News & Publications

  • Becoming an Ally and Advocate for Black Women by Renea Morris, APR, Fellow PRSA

    As we transition from winter to spring and the frost yields to warmer temperatures, it can be exciting to experience longer days and see new life emerge.

    While I appreciate what warmth and light do for my circadian rhythms, I find myself focusing on other matters during this time.

    With Black History Month and [Women’s History Month in the rearview] looking at the intersectionality of being a Black woman, I realize that none of what I feel or do could ever be encapsulated within a set time. And while I believe it’s important and laudable to set aside special times to learn about and acknowledge the contributions of Black people and women, it will take generations to understand accurately and appreciate fully, the enduring legacy and value of Black women in this country.

    There are so many amazing stories about Black women that it is easy to become fascinated and fixated on the facts without really considering the barriers they had to overcome, and the struggles they were forced to endure, before they realized any achievement. It’s also disheartening in some cases to discover that early strides didn’t always lead to later wins.

    Though Black women attended to birthing women as early as the 1600s, when obstetrics and hospital-led medical intervention emerged by the late 19th century, the work of these women was effectively wiped out. Fast forward to the current day and we are in the midst of a maternal health crisis. Though the United States spends more on health care than in any country in the world, U.S. women have a greater lifetime risk of dying of pregnancy-related complications than women in 40 other countries. The risk of dying is three times greater for Black women than for white women.

    Black women were engaged in the women’s suffrage movement, yet had to wait until 1965 — 40 years later — before there was legislation that granted Black people the right to vote.

    The acclaimed movie, “The Help,” was not a documentary, but the novel from which the screenplay was based, did portray realistic situations. Black women supported white families, my great-grandmother among them, by caring for their children and cleaning their houses — houses they would not have otherwise been allowed to step inside. Many places around the country that were subject to redlining remain segregated today.

    While we are reconciling the past, I would like us to seek more ways to positively affect the present and future. Instead of only focusing on who to recognize at any given time, my challenge is to not let this month end without making a commitment to find ways to help Black women become more valued and included into the fabric of this country.

    Here are a few tips to get you started:

    • Identify a passion project and take note of whether there are any Black women enjoying it.
    If the answer is “no,” then use your influence to open an avenue for a Black woman to get involved. You may discover that she is standing on the sidelines just waiting to be asked.

    • Volunteer at a local nonprofit that serves Black women’s issues.
    Small organizations can almost always benefit from strategic communications support.

    • Mentor a Black woman at your organization.
    Even if your organization does not have a formal mentoring program, reach out to your HR department so that someone is aware of your interest. According to reports from DDI World, only 16% of high-potential leaders are from minority racial/ethnic backgrounds and only 37% of women have had a mentor in their careers. Lift as you climb.

    • Sign up to support voter registration efforts.
    This is one way to foster justice and equality.

    • Support policy initiatives that advance issues related to Black women.
    You can use your communication skills to articulate and advocate for a cause that can have a lasting impact. For example, in states without protection by the CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” Black women (and girls) can be subject to discrimination in workplace and educational settings for how they wear their hair.

    As PR  professionals, our work is about influencing, engaging and building relationships. Let’s use our expertise to become advocates and allies for justice and change this month and every month.

  • The Rise of AI  by Todd Van Hoosear 

    I prompted Google Bard to “write an introductory paragraph to a story about how public relations professionals should prepare for the rise of artificial intelligence, and specifically, generative AI.”

    This is what it gave me (you will note that it was more than a paragraph):

    The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is having a profound impact on many industries, including public relations. Generative AI, in particular, is being used to automate tasks such as writing press releases, creating social media content, and managing media relations.

    While AI can be a valuable tool for PR professionals, it is important to be aware of the potential risks. For example, AI-generated content may not be as accurate or creative as human-generated content. Additionally, AI-powered tools can be used to create fake news and propaganda.

    As a result, PR professionals need to be prepared for the rise of AI. They need to understand the potential benefits and risks of AI, and they need to develop strategies for using AI effectively.

