Fast Five

  • Fast Five: Forbes’ Diversity Leader Decodes Equity vs Equality, Connects Inclusion to Success

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    He simultaneously holds leadership titles at two signature US brands. For Philadelphia native Rashaad Lambert, that is a metaphor of his life’s calling: building bridges and creating connections to open higher doors for people of color. When he eschewed the anachronistic term “minority,” his advocacy led Forbes to agree, recently announcing that this word would be banished in reference to race. In preparation for PRSA Boston’s Diversity Zoom Conversation on Oct. 19, Rashaad spoke with longtime board director Loring Barnes about the need in the current momentum for building diversity across corporations, higher ed and entrepreneurs, the Boston roots for his popular For(bes) The Culture online business resource community and his view that all Philly cheesesteaks are not created equal.

    Q: We’re talking about the coming of age for diversity in America and globalism. Is there something that communicators or C-suite executives need to understand about applying practices of inclusion when applied to communities identified by race versus LGBTQ?

    A: One of the reasons I pushed to raise the inappropriateness of the disparaging word “minority” is that LGBTQ was being postured as a minority population, when it’s not. Trying to compare or equate these struggles did a disservice to all. Diversity does include everybody, or as the Broadway song says, our “coat of many colors.” But for authors of press releases or website content: trying to hijack or latch onto a movement of oppressed people is unfair if you try to lump them as one. We don’t know if someone identifies as LGBTQ, but you can’t strip my ethnic identity from my skin. This pejorative visual makes for a vastly different employee or customer experience and organizations that aim to be thoughtful about their DE&I intent need to acknowledge these distinctions when developing their messaging as a code of conduct.

    Q: In your role as content curator and leader of For(bes) The Culture’s online community of 21,000 business influencers and emerging entrepreneurs of color, you formally announced that the word “minority” will no long be assigned to racial topics by this important media outlet. Public relations professionals help organizations to align actions to words, and words to actions. How do you look for this action to change more than language?

    A: I have been passionate about ending use of this term for as long as I can remember, and it underscores how words truly matter in our society. This term was absorbed and mainstreamed without question. I don’t want Forbes using inaccurate statements. I am worried about my community. One person spreading false narrative has a snowball effect on the rest of the world. Convincing one group that they have less standing than another group unequally elevates one community while denigrating and devaluing the other. It also encourages harmful judgements and behaviors. I applaud Forbes for leading this change. Hopefully it will bleed into the US educational system, entertainment, media as it has with the LA Times, and employers of all stripes. It’s a cancer in our society that has become a tool of white supremacy.

    Q: You advocate that understanding an organization’s DE&I practices serves as a barometer for its growth and revenue because values matter. Can you elaborate on points of confusion that communicators can help to resolve when sharing this aspect of a brand’s story?

    A: We need change across the board. Turn on the news. The violence against blacks and LGBTQ is real, demanding that leaders take bold and meaningful actions to end it. When a company or association states that they are committed to achieving diversity in hires, validating this requires that we can discern between the quality and quantity of those positions. These jobs should not be subordinate, such as warehouse jobs, but rather are true positions of power where talented, qualified people can steward influence while contributing to organizational goals and societal benefit. Even boardrooms are unclear about how “equity” compares to “equality.” They aren’t interchangeable terms. Equality is opinion-based, whereby people are snap-judged, often on their basis of racial cues, gender identity, accent or education. Equity by contrast signifies the action of offering a seat at the decision table, where one has true influence, their ideas considered and valued, and they can open the door to this room for others who haven’t had this opportunity.

    Q: Can you share trigger questions for vetting the diversity philosophy of a person or a business, particularly as would inform professional communicators about how to advise organizations to align their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts? 

    A: My internal screening questions may be different in detail but in general I run a three-point check. I look for evidence of effort. Are the representatives of a brand or cause authentic or is this a façade? I just need to know what I am working with. Is it worth my reputation if the relationship goes south? I won’t gamble with my reputation. And I look for shared philosophy and intent. If I can’t find this affinity, then even the most polished enterprise may not be a risk worth taking. You want to know that you can be collaborative with equal energy and integrity.

    Q: We’re headed into an election. Does America need to create a Secretary of Equality as a cabinet position in order to change how we interact and engage across all sectors of industry and society?

