because we listen to our partners, sharing ideas about the future of Macao’s economy and how it might develop and evolve over time. Since being granted a concession to operate in Macao, Sands has


invested more than $13 billion in the development, specifically in non-gaming assets like destination resorts, retail malls, meeting and convention space, an arena, and family-friendly amenities. This is Macao’s future, requiring the right vision, the right partners, and the right investment. While the U.S.-China relationship is at a difficult juncture, Sands continues to believe in the potential of the region to be one of the world’s greatest tourism and business destinations. The Sands case-study demonstrates that fruitful business relationships between US companies and China take many years to build, with much commitment, open dialogue, and establishment of trust between partners. When communicating with Chinese counterparts, taking time to develop an understanding of one another’s background, perspective, motivations and priorities is key. There are many subtleties and nuances to Chinese business culture that should be navigated with care, as social faux pas can quickly unravel business deals and demonstrate lack of cultural sensitivity. Negotiations cannot be rushed, as both sides must be acutely aware of the he senior communications executive for Las Vegas Sands. He serves as the company’s primary spokesperson, provides executive communication strategy and counsel, and manages key corporate initiatives and issues. He is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors power dynamics, timelines and any external factors at play.

RO N RE E S E is Senior Vice President, Global Communications and Public Affairs, at Las Vegas Sands. He is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

tives on issues, and making an effort to foster deeper personal relationships cannot be understated. Taking an interest in Chinese history, traditions, current events and sharing one’s own culture are greatly appreciated. Telling stories over a shared meal, just as in Western culture, is an effective way to break down barriers and learn about each other. But building all-important guanxi or personal connection takes time. Guanxi implies trust and mutual obligation between parties. Having good, bad or no guanxi impacts one’s influence and ability to get things done. In the case of Sands under the leadership of Sheldon Adelson, his commitment to honoring his word, delivering on promises and working collaboratively with our Chinese partners to realize a vision for the future demonstrates best practices in cross-cultural communication.

The value of demonstrating respect between people, even when you have differing perspec107


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C O N N E C T I N G T H R O U G H D ATA

BY M EG A N JOR DA N

CHROM A D E X , A G LOBAL L IFE S C IE N C E S C O MPAN Y

Macrotrend data is consistent: Consumer behavior is shifting rapidly, purchasing patterns are in flux and customer loyalty is shaken. The common thread is no surprise: we are human, we are struggling and we need empathy more than ever. The magnitude of change, loss of control and continued uncertainty has led us to question everything: where we work and where we live, what we buy and why we buy it. For nimble companies that can connect on an emotional level this shakeup in brand loyalty presents an opportunity. WIN HEARTS FIRST

Companies investing in corporate social responsibility can help mitigate today’s challenges as we seek positivity and solutions. For example, stories of luxury goods and technology companies shifting production to make masks and ventilators have been shared broadly in social media. The same is true for highend restaurants and hotels that have provided meals and lodging for healthcare workers and first responders. Agile companies are winning over hearts, and are creating an opportunity to further engage with consumers to ultimately win over minds, and build loyalty. CONNECT WITH EMPATHY, NOT ASPIRATION 108

We want to feel understood more than we want to be admired so it’s important to keep it real. The sense of isolation can trigger emotions ranging from sadness, anxiety, loneliness and uncertainty. So, when a brand relates to our state of mind, it validates those feelings, and we feel understood. For example, one of the distinct differences that takes place when a consumer who contacts customer service reaches gets a person rather than automation is empathy. A sincere apology and offer to help often neutralizes a poor user experience. Through empathy-driven communications brands have the power to retain loyalty, build relationships and even inspire hope — hope that we can get through this, together. BUILD PURPOSE-DRIVEN COMMUNITIES

Creating a sense of community is more important than ever. Brands that are nimble, open to connecting on a more emotional, authentic level, and inviting customers to help shape their understanding, have an opportunity to leapfrog those with established, conventional or static brands. Standing for something that people can align behind is critical to build mutual understanding and trust so that they’ll invite more people to join the community. Who you are as a company is now largely defined by what you stand for, and how you can help your customer live their best


life even during challenging times. By inviting consumers to support your purpose, brands become more dynamic and relevant. It’s important to keep pace with the resulting evolution of the brand and purpose. The speed of change is accelerating more rapidly than ever before, and your creative, content and communication channels all need to align, or advocates will migrate to a new community.

