Last year, just before school began, Starz premiered its critically-acclaimed documentary series, America to Me. The 10-episode series profiled students, teachers, parents, and school administrators at Oak Park River Forest (OPRF) High School in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois.
I recently finished watching the mini-series as a way to broaden my own understanding of racial equity in education. That’s because OPRF, with one of the most diverse student bodies in Metro Chicago, also suffers from a widening achievement gap between its White and Black students.
It’s only natural that I viewed the series through the lens of a PR professional, and I couldn’t help but notice the tie-ins to the skills needed by communicators. These skills are best exemplified by OPRF’s teachers, a handful of whom do their part to narrow the achievement gap. In the process, they serve as a master-class on how to build mutually beneficial relationships that allow them to serve their students’ needs—the same way communicators should conduct themselves to provide quality client service.
Black History Month is a time for us to remember, share, and celebrate the achievements and contributions of notable Black figures. It’s also a great time for us as a Black community to remember and learn more about our own history and families to better understand ourselves and where we come from. Our bloodline and DNA don’t just tell the story of who we are, but they also provide us with information about our health. That’s why developing a family health history, a record of health information about a person and three generations of his or her relatives, is important. Not enough of us know our unique health histories and hereditary risk factors. Black History Month is the perfect time to talk about and create a family health history.
Before making the move to a communications agency, I spent 10 years in the nonprofit sector as a fundraiser. While fundraising for food banks, youth organizations, and veteran advocacy groups across the nation, I passionately pursued mission-driven work alongside a communications team. Together, we crafted messages that connected with donors and built our brand. Though “communications” wasn’t ever in my title, I learned quickly that effective communications is the foundation of every nonprofit’s success.
Effective communications allows you to raise awareness of your organization’s mission, establish credibility, engage prospective donors, and drive brand awareness, which in turn allows you to:
- Attract volunteers
- Raise funds
- Recruit qualified and competitive staff
- Expand participation in services
- Advocate around applicable issues
- Stimulate social and behavioral change
Communications is a powerful tool, but it isn’t always a priority. Throughout my time in the nonprofit sector, I often saw budgets tighten as needs continued to grow and government resources dwindled. We were asked to do even more with less, placing additional strain on our already limited resources. When that happened, marketing and communications items were the first to see cuts. But that’s a huge mistake. Given all that strong communications can do for an organization, cutting back can make a tough financial situation even worse.
Though I’m no longer at a nonprofit, my passion for mission-driven work is still alive. Now at Hager Sharp, I have the opportunity to work with a wide range of nonprofits, associations, and foundations to help them utilize their limited funds efficiently without compromising communications. Our team has decades of experience developing and executing strategic communications initiatives, and together we work with organizations to determine the role communications can play in differentiating and elevating their ideas.
This March, we’re making our services even more accessible by hosting our first communications boot camp. Join us, along with up to five other nonprofits, for a half-day working session. Hager Sharp’s communications experts will guide you through a strategic exercise to outline your communications goals and objectives; pinpoint effective, compelling messages; and identify the strategies and tactics that will drive success, including media relations, social media, events, partnerships, paid advertising, and more.
Megan Mills, MPA
Sound interesting? Sign up today!
New Year 2019 opened with plenty of controversy, including partisan disagreements over funding for a border wall that has resulted in a government shutdown. As we worry about the impact a prolonged government shutdown will have on public health, education, and other social supports, let’s consider some of the biggest issues in public health and education that social marketers will need to address in the year ahead.
I asked my colleagues at Hager Sharp to do a bit of crystal ball-gazing, and here’s what they said will be important in public health:
- Senior Account Executive Monica Carano predicts health privacy will be an issue requiring increased focus in 2019, as technology enables ever-increasing information collection through innovations, such as wearable devices, home monitors, patient portals, and patient-generated health data. Patients need to be able to trust that their data is safe, and cybersecurity will be more important than ever. For more on this topic, check out expert predictions in the Journal of AHIMA.
