Note: the following article recently appeared in Catalyst, the official publication of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). I volunteer for both
IABC DC Metro and IABCLA, and I wanted to share the content.
By: Adam Fuss, SCMP, MITI
On 25 January, Shel Holtz’s Catalyst article, “Generative Artificial Intelligence for Communicators” served as a wake-up call of sorts. Widely respected in the IABC community and broader communication profession, Shel outlined compelling and ethically sound use cases for how generative artificial intelligence (AI) technology can fit within the professional communicator’s toolkit.
Generative AI is all the rage now, and for good reason given its potential to transform content creation and other areas of life. Although not perfect by any stretch — no technology is — generative AI is here to stay and is almost certain to improve rapidly. Rather than debate whether it should play a role in our work, as professional communicators we would be far better served by debating how we should use it.
Not Entirely New
Generative AI tools like ChatGPT are relatively new, but the idea behind them is not. The underlying technology has been used in content creation for longer than people realize.
Machine translation, for example, has been particularly successful. Like generative AI, it uses neural network models to do the labor-intensive work of putting metaphorical pen to paper. It also comes with worries of its own regarding things like data security, privacy, accuracy, copyright, intellectual property and professional displacement, to name just a few.
Less frequently discussed are the potential impacts of these technologies on human creativity, critical thinking and professional development. With generative AI, we’re still very much in the realm of hypotheticals, but my own experience with machine translation over the years suggests that the path from possible to probable to definite may be very short indeed.
The time to broaden and deepen the ethical discussion of these technologies is now.
"What’s Taking so Long?"
I first encountered Google Translate in 2007, shortly after its launch. At the time I was working as a full-time translator, editor and copywriter, playing my small part helping Russian and western companies — or, rather, the people who worked for them — communicate better and engage more deeply with one another and their respective markets.
Curious about Google’s new technology, a colleague and I gave it a try using a few texts we were writing for an oil industry client. To our surprise, the results were quite good for both the English and Russian samples. Sure, Google mistranslated some numbers and didn’t do so well with the formidable double negation in Russian, but the output was something that could be cleaned up by professionals like ourselves.
For the next few days we used Google Translate for several full texts. While initially thrilled at having our jobs seemingly done for us, we quickly realized we were spending more time fixing Google’s translations than we would have spent doing the job properly straight away. When our boss began asking about the slowdown in our work, we decided to end our experiment.
The Power to Connect and Inform
Fast forward to the past several years, and the world is a very different place. Google Translate has improved by leaps and bounds. Machine translation technology more broadly is used everywhere from social media to travel sites, often with people completely unaware. It’s used by translation agencies to speed up the process of translating standardized texts (such as contracts and technical documentation), has been greenlit for use in medical settings and has mobilized European support for Ukraine to an astonishing effect. It has, in no uncertain terms, changed the world.
"Just Clean Up the Google"
Social media posts and travel reviews are one thing, but what about murkier use cases?
Many years after that first professional encounter with Google Translate, I found myself giving it another go when a client requested I turn around a 2,500-word translation in less than two hours — a tall order, to put it mildly. The document in question was a set of talking points to prep a Russian executive for an upcoming television interview. Under ideal circumstances, at least twice as much time would have been required to translate it properly.
“Just clean up the Google” was the response I received when protesting the lack of time.
I hesitated for a number of reasons. I feared turning in substandard quality that would reflect poorly on me as a professional. I felt like I was cheating. I harbored concerns about potentially giving sensitive intellectual property to Google in the process. This felt like far too serious of a project to let a machine take the lead.
But since there was no time for debate, I proceeded, careful to remove words and names I knew were sensitive before entering the text in Google. To say that I was blown away by the results would be an understatement.
Technically accurate and grammatically correct, the English version — available instantaneously — gave me an excellent starting point. Some sentences required restructuring, a few minor translation errors had to be corrected, but a number of sentences needed nothing at all. Several times I had to remind myself that I wasn’t working with human-generated output; it was that good.
Turning in a cleaned-up Google translation felt a bit dirty at first, but I rationalized it by telling myself that the document was never going to be published and that my client’s best interests demanded moving as quickly as possible.
But How Good Is Machine Translation at Connecting, Really?