    Here are some tips for PR professionals on how to prepare for the rise of AI:

    • Stay up-to-date on the latest AI trends. This will help you understand the potential impact of AI on your work and make informed decisions about how to use it.
    • Develop skills in data analysis and storytelling. These skills will be essential for working with AI-generated content.
    • Build relationships with AI experts. These experts can help you understand the capabilities of AI and develop strategies for using it effectively.
    • Be prepared to adapt your work practices. As AI becomes more sophisticated, it is likely to automate more tasks. PR professionals need to be prepared to adapt their work practices to accommodate these changes.

    By following these tips, PR professionals can prepare for the rise of AI and continue to play an important role in the communication industry.

    I was tempted to rest on my laurels and call it a day; despite not giving me exactly what I was looking for, it got pretty close. And that’s about the best summary of the capabilities of AI I could possibly give: “it gets pretty close.” And it’s only going to get better — and more dangerous, but not perhaps in the ways some of us fear.

    Should we fear AI?
    And that fear is one consistent theme you’ll find in conversations about AI — fear of the spread of misinformation, of its potential uses in creating compelling propaganda, the loss of jobs, or even the existential fear of the loss of life. Even today, with millions of dollars being allocated toward its study and its growing use in the field, the term evokes thoughts ranging from the deadly “Skynet” to the possibly harmless — if easily misled — chat bot.

    The case for AI
    According to research firm AIContentGen, AI can play a huge role in producing effective marketing content. The firm, led by John Cass and Scott Sweeney, analyzes generative AI tools and produced a report in 2021 (well before the buzz around GPT-4 began) that identified and reviewed 20 different AI tools marketers are using to step up their content production. In today’s world, Google is your home page, most transactions are electronic, and landing page conversions can make or break a new product. To quote the title of Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman’s book, “Content Rules,” and AI is a critical tool for creating and refining that content.

    The more data you have to work with, the better your AI-generated content will be. With hundreds of thousands of press releases to source from, AI tools can spit out a perfectly usable one in seconds.

    Today, generative AI has advanced well beyond mere copywriting, thanks in part to the new capabilities introduced with GPT-4. I have been able to use ChatGPT to write very compelling situation analyses (it only got a few details wrong), Bard to research reporters for a pitch (it needed a little prodding to differentiate media outlets from actual reporters, but the final list was spot on), Midjourney to create compelling visual images for a design project, and Lensa to create photo-realistic headshot alternatives and some fantastically creative social media avatars.

    Christopher Penn shared his own insights into AI trends at the 2022 Annual Meeting of PRSA Boston, highlighting what PR professionals need to know about the emerging space. He echoed many of the themes Bard identified in its introductory “paragraph.” And he pointed out that the skills needed to successfully interact with AI could lead to the creation of an entirely new profession: the AI “prompt engineer” capable of crafting effective queries that get the most out of AI’s capabilities.

    The case against AI
    Bard itself was seemingly aware of its own risks as it was assessing its impact on PR. Its ability to synthesize and analyze is directly tied to the amount and quality of data it has to work with. Like any computer algorithm, it is subject to the basic GIGO rule: “garbage in, garbage out.” Weak AIs won’t deliberately lie, but they can hallucinate — their reality is shaped directly by the data we feed them, and if that data is limited or skewed, they may fill in the blanks in surprising and even disturbing ways.

    This can make them dangerous effective tools in propaganda wars and disinformation campaigns. I asked Bard what the biggest dangers were from generative AI, and it gave me the following:

    Generative AI is a powerful tool that can be used for good or for bad. Here are some of the biggest dangers that generative AI poses:

    • Misinformation and disinformation: Generative AI can be used to create fake news and propaganda. This can be used to manipulate public opinion and sow discord.
    • Deepfakes: Generative AI can be used to create deepfakes, which are videos or audio recordings that have been manipulated to make it look or sound like someone is saying or doing something they never actually said or did. Deepfakes can be used to damage someone’s reputation or to spread misinformation.
    • Job displacement: Generative AI can be used to automate tasks that are currently done by humans. This could lead to widespread job displacement, as machines become capable of doing more and more of the work that humans currently do.
    • Loss of control: Generative AI is a complex technology that is not fully understood. This means that there is a risk that we could lose control of it. For example, generative AI could be used to create weapons that are more powerful and destructive than anything we have today.