- Monica also suggests that social isolation will be a hot topic to address in 2019, especially given former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s recent focus on the problem. Several countries, including Britain, Denmark, Australia, and Japan have taken steps to address the issue, launching public campaigns and even, in the case of Britain, appointing a minister for loneliness. In the U.S., social marketers can follow the Kaiser Family Foundation’s work in this area to keep up with news and trends.
- According to Account Executive Maddie Stein, “the relationship between diet and health simply cannot be ignored any longer, especially as four of the leading causes of death in the U.S. are directly linked to food. As rates of diet-related diseases continue to rise, people have become increasingly interested in and aware of the critical role that food plays in human health. Therefore, I predict that 2019 will be the year that the ‘food as medicine’ movement―with a focus on the power of produce―finally takes off. We’ve started to see this idea come to life through concepts such as food prescription programs and innovative marketing initiatives like FNV, and I can’t wait to see more in the new year.”
- Along with a heightened awareness of nutrition as a determinant of health, Maddie also predicts that “we’ll see a greater focus on the tremendous disparities in healthy food access that exist in this country. Whether it be through public-private sector partnerships, school garden programs, or changes in food policy, I hope to see significant strides toward eliminating food deserts and closing the ‘grocery gap’.”
- Senior Account Executive Laura Koehler predicts that emergency preparedness will take center stage in 2019, as communities take steps to prepare for natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and other incidents that affect public health. The American Journal of Public Health has issued a call for papers on this topic, and as social marketers, we will be looking for the resulting supplemental issue.
- According to President and CEO Jennifer Wayman, as an increasing number of states and communities legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use, social marketers will need to focus on public health communications about the health effects and public safety effects of marijuana use. Hearing a radio advertisement for “pot as a Christmas stocking stuffer” made her realize that marijuana is not regulated for public health effects in the way that alcohol and tobacco are, so policymakers will need to consider these two case examples as they create a public health framework and policies for legalized marijuana.
- As for me, I think food sustainability will continue to grow as an issue. The Economist’s recently released Food Sustainability Index (in partnership with the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation) reminds us that the issue is complex and far reaching—the Index tracks data by country on three separate but related facets of food sustainability: food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture, and nutritional challenges. It is a global issue and one that spans a variety of environmental, economic, and social disciplines. Therefore, coordinated approaches across disciplines may prove to be most effective.
My colleagues working in the education sector also made some predictions about hot issues to address in 2019:
- According to Senior Account Executive Cailin Jason, “school safety and gun violence will be a continued hot topic in 2019, and on many levels. For instance, as schools and campuses explore how safety measures might be taken (given the lack of any sensible gun control laws), it will be critical to think about the impact that precautions may have on students—and if they pose more harm than good.” Those interested in this topic and the potential for unintended consequences can check out a recent article in Education Week. Cailin also notes that “gun safety obviously will also be a significant health issue, especially considering the recent #thisismylane movement.”
- Senior Account Executive Samantha Prior suggests that expanding and improving early learning will be a key focus in 2019. She notes this was a hot topic in the midterm elections in the fall, with many polls showing widespread popular support across party lines. Samantha believes “the key question that will start to emerge in 2019 is, what’s next? Now that people broadly support early education and ensuring access for all children, more focus will turn on how to deliver high quality early childhood education, as a recent study found that many state-funded pre-K programs did not meet a number of high-quality indicators.”
- Samantha also suggests that workforce preparedness will be a hot topic in the public and private sectors. “On the K-12 level, the conversation is moving from the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) to the importance of STEAM (STEM + Arts), as many employers want employees with strong hard and soft skills, such as critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving. I think support for interdisciplinary education is growing, but there isn’t as much agreement on what that actually looks like in schools. There’s also an interesting interplay between how much schools want to involve private companies and technology (see this recent example). On the post-secondary level, the conversation is shifting to one about access and financial stability—for example, the idea of apprenticeships is gaining popularity, recognition, and bi-partisan support from lawmakers (one example of recent legislation).”
