By Lia Hyman
As Public Relations professionals, it is impossible to ignore the ever-evolving social justice issues that have become increasingly important and pertinent to consumers. From the Black Lives Matter movement, to Climate justice, to the Me Too movement, it is our responsibility to pay attention to current topics of conversation that impact the companies we work for.
This was the topic of conversation at PRSA’s 2021 ICON Conference during the session “Taking a Stand: Evolving PR Roles as Activists, Allies and Cause Champions”.
When asked how prepared companies or clients are to respond to attacks from activist organizations, speakers at the session revealed only 31% of PR professionals surveyed reported “a great deal”. Even worse, 32% reported “not at all or slightly”.
This lack of confidence in preparation indicates failure to execute continuous environmental scanning. As companies, now more than ever do we need to listen to what consumers want. Looking at trend tracking is a great way to process the media landscape and what we need to stay up-to-date with. If we do this, we will create better content and campaigns that resonate with our audiences.
Another problem within the PR field is an aversion to calling ourselves, activists. Speakers at the session discussed that only 24% of PR professionals identify as an activist, with 70% considering themselves an ally. Survey respondents indicated that they preferred to express their beliefs in more traditional ways, like voting, donating money, and engaging in community service. Engaging in more vocal methods, like protesting and striking, were less likely.
During the session, speakers hypothesized this disconnect from the word “activist” stems from PR professionals’ belief that these people are protestors seeking to destroy PR’s carefully crafted reputation. However, the “new activist” is not what most people think. In reality, activists want to hold companies accountable to their word, something they should already be doing. No picketing or rioting needs to be done in order to fight for systemic change.
Overall, this ICON session stressed the inability to separate our personal lives from our corporate life any longer. With an increased emphasis on societal change, 84% of PR professionals believe corporations have a responsibility to take a stand on issues related to their business. Before we as students venture off into the various communication fields post-college, it’s important to remember the lessons learned from these new studies: activism is here to stay, and we are responsible for listening and acting upon these causes.