ME G A N JORDA N is Chief Communications Officer and Senior Vice President of Global Public Affairs at ChromaDex. She is an Annenberg alumna and a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

FOCUS ON PSYCHOGRAPHICS

Targeting your audiences based on why they should care, over who they are or where they live, will allow you to break through to new audiences. Euromonitor International’s “2020 Consumer Types” presentation provides an excellent overview of changes in audience segments by clustering them by personality type, shopping and technology preferences, attitudes, and behaviors. By understanding what matters to your consumers and why, you can build empathy-driven campaigns that will allow you to expand your reach and relevance, ultimately building a relationship with your audiences. While data is a valuable tool to understand your audiences, significant shifts in their values and priorities, and a window into what they care about and why, it requires a very real, very human interpretation. The key is to LISTEN, respond with empathy and create a forum to engage and grow, together.

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G R E AT E R U N D E R S TA N D I N G T H R O U G H RESEARCH

BY A NN B A R LOW P EP P ERC OM M

Why do humans continue to categorize and judge people by race — or gender, sexual orientation or religion? And as communicators, how do we contribute to greater understanding and a more equitable society? One tool: Research. In the first part of the 19th century, one of America’s most prominent scientists was a doctor named Samuel Morton. Using a collection of skulls gathered from around the world, Morton “proved” his thesis that white people were intellectually superior based on cranium size, and other races followed in decreasing order. His findings were widely used, among other things, as justification for slavery. Morton now has the dubious distinction of being known as the father of scientific racism. Nonetheless, it took another 150 years to officially debunk Morton’s dangerous claims and prove that the whole concept of race has — as DNA-sequencing pioneer Craig Venter said — “no genetic or scientific basis.” There is a biological basis for the sort of us/ them dynamic that has been present since the dawn of man. But defining the “them” by race, gender, religion or ethnicity is purely social, says social psychologist Eric Knowles. Change, he says, requires exposure to other 110

people and their experiences. This is where research comes in. While no panacea, done right, research has the power to educate and enlighten, even as it guides us on everything from product features to medical treatments. Here are three principles for embracing research effectively: 1. ADOPT A RESEARCH MINDSET

Through a broad lens, research can be defined as actively seeking out different perspectives and information to challenge our assumptions and draw more accurate conclusions. As communicators, we have the responsibility to listen to, understand and be guided by our audiences, whether or not we agree with them. In this mindset, “knowing” becomes a barrier to “learning.” A research mindset, then, is a learning mindset. 2. FOR TRUE UNDERSTANDING, START WITH QUALITATIVE RESEARCH

Qualitative research is the best way to gain true insight, because it affords people the opportunity to share their stories. By its very nature, qualitative is more exploratory than quantitative, since the latter is more about confirming a hypothesis, and measuring and rating. Qualitative provides more context and opens up new avenues of thinking.


“Qualitative research is like a window into others’ experiences, cultures, values, expectations,” says David Goldstein, communications researcher, analyst and lecturer. “It offers a sense of what others’ lives are like, even when they’re nothing like ours.”

AN N BA RLOW is a Partner and

3. RESEARCH RESPONSIBLY

particularly focused on employee

As Morton’s “findings” show, research is not bias-proof. Which questions get asked — and how, who does the asking, and how findings are interpreted are essential to gaining real knowledge. Research has to be approached with great humility. Our social biases, however unintended, cause communicators and marketers to draw wrong conclusions all the time about our audience’s attitudes and opinions. Good research processes not only prevent these biases, but by doing so, reveal insights we may never have otherwise gained.

engagement, diversity and inclusion

President at Peppercomm. She is

and reputation management. She is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.

As you set up, conduct and analyze your research, continually remind yourself that your assumptions and opinions do not matter, and that you do not understand your audience. Having diverse representation on your team can also ensure no single point-of-view will overly influence any part of the process. Around the world and across the U.S., “otherness” seems to be flourishing. But by embracing quality research principles, we as communicators can help our organizations, communities and ourselves to better understand those whose experiences differ from — and mirror — our own. Greater knowledge and understanding can lead us to see others as individuals than separate, anonymous groups. As we do, we make progress toward social equity. 111


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D O E S B R A N D N AT I O N A L I T Y S T I L L M AT T E R ?