    A: As promoter Don King famously said: “Only in America can you find so many angry people claiming to love their country, while hating almost anyone in it.” For individuals and brands, I think that to pursue change primarily through legislative channels is too limiting. Together we will achieve more if we become more mission focused as a global society with more independence than politics allows.

    Q: You are adjunct business faculty at Temple University. I also teach an entrepreneurship course and have included a book by Daymond John, a successful self-made black entrepreneur known from “Shark Tank” and his founding of apparel company, FUBU. From your experience, is there something about how university coursework needs to evolve that will increase student command of the business advantages of building and joining inclusive organizations when they graduate? 

    A: Absolutely! Our entire education system needs to be overhauled to be more relevant and applicable to careers of all kinds. Content needs to be diversified and more integrated beyond one required African American Studies course, which is far too limiting. College graduates arrive to their employers and they don’t get how racism relates to them. Business is about doing business with people of different cultures. The lessons of Juneteenth and Black Wall Street need to be mainstreamed because it shapes how we conduct commerce today.

    Q: Organizations, including the nonprofit PRSA Foundation, are looking to public relations for help in opening professional gateways for leaders of color. Do you have any practical guidance that will enable these efforts without them being received as patronizing? 

    A: They should have been doing all along, which is to accept the most qualified candidates. If you put the wrong person in a position, you will impede progress for your organization. Being inclusive for a search is important but be sure to hire on the basis of the big picture, not just to try to make up for lost time. You will be creating new problems for your brand and its economic or societal mission.

    Q: Financial services is a major US business sector, particularly across the Northeast. Can you tell us about how your DE&I work is creating change for TD Bank or its relationship with customer markets? 

    A: They have an untold story: the company’s investment in collectible art. I’m working to introduce them to a younger, more diverse profile of deserving but possibly undiscovered artists. These acquisitions can make an economic impact in new neighborhoods and fund important preservation of social and cultural storytelling as chronicles history. What is lost about art is that people don’t realize is that artists are not born, but rather are created through teaching and self-learning. Artists are Latinx, Black, gay, and blind, but the fact that they are young or aren’t represented by galleries or brokers puts them at a disadvantage that thoughtful engagement can remedy. Preserving art is an important facet of documenting history.

    Q: OK, where we have both lived in Philly, I have to ask if your favorite cheesesteak is Geno’s or Pat’s? 

    A: Ha! It won’t surprise anyone that I don’t follow the flock. I miss Jim’s in West Philly the most, but I will go to Larry’s or Ishkabibbles to find a solid cheesesteak. I should mention that For(bes) The Culture began three years ago this month at Anthem Kitchen & Bar in Boston. There’s a food thread here: consultants need to feed their ideas. I hope Anthem returns from COVID because their food was delicious. The pandemic has been relentlessly hard on the restaurant industry.

    Q: I don’t have to tell you that this is a tumultuous time for the global economy on so many fronts: workforce displacement, the reckoning of racism and the pandemic. How would you advise public relations practitioners about how to navigate these issues when counseling an organization and carving out thought leadership space for them that is genuine?

    A: I have learned through years of consulting and government work, including the White House and Congress, that it is important not only to advise leaders about hot button issues, but to craft authentic messages that make sense for them around these topics when it is not detrimental to their organizational character. PRSA espouses what I practice: always speak their truth. Trying to “be” the voice of an executive or a brand is counterproductive because it’s transparently inauthentic. I work in the other direction: I learn what the views of a client is first, in their voice, and then help them to bring those positions into relatable, clear messages. If you are too worried about being on either end of politically correctness or racy, I would say stop: just make sure they are on the right side of history.

    Q: Do you have a favorite podcast for someone who wants to do private introspection on the broad and expanding movement that is diversity, equity and inclusion?

    A: I should be on his payroll for the number of times I’ve recommended Malcomb Gladwell’s podcast “Revisionist History.” The content is highly relevant to the moment, but even the audio quality is attention-grabbing for you feel like you are hearing the audio of a video and can visualize his conversation. He puts important current issues into historical context. He questions the moral grounding of authority, such as the decision makers at universities that spend more on dining programs than to investing in scholarships for underserved communities. Powerful stuff, and very applicable to today.