    These are just a few examples of jobs that may be lost because of AI. As AI continues to develop, it is likely that even more jobs will be automated. However, it is important to note that AI is also creating new jobs. For example, AI engineers and data scientists are in high demand. As AI continues to develop, it is likely that new jobs will be created in areas such as AI research, development, and deployment.

    So there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth. Do you have concerns specific to your role? Are you worried that AI might impact your day-to-day work, or ultimately cost you your job? Log on to ChatGPT or Bard and ask them your questions. For the moment, at least, they are giving pretty honest answers.

    Todd is a senior lecturer in public relations at Boston University’s College of Communication. Disclosure notice: Todd served as a reviewer for AIContentGen’s 2021 AI Content Generation Scorecard & Analysis report, providing feedback and a marketing “blurb” for the report, but did not receive financial compensation for the review or endorsement.

  • Thought Leadership Corporate Reputation Never More Important, Nor More Fragile, Report Finds By PRSA Staff 

    In Crisis, News & Publications on

    For businesses, reputation has never been more crucial, new research from the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations finds. According to its “2023 Global Communications Report,” tangible benefits accrue to companies that build and maintain positive reputations.

    Those benefits include improved financial performance; better ability to attract and retain top talent; and the power to drive purchase and investment decisions and sustain what the reports calls “a company’s permission to operate.”

    “In an era of activism, politics and polarization, when no one seems to agree about anything, building the reputation of any company is like solving a Rubik’s cube. Every move is connected. Changing the squares on one side of the cube always impacts the squares on another side,” said Fred Cook, director, USC Center for Public Relations, when announcing the report. “This year’s research suggests that solving the cube may be easier if you rely on data instead of stereotypes, and insights instead of instincts.”

    But even as reputation becomes more important for organizations, in the social media era, it has also never been more fragile, the report says. “Reputation must be built, maintained and defended in a real-time environment where stakeholders’ values and interests may be aligned or vastly dissimilar,” it says.

    Factors that influence corporate reputation are more complex and varied today than even five years ago. Consumer demands for accountability and transparency are rising, while employee voices have gained influence since the pandemic. In recent years, the role of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues in a company’s reputation has sparked widespread debate. According to the report, investors give more importance to ESG ratings, while PR professionals place ESG at the bottom of their factors that affect reputation.

    Communicators and investors agree that customer surveys are an important way to measure corporate reputation, the report finds. PR professionals highly rate social-media listening and media coverage as barometers of reputational health.

    According to the study, business performance remains a significant factor in corporate reputation. Consumers, employees and investors strongly agree that healthy business performance is the most important factor in deciding what to buy, where to work or how to invest. For their part, investors ranked social purpose as their second most important factor.

    The Global Communication Report is produced annually by the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, in conjunction this year with Myriant, Worldcom Public Relations Group, Golin and nearly a dozen international public relations membership organizations, including PRSA.

  • Member spotlight: Julie Dennehey

    In Membership, News & Publications on

    Q: You’re a Framingham native, where your business is located and you have a number of  local/MetroWest clients. How does the hometown aspect factor into the success of your business? 
    A: Yes, I’m a Framingham native. I moved back into my old neighborhood and I am thrilled to be close to friends who knew me when my hair was much bigger. Although few of my current clients are MetroWest based, I have always enjoyed a healthy mix of local, regional and national projects to keep my media connections as fresh as my event resources. Right now, I’m pleased to be helping T.C. Scoops ice cream shop re-open and re-energize their brand at a new Holliston location after a decade in Medway, and I couldn’t be more pleased to give the “scoop” to the Boston Globe, who recently published a feature story on owner Tina Chemini. My love for Framingham is strong and hope to contribute as much as I did in Medway, where I served on many boards and was a community leader for 28 years.