BY JAY WA NG

USC CE NT E R ON P U BL IC DIP LO MAC Y

The nationality of a brand attains growing political significance in today’s marketplace. Some argue that with globalization a brand’s nationality—its perceived national association—has become so tenuous that contemporary consumers do not care where a brand is from or even know the “country-of-origin” of the brands they purchase. Yet all such spatial associations are not created equal. And they still matter in a wide range of circumstances, whether as an organization’s strategic asset or its competitive liability. For instance, negative perceptions and attitudes toward a certain country affect policies and preferences concerning the brands associated with said country. In this regard, expressions of nationality, public or private, are fraught with commercial as well as political consequences. For the consuming public, such expressions provide a vehicle for asserting their national identity and allegiance. For brands, they present a threat to corporate image and bottom line. These contentions also influence and impact trade and foreign policies. Not the least, the clamoring information ecosystem adds another layer of complexity to this market condition. Trade and economic relations are a crucial aspect of contemporary international affairs. Brands are visible symbols in these exchanges and relationships. With the rapid evolution 112

"MOST GLOBAL BRANDS ARE GEOGRAPHICALLY HYBRID IN THEIR OWNERSHIP AND BUSINESS PROCESS." of emerging economies, the global marketplace is ever more diverse. Global Fortune 500 companies are now represented by over 30 countries, whereas the list was not long ago dominated by only a few. According to a 2017 McKinsey report, global economic growth in the coming decade will mainly be driven by regional markets, including India, China, Africa, and Southeast Asia. As brands compete globally, they must navigate ever more deftly the “political ecology” of the marketplace. Yet the notion of brand nationality is also fraught with ambiguities and uncertainties. These days the sources of a brand’s nationality can be varied and complex. There is no one agreed-upon criterion to determine a brand’s nationality—should it be defined by the location where decisions are made, the shareholder’s or owner’s nationality, employee nationality, or where company data is stored? The diversification and fragmentation of the global supply chain over the past decades have


rendered the “made in” label practically meaningless. Moreover, given regional differences in consumer attitudes, values and behaviors, brands often take on multiple and shifting local, national and global identities. Most global brands today are geographically hybrid in their ownership and business process. While national identity is not always the defining element in consumers’ relation with companies and brands, it does from time to time serve as a sub-text of that relationship. And it is often conflated with other concerns, such as price and quality, or larger social and political controversies.

JAY WA NG is Director of the Center on Public Diplomacy and an associate professor at USC Annenberg in the fields of strategy communication and public diplomacy.

The current rise of nationalist fervor of all stripes in different parts of the world intensifies the interaction between nationhood and business, making the marketplace more volatile and challenging for pol-icy-makers and businesses alike. And it’s likely to affect how consumers (and employees) feel and think about brands in a global marketplace. The mounting geopolitical complexities, growing cultural encounters, and regulatory minefields in the digital economy are giving rise to calls for companies to develop “private” foreign policy and to strengthen corporate diplomacy. Indeed, global success will require new organizational capabilities for brands to remain relevant and distinctive in this dynamic narrative context.

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H O W O R G A N I Z AT I O N S U S E D T W I T T E R T O C O L L A B O R AT E O N C O V I D -1 9

BY A IME I YA NG , P H . D.

USC A NNE NB E RG SC H O O L

The first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was identified on January 20, 2020. Six weeks later, it was reclassified as a pandemic and the first statewide stay-at-home orders were issued in California on March 18. Since then, the U.S. has become deeply mired in a public health and economic crisis. Due to the magnitude of the problem, any effective solution requires collaboration across multiple sectors.

"CORPORATIONS BECAME HIGHLY ACTIVE IN THE ISSUE SPACE AND INITIATED MORE ENGAGEMENT WITH GOVERNNMENT AGENCIES."