    Q: You are an acknowledged expert in ways that DE&I intersects with marketing. How do you inform your insights as a model for communicators who must stay educated for themselves and the organizational leadership they advise? 

    A: I think keeping an advisory circle from different sectors connects you to strategies for economic prosperity and social impact that are grounded in experience. This is a model that can be easily replicated. Philadelphia tech entrepreneur Dean Harris, developer Lamarr Kendrick and musician Chill Moody have become ambassadors for our home city and admirable ambassadors for entrepreneurism. The pandemic has put a spotlight on outlying centers of business opportunity, and Tayyib Smith is all over it by building a five-story entrepreneurship hub outside of downtown Philadelphia. The stories these guys tell in three to five years should be fascinating. I should say that it was my mother Joyce Lambert who gave me my sense of duty to serve others and to make a difference. She serves in government-funded Lambert Legacy Charities, which has fed and clothed over 5,000 people in need. She embodies entrepreneurism and service.

    Rashaad Lambert (Panelist): Dir. of Culture & Community, Forbes and Strategic Partner of Social Impact, TD Bank

    Website | LinkedIn | Twitter | Instagram

    In an industry where diversity and racism have become part of the narrative among high-profile pro athletes, Rashaad has been immersed in creating pathways for addressing racism, equity and inclusion for their success during and outside of competition. Today, he wears two hats: as Strategic Partner of Social Impact for TD Bank and as Forbes’ Director of Culture & Community, through which he leads diversity initiatives targeting entrepreneurs. Through his For(bes) The Culture #CultureTalks platform on Instagram, Rashaad has galvanized a collaborative online think tank committed to improving access to more revenue and impact opportunities for communities that are marginalized when confronted with the uphill climb against bias or discrimination. The multicultural engagement inroads made by this proud Philadelphia native who attended Temple University have been recognized by the NAACP, Forbes, and the US Congress. He holds the distinguishing Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification for coaching and organizational change leadership.

  • Fast Five: How DE&I Change Happens with Managed Accountability (and Maybe a Great Mother)

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    For more than 25 years, Ed Patterson has championed socially conscious organizational change as a key communications strategist to agency, global corporate brands and nonprofits. Ultimately or purposefully, he carved a career that has uniquely allowed him to live his truth as a gay man in a position to show how inclusivity achieves business gains. Ironically, he acknowledges women leaders as key influencers in his journey, most notably his mother. As global communications leader for Hill+Knowlton Strategies, he finds that 2020 has ratcheted up the quest for accountability for change.

    Q: Change doesn’t happen overnight. What are fair milestones to mark progress? 

    A: Such a truthful statement. And I think what also needs to be understood is most of us who work in this space do not expect it to happen overnight. It must be strategic, consistent and done with purpose—setting goals that are achievable and needle-moving. I like to use an example of my time serving on the Human Rights Campaign National Board of Governors. Our annual Equality Index looked at how businesses and organizations performed (internally and externally) in support of LGBTQ+ employees, customers and stakeholders. The numbers I found to be the most interesting—and impactful—were those that showed year-over-year improvement. From some organizations not even participating, to in just a few years being 100 percenters, the annual index allowed for goal setting, progress tracking and a plan to do more and do better. I encourage organizations to take a similar approach to their DE&I efforts.

    Q: What does it mean to be an “ally?”

    A: Goodness, I’d like to make it easy and say “my mom is the epitome of an ally”—she is.  But how she got to be and how she works at it is the real definition. I am blessed she is a woman who values learning and embraces opportunities to expand her thinking and understanding of people, issues and problems. She did that with me a couple of decades ago, and she continues to do it now in how she looks at racial injustice, gender inequality and immigration. When America was being asked to read, learn and educate themselves following the murder of George Floyd, she was years ahead of this. As a woman born and raised in the segregated South, she lived through the horrors of racism during the 50s and 60s (and as she says is still living with systemic racism that surrounds her) and has always been on a quest to be a better ally to me and others. She is always reminding herself to see her day-to-day living through the lens of others. She understands her privilege and uses her intelligence to teach others, share her experiences, bringing perspective to others who may not see the world through that lens. But she also uses her actions to be an ally—when she shops, she shops with her Equality Index in tow. A true ally.

    Q: As a professional communicator, how do you guide executive leadership into taking bold measures?