    Q:  Talk to us about the top three aspects of effective storytelling? 
    A: I teach my students at Boston University exactly what I counsel my clients: creative, strategic and powerful storytelling is the most important tool in public relations today – a device as old as ancient peoples sharing information around a fire before the innovation of written history. I’d surmise the top three aspects of effective storytelling today to be: simple and sticky” messages, an earned credibility by the storyteller, and creative and emotional appeals that both capture attention and prove to help the listener retain information longer.

    Q: You’ve been leading Dennehy Public Relations for over 25 years with a broad range of clients- small business, non-profits and chains such as 7-11 and Macy’s. What makes a good client/agency fit, in your view?
    A: Founded in 1996, Dennehy Public Relations have been connecting great brand with consumers for more than 25 years with three core values: authentic connections, solid counsel, and clear, creative communications. Those organizations and brands who believe in those same core values with a healthy side dish of mutual respect and admiration always seem to make the best fit for my boutique agency.

    Q: What do you do with your free time? 
    A: I love my free time when I can capture it! I read, walk, Zumba, go to the theater, see live music, play with my dog, dabble in art, kayak on the lake, volunteer, travel to our Charleston home, and mostly just spend quiet time with friends and family. As an empty nester with two great adult children, I’m re-learning what free time is and its value. I love to be busy, but I’m learning that a good life is best enjoyed in the quiet spaces between the noise of distractions and to-do list items.

  • 28 Black Women In Communications Making History Now

    In Diversity, News & Publications on
    February is Black History Month and ColorComm Corporation, the nation’s leading women’s platform addressing diversity & inclusion across the communications, marketing, advertising, and media industries, announced its annual the ColorComm28 list, which features 28 Black women in communications, marketing, media and diversity and inclusion, who are making history now.

    Some of those featured on the list this year include Kim Godwin, President of ABC News; Marva Smalls,Global Head of Inclusion at Paramount; Jemele Hill, journalist and author; Elaine Welteroth media personality and Washington Post columnist; Remi Kent, CMO of Progressive; Sadé Muhammad, CMO of Time and Eden Bridgeman Sklenar, Chairwoman and CEO of EBONY Media Group.

    In its third year, the ColorComm28 recognizes the leadership of executive black women in communications at some of the most respected companies in America and the behind-the-scenes work they’ve led to transform communities. Many of these women are the first Black woman to hold their position or have spent the last year doing groundbreaking work at their companies.

    “We are proud to celebrate the leadership and applaud the achievements of the women on The ColorComm28,” said Lauren Wesley Wilson, Founder and CEO, ColorComm, Inc. “The women on the list do the daily work to help strengthen the voices of those who are often underrepresented in the overall business and political discourse,” said Wesley Wilson.

    The ColorComm28 shares the 28 stories of executive Black women in communications and their contributions to the industry, during the 28 days of February, in honor of Black History Month.

    The ColorComm28 list will be celebrated with a private invite-only event held on the 28th day of February.

  • Surviving the Age of AI Writing 

    In News & Publications on

    By Ken Scudder

    As we enter the age of AI, many people are wondering how this new technology will affect the way we write. Will AI be able to replace writers, or will it simply provide them with new tools to enhance their work?

    One of the biggest fears surrounding AI and writing is the possibility that AI will be able to produce high-quality content more efficiently than human writers. This is a valid concern, as AI has already shown itself to be capable of generating coherent text, and it is only a matter of time before it becomes more advanced in this regard.

    However, it is important to remember that AI is not capable of the same level of creativity and emotional depth that human writers are. While AI may be able to produce content that is technically well-written, it will likely lack the unique perspective and personal touch that sets human writing apart.

    In fact, many experts believe that AI will actually serve to augment the work of human writers, rather than replace them. By providing writers with tools to automate certain tasks, such as research and data analysis, AI will free up more time for writers to focus on the creative aspects of their work.