To understand how U.S. organizations discussed COVID-19 resource mobilization and partnership online, we monitored the Twitter accounts of US federal government departments; federal and regional health agencies; the governor and senators of each state; Fortune 1,000 US companies; and the top 1,000 nonprofits. We conducted the first-ever large-scale analysis of 16,766 tweets exchanged between these organizations discussing COVID-19 relief actions. This study is important because the communication around critical health issues on prominent platforms, such as Twitter, can profoundly affect how the public understands those issues. It also determines which organizations are seen as legitimate or socially responsible in shaping a solution.

nonprofits were among the first to pay attention to the COVID-19 virus and mobilize resources to address its potential impact in early February, while others remained silent. Many nonprofits eagerly initiated engagement with government agencies and corporations. However, their efforts were significantly less likely to receive reciprocal engagement from government agencies and corporations. By comparison, government agencies, politicians, and corporations were relatively slow to start communicating about COVID-19 related issues. When they did respond, government agencies primarily reached out to other government agencies and corporations.

The study revealed a number of key takeaways that merit consideration. First, we found that 114

During the initial stage, when public awareness was low, government agencies only wanted to work with health care nonprofits. At the high public awareness stage, while health care non-profits continued to be popular, govern-


ment agencies began to build ties with advocacy NGOs. These elite organizations were also less likely to interact with nonprofits who are providing service to marginalized communities or nonprofits that promote scientific information, which would benefit from such interactions. This unequal access to information may further disproportionately affect resource mobilization. Secondly, we found that once public attention to the COVID-19 issue was high, corporations become highly active in the issue space and they initiated more engagement with government agencies. Unlike nonprofits, when corporations engage with government agencies, their engagement were warmly received. Among all industries, the retail industry is significantly more likely to engage with government agencies. Corporations also engaged with nonprofits when public attention is high, especially those in the manufacturing, transportation, wholesale, retail, finance and service industries. Third, we found that not all government agencies were willing to engage with corporations or nonprofits for alliances. We discovered that government agencies in states with the most fatal cases were far more likely to engage with corporations. However, this situation changed drastically if the states had high unemployment rates. In other words, states that were severely challenged by the economic crisis tended to shift public attention away from COVID-19, rather than building alliances with either corporations or nonprofits.

AIME I YA NG , PH. D. , is an associate professor at USC Annenberg. Her research is positioned at the intersection of strategic PR and a social network approach to the study of interorganizational relationships.

likely to build ties with American government agencies during the crisis. This pattern may reflect the U.S.’s lack of global collaboration in the fight against COVID-19. Overall, our analysis showed that the cross-sector communication around COVID19 relief is far from straightforward, which negatively impacts the ability of organizations to collaborate on problem solving. In the future, communicators will need to navigate complex political, economic and public health issues to build alliances that effectively address societal health problems, like COVID-19.

Finally, we observed that global NGOs, affiliated with the United Nations, were also less 115


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C O V I D -1 9 U S H E R S I N E N T E R TA I N I N G , HUMOROUS BRANDED CONTENT

BY M ELV I N D I LA NCH IAN

USC A NNE NB E RG SC H O O L

A global health and economic concern is, ironically, a catalyst for humor and entertainment, reminding brands that deigning social media advents as irreverent or not offering messages in an entertaining way, means losing a strategic tactic to stay relevant. Social media has evolved from a conduit to peers into a platform for entertainment, and the predilection for funny or entertaining content is particularly true for 16-24-year-old audiences. According to Global Web Index, digital consumers spend an average of over two hours per day on social networks, and 42% of global consumers and 54% of Generation Z have increased their social screen time since quarantining began. Institutions and brands should think about their debut and presence on these platforms in this framework. "Innovate or die" is not a maxim reserved for business operations; it applies to communications, too. Social media offers a way to engage with quarantined audiences, but this requires adapting to the cultural context and zeitgeist while representing the brand. The Uffizi Gallery digitally reimagined its mission of art education by turning to TikTok, where 44% of users outside of China 116