    A: The past year has seen C-suites take some of the boldest steps we have seen in the work for true diversity and inclusion. It has allowed communicators to help our leadership be bolder; set more meaningful DE&I commitments and goals, and importantly, hold them and the organization accountable like no time in our history. This has called upon those of us to drive communications to bring this thinking to life. And I see the C-suite looking to us to be just that: a driver. I used to say that we communications professionals earn our keep when a crisis/issue rears its head within the organization—now I add the quest for real DE&I within our organizations as another such moment. We are not just wordsmith; we are the counselors that not only craft the story, but we are helping to lead the day-to-day work and progress.

    Q: What are meaningful metrics of diversity, equity and inclusivity progress? 

    A: I am a bit bold here. Having worked with organizations on LGBTQ+ issues for many years, I have always stated that no one expects perfection; and certainly not even close to perfection tomorrow or next year. However, until leaders and organizations put metrics in place that have seismic impact, we will be having this same conversation two years from now; five years from now. Leadership metrics; hiring metrics; coaching and development of current employee metrics; community engagement metrics—all matter. And even more importantly, leadership compensation and goals must have DE&I metrics included. If we are going to continue to reward the highest levels of organizations with substantial compensation for a job well done, that job must include attainment of DE&I goals.

    Q: Are there mentors or thought leaders you’d recommend for communicators?

    A: I do try to read and talk to folks I find so helpful. But I’ll keep to a few who I know, and those with words, actions and passions that are so important today. First, I had the pleasure to attend a Leadership Atlanta program a few years back with Natasha Rice Reid—Associate Pastor at Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta and General Counsel for Habitat for Humanity. Whenever I get a chance to touch base with her and my friends from that class; hear her on panels; read her inspirational messages on social media, I do that. She’s a gem. I had the opportunity to interview and get to know Annise Parker—former three-term Mayor of Houston, the first openly gay person elected mayor of a major city in the US, and currently president of the Victory Fund. Her life, her work—her continued work—and her outlook on the issues and challenges that face us is inspiring and important.

    Ed Patterson: Head of Global Communications, LGBTQ & DE&I Strategist, Hill+Knowlton Strategies

    Website: https://www.hkstrategies.com/

    LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/edpatterson1/

    Twitter: @twoguysinmaine

    Twitter: @hkstrategies

    Ed has provided cultural and organizational communications counsel to C-suites and boards of global organizations for more than 25 years, through which he was an early champion of diversity and inclusivity as operational guideposts for brand growth and workforce success. Today he leads global communications for PR agency stalwart Hill+Knowlton Strategies, a role that canvases news from its 80 offices across 40 countries. He recently announced H+K’s hiring of the global WPP’s company’s first top DE&I global and US officers. Ed is working toward a Master of Communications Management from the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University and is an alumnus of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

  • Fast Five: How Retracing Racism at Home Has Become a Blueprint for Organizational Enlightenment

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    Peggy Jablonski, Ed.D.

    In 2020, this career university administrator turned consultant embarked on a compelling personal journey of racial awakening – the Cape Cod Camino Way Project – to understand racial and social justice in her own backyard and inform her future actions. This proved to be transformative for her work as a leadership coach, particularly for colleges with complex diversity and inclusion issues and nonprofits seeking to broaden their scope of service. In the context of small-group work, Peggy shares insights for an emerging blueprint in how organizations can gain from listening and learning about bias and racial history. This has emerged as a cornerstone for her leadership coaching practice, Jablonski Consulting Group. Peggy’s earned her Ed.D. at Boston University and completed coaching certifications and leadership tenures at Brown University, MIT, UNC at Chapel Hill, and her alma mater, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

    Loring Barnes, past president and longtime board member for PRSA Boston, recently sat down with Peggy to discuss her walking tour, which is currently being considered for a documentary, and how it has reshaped her perspectives and opened up a new pipeline of workshops.

    Q: Why did you create the Cape Cod Camino Way this summer and what did you accomplish through this project?

    A: To increase my awareness and deepen my understanding of racial and social justice, I created a walking pilgrimage through every town on Cape Cod, stopping at places of significance and listening to the stories of people I needed to hear.