- Senior Vice President David Hoff suggests we should expect to see increased action around the concept of education as a basic right. He notes the recent lawsuit filed by a group in Rhode Island that seeks to establish a constitutional right to an education. He says, “It’s a long-shot, but it may change the conversation about the quality of education, particularly around preparing people for civic education.” Those who want to learn more about this can check out an article in The Atlantic.
- Across the health and education sectors and in all of the work we do as social marketers, Account Supervisor Emily Martin suggests we consider authenticity as an essential ingredient in the communications materials and tools we produce. “We all keep hearing the importance of video, but what I think is really interesting is that apps like Snapchat and Instagram have made informal-looking videos more ‘normal’ looking for brands. It’s not uncommon to see videos on a brand’s social media sites that look like someone took them on an iPhone—and that’s okay because social media audiences are used to seeing them that way and perhaps even prefer the authenticity behind them. What is really neat about this is how affordable and accessible video then becomes to nonprofits and smaller companies.”
So, my fellow social marketers, we clearly have our work cut out for us. Here’s hoping for a productive and fruitful 2019!
Christina M. Nicols, MPH, MS, MS
Senior Vice President, Director of Strategic Planning, Research & Evaluation
In September 2014, I found myself out of full-time work again for the fourth time since earning my bachelor’s degree in marketing and management. In my short career, I was one of the fortunate graduates to have held jobs related to my degree.
There was just one problem: even I didn’t want a job related to my degree. I wanted to do public relations.
And I didn’t just want to do public relations. I wanted to master it.
With that, I started my APR journey in July 2015 by enrolling on campus as a master’s degree student in public relations at the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. There, I would meet my first APR: my program chair, Dr. Rochelle Ford. She would offer a few of us in my cohort the unique opportunity to earn our degrees by dually working towards completing our APR.
The coursework I would complete as part of my master’s program would serve me well in taking the first steps towards earning my APR. They delved deeper into the introductory knowledge of PR I already had from my undergraduate and freelance experience, and the material from my APR study guide would help me advance even further.
I started seriously preparing for the APR in late 2016, and worked closely with a professional assigned by Suzanne Lundin Ross, the APR chair of the PRSA National Capital Chapter. For the Readiness Review, I presented a campaign from my brief time with McKinney & Associates, my first job in DC. Even though I didn’t develop this program, I did the best I could to tie my portfolio and candidate questionnaire answers back to the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that I would be evaluated on. All in all, my presentation lasted close to an hour, with 20 minutes of discussing the program and 40 minutes of questions and answers from my panelists. The moment after I left the room to let the panelists deliberate on their decision came the longest four weeks of my life: waiting on my results.
They would arrive in the mail in late July 2017. I didn’t advance.
Admittedly, I took the news pretty hard, but still I knew I needed to request feedback addressing where I went wrong. I only missed passing by two points, mostly because I didn’t have enough management experience.
More determined than ever, I worked with an additional coach to make revisions to my questionnaire and presentation. Going into my second attempt, I demonstrated my management skills by approaching it as if I were presenting two programs: the first based on what actually happened; and the second based on how I would do things as the creator of the program. My aim was to control the narrative by bringing my program full circle. Whereas the Q&A portion of my first presentation felt excruciatingly long, the second time it felt like a breezy 10 minutes. I had a much better feeling leaving the room this time.
I received my advancement letter in December 2017. The final hurdle would be the computer-based exam. To prepare for it, I re-read chapters from Cutlip & Center’s Effective Public Relations, 11th Edition – a book I was required to get for one of my first courses at Newhouse – during my work commutes. The entire process took me three months to complete, with a few days of vacation in LA in between!
And on a Friday in early April, I did it.
Earning my accreditation gave me the deeper knowledge of public relations that I was looking for almost four years ago. Back then, I thought my endgame was to land media placements and increase social media followers. Now, I know that true public relations professionals are consistently monitoring the environment for opportunities and threats, and encouraging their organizations to proactively adapt to these changes. I’m looking forward to the ways I can influence behavior change for meaningful missions.
What a difference four years makes!
Find out more about #TheAPRDifference at http://www.praccreditation.org/
Cedric Brown, MS, APR
Senior Account Executive
This piece originally appeared on LinkedIn. You can view it here.