"BASTIONS OF CULTURE MAKE CENTURIES-OLD ART RELEVANT TO YOUNGER AUDIENCES WHO PREFER BOLD BRANDS AND TRENDY CONTENT." are 16-24 years old and 80% are Gen Z or Millennials. In one post, a masked Medusa portrait turns the coronavirus into stone while Cardi B’s “Coronavirus” audio is heard. In another, a 16th century Florentine duchess is altered with the party or in-the-crowd filter — created ironically for the lack of parties — paired with Doja Cat’s “Boss B****” track. For Pride festivities, Greco-Roman male, nude sculptures were set to Todrick Hall’s “I Like Boys.” Similarly, Holland’s Rijks Museum repurposed masterpieces for content: staff and followers recreating Vermeer’s milkmaids and Rembrandt’s Dutchman to songs like Snoop Dogg’s and Wiz Khalifa’s “Young, Wild and Free,” or referencing a viral meme with a video zooming over the ornate attire of a Dutchwoman with the words “It’s called


fashion. Look it up, sweetie” set to Tove Lo’s “Cool Girl.” Updating their traditional approach to communication, these bastions of culture make centuries-old art relevant to younger audiences who prefer bold brands and trendy content. Closer to home, our crosstown rival, UCLA, used the same strategy by packaging Coronavirus tips within entertainment content, like a video of a cappella groups singing handwashing steps. Employees have even created engaging content on their own. Alaska Airlines staff gained notoriety for their airport TikTok dances and, more facetiously, videos replicating their daily work — checking in travelers and operating flights — set to the song “I’m Essential.”

ME LVIN DIL A NCHIA N is a secondyear graduate student in the PR and advertising program and a teaching assistant at USC. Most recently, he interned for WPP.

COVID-19 accelerated changes in social media’s value proposition forever by making humor more relevant, branded content more entertaining, and permitting brands to be liberated and daring in their approach.

Being highly shareable, such content transcends across platforms because it is entertaining and relevant making esoteric subjects or mundane tasks exciting to a wider audience. The pandemic provides an impetus and an opening for reluctant, legacy brands to create content that reflects the culture of these digital spaces. Even when it subsides, these changes in audience interaction will persist: 76% of U.S. online video consumers plan to continue consuming content at unprecedented rates. This purposeful interaction with social media offers an opportunity to transition from interruptive to invitational marketing. The Rijks, for instance, not only entertained its audience, it also sold them masks from its store. 117


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BLM AND THE SHIFT TO PURPOSE-DRIVEN BRANDS

BY A DRI NE K E OSI A N USC A NNE NB E RG SC H O O L

With the social upheaval in 2020, the importance of brand purpose has never been greater. Purpose is a powerful tool that helps companies build deep consumer connections.

According to Morning Consult, 66% of Gen Z shoppers say a brand's reaction to BLM influences their purchase. The Gen Z audience believes business plays a big part in shaping how the country responds to racism: 76% agree that companies should leverage their influence to demand action from government entities that can enact systematic change.

In 2017, L’Oréal terminated an endorsement contract with Black transgender model Munroe Bergdorf after she spoke out against racism following the Charlottesville rally. L’Oréal justified its decision by stating they “support diversity and tolerance towards all people,” and that Bergdorf ’s comments were at odds with those values. Soon after, #BoycottLoreal trended on Twitter, as thousands criticized L’Oréal for using a woman of color as a source of revenue, yet not supporting her call to eradicate racism. L’Oréal, by canceling Bergdorf ’s endorsement, was seen as reaffirming the power and existence of white supremacy. Until the Black community can openly speak about the racism to which they are subjected without the fear of being fired, there is a lot of work to be done systematically, and within the fashion and beauty industry.

Consumers are skeptical about buying from fashion and beauty brands that don’t have a clear social purpose. Brands seeking to define the roles they play in wider society have responded in a variety of ways. While Nike has authentically spoken out in support of Black communities and racial equality (Colin

While brands likely do not make decisions that are intentionally racist, mistakes are made. Dove, known for redefining beauty standards and body positivity, also dropped a questionable Facebook ad in 2017. The ad depicted a Black woman removing her brown shirt, revealing a white woman with

In a study conducted by Accenture, 62% of consumers stated heir purchasing decisions are driven by a company's authenticity. Consumers have access to reliable information on how companies operate, produce products, and treat their employees. Increasingly, they are holding companies and brands to a much higher standard in terms of their positions on political and social issues.