    By doing my own work to understand racism and the connections to other justice issues in my own backyard, such as economic, environmental, religious, LGBTQ and cultural issues, I became more aware of what needs to change and how we need to learn a more inclusive history. Through all that I deepened my commitment to social change. To learn more about the eight weeks of walks, themes and stories, please visit the Facebook page for blogs, videos and questions to expand your views.

    I plan to write a book, accept speaking engagements to promote the Cape Cod Camino Way idea and continue to encourage individuals and groups to undertake similar projects to bridge the divide in this country and create much needed dialogue.

    Q: Is there such thing as an anti-racist organization?

    A: All organizations are inherently biased in one form or another. We have inherited from past generations a racist culture and society, from our educational system to our churches, government and economy. If we understand that our country was founded on the premise of slavery, and the ramifications over generations produced an inherently unequal system, then we can acknowledge that we need to reform all organizations to be supportive of all peoples moving forward. This is a very difficult and complex task, one that will take time to accomplished. And we can all do our part moving forward.

    Q: What does it mean to be an “ally?”

    A: To be an ally is to be an active participant in challenging the status quo, questioning systems of oppression and bias, speaking out and up to people in power and doing so with diplomacy and grace whenever possible to be heard. To be an ally is an ongoing act—every interaction is a new opportunity to be an ally. White people don’t get to just claim they are an ally because they are good people, or have done some reading. We need to show up on a consistent, regular basis and demonstrate our commitment to people of color.

    Q: How do you pace urgency with reality in order to measure movement?

    A: We are living in an age of constant change, instant communication and a level of violence that creates urgency for action. Just like our country experienced a convulsion of political, legal and cultural change in the late 60s and early 70s, we again find ourselves on a daily basis confronting systemic issues that need to be addressed. It is a time of urgency, and we do need to pace ourselves and our organizations at the same time as pushing on the levers of change to move forward. It’s like a seesaw; we will be out of balance and return to it again.

    Q: So, getting to brass tacks, if someone wants to start from the beginning, what constitute useful metrics of diversity, equity and inclusivity progress? 

    A: Definitions matter first. Diversity is the presence of difference in a given setting, such as diversity of identities, like race, gender, religion, etc. Numbers of various groups and their positions within the organization are measures of diversity. Inclusion means that people with various identities feel valued, welcomed and leveraged within a team or organization. You can have a diverse team of talent but that doesn’t mean everyone feels welcomed or valued and mentored toward growth. Equity is an approach that ensures everyone has access to the same opportunities. Equity acknowledges that advantages and barriers still exist such that an organization intends to commit to correct his imbalance. Equity is an ongoing process to ensure that people with all identities have the opportunity to grow, contribute and develop, regardless of their identity.

    Cape Cod Camino Way @Facebook: LINK

    Cape Code Camino Way on NPR: INTERVIEW

     

    Loring Barnes, APR, Fellow PRSA: CCO, Clarity Communications Group

    LinkedIn

    Loring has been leading bold action campaigns, guiding M&A readiness and navigating crises for Fortune brands, government and start-ups for more than 30 years. She founded Clarity as a WBE-certified marketing and PR consultancy coming out of 9/11. The realities of “separate and unequal” became personal for her in high school when a parent’s job took her family to live in Johannesburg during apartheid. Her multicultural and multilanguage campaigns have earned recognition, to include by the White House at a United Nations Special Assembly. Loring visited the Equal Justice Museum in Montgomery, AL within weeks of its 2018 opening to fortify her historical learning on racism. She is a past PRSA Boston president and was inducted into the PRSA College of Fellows in 2017. She was the catalyst for PRSA’s increased efforts on disparities for women in PR’s executive ranks. Loring is only the fifth woman in 135 years to be elected to her town’s top government post and led a successful ballot initiative for the State Legislature to permanently revise the board’s name and all town charter references to be gender neutral. She is an “Alumni to Watch” award recipient of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and adjunct marketing faculty at Bryant University.