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Kaepernick), others like L’Oréal have simply jumped on the bandwagon out of necessity, leading to a backlash from a cynical public.


a light shirt. Shortly after the release of the ad, social media users evoked a racist trope: a “dirty” Black person cleansed into whiteness. Although these brands released apologies, people wonder how these ads and campaigns with seemingly racist overtones made it through multiple layers of review. The answer may be a lack of diversity in positions of power, decision making, and leadership. There aren’t enough people in the room who have been on the receiving end of insensitive remarks about ethnicity or race. Thousands of fashion and beauty brands have released statements about BLM, whether on social media pages or websites. But it is equally if not more important to ensure a brand is taking concrete action and creating a measurable impact. The fashion and beauty industries need to commit to action. Commit to hiring more Black people in positions of visibility, because diversity isn’t just having a campaign featuring a Black model. They need to begin using their resources to reform laws that effect Black lives. Levi Strauss & Co., a progressive company known for their sustainability, equality, and inclusivity efforts, acknowledged that they aren’t hiring enough Black employees, and have too few in positions of power. In an attempt at transparency and the progress they want to make moving forward, they released data on demographic representation in a diversity and inclusion report, revealing its leadership team is 73% white, 16% Asian, 6% Latinx. Black employees represent 2% of the leadership workforce. Its CEO and president, Chip Bergh, committed to publishing annual updates on employee demographics and

ADR I NE K E OS IA N is a USC graduate student earning her masters in Strategic Public Relations. She graduated from UCLA majoring in Communication Studies with a minor in Film and Television.

diversity statistics. This attaches a face to the program, showing that they are serious about creating actual change. Looking ahead, brands are going to have to be bolder than ever in their communication and messaging strategies. Supporting a social cause and weaving a deeper meaning within a brand will contribute to consumers choosing one brand over another. Because there will always be social and political issues that will arise, it is important for brands to have a sense of purpose to which their audiences can truly connect. The rising generation of consumers want their purchases to stand for something bigger than the products they are buying. They want brands to inspire, bring a strong point of view, and most importantly make a positive impact in the world.

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USC ANNENBERG CENTER FOR PR BOARD OF ADVISORS Jonathan Adashek IBM

Simon Halls Slate PR

Josh Rosenberg Day One Agency

Ann Barlow Peppercomm

Matthew Harrington Edelman

Don Spetner Weber Shandwick

Gary Brotman Secondmind

Bill Imada IW Group

Tyler C. Stevens Kinwoven

Judy Brown Amgen

Megan Jordan ChromaDex

Kirk Stewart KTStewart

Adrienne Cadena Havas Street

Molly Keveney Champion Petfoods

Michael Stewart Hyundai

Cathy Calhoun CMG

Seema Kathuria Russell Reynolds Assoc.

Oscar Suris Zeno Group

Janet Clayton Vectis DC

Tom Lange Lange Comm. Advisors

Dan Tarman GOAT Group

Stephanie Corzett Disney

Maryanne Lataif AEG Worldwide

David Tovar McDonald’s

Carrie Davis CD Consulting

Elizabeth Luke Pinterest

Gerry Tschopp Experian

Corey duBrowa Google

Gulden Mesara-Dogan City of Hope

Julia Wilson Wilson Global Comms.

Bob Feldman ICF Next

Torod B. Neptune Lenovo

Deanne Yamamoto Golin

Matt Furman Best Buy

Glenn Osaki USC

Blythe Morris Yee LinkedIn

Brenda Gonzalez Office of Sen. Kamala Harris

Ron Reese Las Vegas Sands

Melissa Waggener Zorkin WE Communications

Cynthia Gordon Nintendo of America

Heather Rim AECOM


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Dean Willow Bay Tina Vennegaard Patricia Lapadula

ASCJ Communication and Marketing ASCJ TechOps

THANK YOU TO OUR PROJECT SUPPORTERS

Join Fred Cook, USC Annenberg professors and PR industry guests for further discussions about activism and other topics in our #PRFuture podcast series, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and most major streaming and podcast services. Season Two will feature contributing guests from the 2021 Relevance Report.


Relevance Report 2021  

Relevance Report 2021