  • Fast Five: Communicating in the Era of COVID-19 – Spotlight on Moderna

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    Kate O’Malley, Senior Director of Internal Communications, Moderna, will join our panel when PRSA Boston and Alkermes co-sponsor a webinar on “Communicating in the Era of COVID-19: Spotlight on Greater Boston’s Life Sciences Companies.” Our blog, Fast Five, serves as an event preview, introducing you to our panelists to provide a peek inside their worlds. Register for the event here and be sure to return to prsaboston.org for more stories leading up to the event.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Panelists:

    • Eleanor Celeste, Director of Pipeline Communications, Vertex Pharmaceuticals
    • Kate Cingolani, Communications Business Partner, Life Science Communications, MilliporeSigma
    • Kate O’Malley, Senior Director of Internal Communications, Moderna
    • Eva Stroynowski Otte, Vice President of Public Affairs, Alkermes

    Moderator:
    Amy Atwood, Head of Vaccine Communications, Takeda Pharmaceuticals

    Q1: During the current COVID-19 pandemic, finding the right time to launch a product or hold an event, even if it’s virtual, has been challenging. How has the pandemic impacted your 2020 launch or big event plans?

    We’ve gone virtual at Moderna! From investor events to internal town halls, we are using videoconferencing applications and other collaboration technologies to bring people together, share news and create dialogue.

    Q2: Some brands are pivoting from earned media to increasing the use of social media to tell their stories. If you have done so, can you give us a quick example of a smart pivot?

    At Moderna, we continue to use an integrated mix of earned and social media to tell our stories. This year, we are reaching and engaging our people more and more on social media. As an example, for National Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Awareness Month, we asked our colleagues to help amplify the voices of the CMV community by sharing the video series we created with their networks and raising awareness of this silent disease.

    Q3: During the COVID crisis, consumers want to hear from doctors and health experts, not CEOs. How has that changed your spokesperson strategy?

    We are fortunate to have many brilliant doctors and scientists on our team at Moderna, including our President and our Chief Medical Officer. They work hand-in-hand with our CEO and the rest of our Executive Committee to serve as spokespeople to external stakeholders.

    Q4: More than ever, brands are being judged by how well they care for their employees, particularly during this unprecedented time. How has your company shown more sensitivity to your employees

    Early on in the pandemic, we formed a Coronavirus Response Team to help keep our colleagues informed of our response to COVID-related issues. One of the primary issues the team took on, in partnership with Human Resources, was childcare. With many of our colleagues still working on-site, it was critical for team members to have access to safe and trusted childcare providers. We quickly mobilized and set up pop-up care locations near our campuses to provide back-up childcare for Moderna employees and contractors—and offer some peace of mind during this unprecedented time when daycare centers were closed.

    Q5: Employees hear messages of “take care of yourself” and they expect company leadership to do the same. What’s been your strategy, if any, to guide management to model the right behavior?

    This year, we are making wellness even more of a priority given the stressors and sense of responsibility that we have felt operating in the the post-COVID world. Our leaders have committed to taking specific actions like avoiding Friday afternoon or weekend meetings, openly sharing their plans to be away from work and encouraging their teams to take vacation time. Some have even been early adopters of a mindfulness and meditation app, which we have made free to all Moderna employees!

    About Fast Five

    This is a feature of PRSA Boston’s Hot Topics blog page. The expert is someone who is clearly in demand, on the go and with a story to tell. But we know leaders like to share, so check back for insights, wisdom and other valuable tips. @prsaboston #prsabos

  • Fast Five: Communicating in the Era of COVID-19 – Spotlight on Alkermes

    In Fast Five on

    Eva Stroynowski Otte, Vice President of Public Affairs, Alkermes, will join our panel when PRSA Boston and Alkermes co-sponsor a webinar on “Communicating in the Era of COVID-19: Spotlight on Greater Boston’s Life Sciences Companies.” Our blog, Fast Five, serves as an event preview, introducing you to our panelists to provide a peek inside their worlds. Register for the event here and be sure to return to prsaboston.org for more stories leading up to the event.

     

     

     

     

     

    Panelists:

    • Eleanor Celeste, Director of Pipeline Communications, Vertex Pharmaceuticals
    • Kate Cingolani, Communications Business Partner, Life Science Communications, MilliporeSigma
    • Kate O’Malley, Senior Director of Internal Communications, Moderna
    • Eva Stroynowski Otte, Vice President of Public Affairs, Alkermes

    Moderator:
    Amy Atwood, Head of Vaccine Communications, Takeda Pharmaceuticals

    Q1: During the current COVID-19 pandemic, finding the right time to launch a product or hold an event, even if it’s virtual, has been challenging. How has the pandemic impacted your 2020 launch or big event plans?

    While the disruption imposed on all of us by the pandemic has been challenging and often frustrating, there is an element of creativity and innovation that has emerged as a silver lining. Our teams have been hard at work re-imagining what the future of events look like—helping to create a sense of togetherness while apart. The technology and capabilities available today are incredible, and it’s clear that learnings gained during this time will alter the way we conduct business long after the pandemic is over.

    We were lucky that many of our events were only temporarily paused, or able to be quickly adapted and converted to virtual experiences. Most of the key medical meetings and conferences that we had planned to attend this year were converted to virtual events. Our teams very quickly and masterfully adapted to this new format and we successfully executed multiple virtual global medical conferences—that included creating 3D booth and e-presentations from our scientists. Overall, success was achieved because we were able to leverage the technologies available to us and maintained the same rigor in our planning and preparation, as we would do for an “in person” conference. With some time and research under our belt now, we are ramping up to a few planned large-scale internal meetings later this year that will hopefully provide interactive, engaging experiences for our employees to be together and learn from one another.

    Q2: Some brands are pivoting from earned media to increasing the use of social media to tell their stories. If you have done so, can you give us a quick example of a smart pivot?

    COVID-19 has presented numerous challenges to people accessing the healthcare system, and we recognized that the patient communities we serve—people living with serious mental illness, substance use disorders or cancer—are particularly vulnerable during this time. At the start of COVID, we immediately reached out to our advocate and patient communities to understand their needs, challenges and hear about available resources and tools. We have consistently leveraged our social channels to amplify information on and connection to resources intended for our patient communities, which not only benefits the people we work to help every day, but also demonstrates our patient-inspired mission.

    Q3: During the COVID crisis, consumers want to hear from doctors and health experts, not CEOs. How has that changed your spokesperson strategy?

    What we found at the start of COVID is the importance of being responsive to the issues important to consumers, such as access to treatment and continuity of care. There really is no one person or stakeholder who can address all of those aspects. We approach media opportunities with a slate of spokespeople. There is a collective understanding that we can best address issues of importance by uniting our efforts.

    Q4: More than ever, brands are being judged by how well they care for their employees, particularly during this unprecedented time. How has your company shown more sensitivity to your employees

    We know that in challenging times, how we behave is what we will be remembered for long after the crisis is over. First and foremost, our attention and priorities have been focused on the health and wellbeing of our employees, their families and the communities we live in and serve. Increasing connectivity and fostering a culture of two-way dialogue has been a key priority for us, as well as increased engagement with senior leadership. Our company quickly bolstered childcare support offerings and wellness benefit resources, and our leadership prioritized frequent communications with employees to emphasize flexibility, understanding, support and empathy for the challenges this pandemic is posing to everyone. We designed additional internal communications and interaction platforms, increased the frequency of employee townhalls and instituted weekly updates to keep everyone well informed and to reassure our support for our employees.

    Q5: Employees hear messages of “take care of yourself” and they expect company leadership to do the same. What’s been your strategy, if any, to guide management to model the right behavior?

    Authenticity demands that one’s “audio matches the video.” We recognized that we cannot expect our employees to hear and receive our messages if we do not embrace those values ourselves. We work closely with our leaders to lead by example: take time off, set boundaries, prioritize personal care and family and, when appropriate, share personal anecdotes or stories of their experiences. Our employees really appreciate the connection to our executive team when they realize the commonalities in this shared (and weird!) experience. It’s the little moments—seeing a child on your manager’s lap during a video call, laughing at the dog barking during a presentation or telling the team you are offline for an hour to take a walk and stretch your legs—that help bring down the virtual walls and give employees room to accept the importance of and ability to “take care of yourself.”

    About Fast Five

    This is a feature of PRSA Boston’s Hot Topics blog page. The expert is someone who is clearly in demand, on the go and with a story to tell. But we know leaders like to share, so check back for insights, wisdom and other valuable tips. @prsaboston #prsabos

  • Fast Five: Communicating in the Era of COVID-19 – Spotlight on MilliporeSigma

    In Fast Five, Uncategorized on

    Kate Cingolani, Communications Business Partner, Life Science Communications, MilliporeSigma, will join our panel when PRSA Boston and Alkermes co-sponsor a webinar on “Communicating in the Era of COVID-19: Spotlight on Greater Boston’s Life Sciences Companies.” Our blog, Fast Five, serves as an event preview, introducing you to our panelists to provide a peek inside their worlds. Register for the event here and be sure to return to prsaboston.org for more stories leading up to the event.

    Panelists:

    • Eleanor Celeste, Director of Pipeline Communications, Vertex Pharmaceuticals
    • Kate Cingolani, Communications Business Partner, Life Science Communications, MilliporeSigma
    • Kate O’Malley, Senior Director of Internal Communications, Moderna
    • Eva Stroynowski Otte, Vice President of Public Affairs, Alkermes

    Moderator:
    Amy Atwood, Head of Vaccine Communications, Takeda Pharmaceuticals

    Q1: During the current COVID-19 pandemic, finding the right time to launch a product or hold an event, even if it’s virtual, has been challenging. How has the pandemic impacted your 2020 launch or big event plans?

    Creativity and flexibility—two muscles that have had to be flexed across the organization. As Communications professionals, our leaders depend on us to assure our messages are cascaded both internally and externally. During the pandemic, our conventional ways of cascading and communicating were challenged and thus creativity stepped into the driver’s seat. We utilized new technology platforms and pushed the capabilities of those platforms to deliver engaging sessions whether it be with media, employees or investors.

    Flexibility was fundamental as we needed to pivot from the traditional methods to methods and channels outside of our comfort zone. Training our leaders on how to best position their cameras from home, partnering closely with our IT colleagues to garner the best output for connectivity and learning to not only share presentations—all while ensuring a captive audience. One specific example was a major lab opening in China. This would have been one of our largest customer events and media opportunities and yet with the pandemic still looming, the decision was to move to a virtual opening. The session exceeded the expectations of the team and, with a virtual stage and engaging speeches from our leaders in front of a green screen, the team delivered a successful event to the more than 100,000 viewers.

    Q2: Some brands are pivoting from earned media to increasing the use of social media to tell their stories. If you have done so, can you give us a quick example of a smart pivot?

    Once schools shifted to remote learning, our team quickly pivoted from our typical community involvement at schools across the globe, to provide assets via social media. Our “Spark Program,” which is a scientific-based curriculum which is brought into schools, aims to spark curiosity in science. With several videos produced during the shelter-in-place, we were able to launch Curiosity Labs at Home, scientific experiment tutorials, through our social media channels. Employees were proud to share through their own personal social media channels, and feedback was overwhelming. To continue our efforts virtually, as well as to provide an opportunity for families to experience these lessons together, our corporate social media channels played a significant role during the pandemic with nearly 1.5 million views.

    Q3: During the COVID crisis, consumers want to hear from doctors and health experts, not CEOs. How has that changed your spokesperson strategy?

    As a data-driven and scientific-based life science organization, the leadership team relied heavily on our internal expertise. Fortunately, our internal expertise is comprised of epidemiologists, researchers, doctors and scientists, some of whom are currently our spokespeople for the organization.

    Q4: More than ever, brands are being judged by how well they care for their employees, particularly during this unprecedented time. How has your company shown more sensitivity to your employees

    Communication has been critical during this time, and communicating clear guidance, safety protocols and employee resources was, and still is, our priority. Providing safety kits for our employees to use at home as a way to ensure they and their family members have the supplies they need was of critical importance. With a majority of our employees working in manufacturing, it was necessary to reinforce safety at all times as we relied heavily on teams working on-site. As a company providing critical materials to companies developing vaccines and diagnostics, it was critical to keep our operations running. We have been working throughout the pandemic.

    Q5: Employees hear messages of “take care of yourself” and they expect company leadership to do the same. What’s been your strategy, if any, to guide management to model the right behavior?

    During this time of uncertainty, it is important to keep a pulse on the health and well-being of our employees. With vacations adjusted and the surmounting work our colleagues continue to face, leadership has needed to exhibit the desired behaviors for our employees. Encouraging employees to take vacation time is one way, but demonstrating that our leaders are also taking that time to rest and re-charge is incredibly important.

    About Fast Five

    This is a feature of PRSA Boston’s Hot Topics blog page. The expert is someone who is clearly in demand, on the go and with a story to tell. But we know leaders like to share, so check back for insights, wisdom and other valuable tips. @prsaboston #prsabos