Going back to common use cases — social media, travel reviews, medicine — those surely mean greater access to content that simply wouldn't be possible without machine translation. Exactly no one, after all, is going to invest in translating comments left by the masses on Trip Advisor or tweets about European security policy. The talking points, though slightly more problematic in the sense that this executive wasn’t handed the very best English translation possible, ultimately represented another use case where the good outweighed the bad. He ended up giving a really good interview, after all.
Had I been using Google Translate to translate a published work, however, I may have crossed a line. The less-than-perfect English in many Google translations, though technically accurate and grammatically sound, is often stylistically off even when cleaned up. But it wasn’t until well after I had submitted the job that I began to fully appreciate this.
Consider the following two sentence formulations, which mimic some of the language I was working with:
1) According to the results of the latest survey of customers that was conducted by our company….
2) A recent customer survey ran by our company showed that…
There’s nothing wrong with the first sentence. It’s accurate and faithfully reflects what would appear in numerous languages where passive voice is acceptable. It’s how a native English speaker who’s not used to writing professionally might formulate it in a hurry. In all likelihood, something similar made it to my client even after my clean up. But it’s clearly not as good as the second version, which is closer to what I would have written myself.
And therein lies the problem.
Machine translation is capable of generating such accurate and grammatically sound copy that one can easily get lazy and simply accept sub-optimal output. This state of affairs can just as easily hinder communication as aid it, especially when people are made to sound like the bureaucrats they may well be or, in the worst-case scenario, like the robots they most certainly are not.
I can only wonder how this experience will soon be mirrored with content generated by ChatGPT and similar tools, if it’s not already.
The Tough Questions We Must Ask
Shel Holtz rightly points to the IABC Code of Ethics as a starting point for how professional communicators should approach the use of generative AI tools. But as this trend continues to emerge with real-world use cases, IABC’s code (and others like it) is not currently well equipped to answer the bigger questions that we would do well to discuss sooner rather than later. Here are just a few, in no particular order of importance:
1) How can people be expected to devote time to their craft (writing, translation, photography, graphic design, etc.) when “good enough” output can be generated instantaneously and free of charge by AI? Or do we expect them to?
2) How can we prevent or mitigate talent displacement resulting from AI use in our profession? Or do we?
3) Will people develop a preference for the output of machines? Is that a problem? How do we guard against it?
4) What does increasingly good machine output mean for training future professionals? Do machines become gatekeepers? Do machines train people? Does machine output provide a standard against which students and early career professionals are measured?
5)Is there a point to funding the study of languages, translation, creative writing, journalism, or other creative skills like videography, graphic design and photography?
6) Will people forget how to research topics and lose their ability to think critically about sources? What does fact-checking look like?
7) What will we do when AI tools introduce bias, even though their output might be factually correct? Will we be skilled enough to spot it? Will we care enough?
8) What does attribution look like? Should communicators or publications be required to disclose the use of generative AI? Should there be a threshold or percentage of how much AI-generated content is acceptable in a given communication?
9) Should there be an expectation that humans should always be involved when generative AI is used?
These are not easy questions, but organizations like IABC are well positioned to address them. Several years ago, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in the UK and the Canadian Public Relations Society jointly published the “Ethics Guide to Artificial Intelligence in PR.” Now is the perfect time for IABC to go a step further and create a robust position statement and/or expand our Code of Ethics to specifically cover issues related to generative AI use in the same way that the American Translators Association did several years ago with machine translation.
Business communicators are often criticized for reacting to events as they happen; such is often the nature of our work. But with generative AI, we would do well to be strategic and forward-looking in addressing both the potential promise and peril that these tools hold. It’s an effort we owe our organizations, our profession and ourselves.
Photo: Alex Knight
Note: the following article recently appeared in Catalyst, the official publication of IABC. Suzanne O’Brien, a career coach and founder/CEO of LevelUp Careers, led a discussion for IABC Seattle on how to advance your communications career. I wanted to share the piece as it offers helpful content. I serve on the board of IABC Los Angeles (IABCLA).
By: Mary Gable
You might think that communications pros would be naturals at the job search. After all, we write copy that draws readers in. We develop messaging strategies that help businesses get noticed. We prepare talking points that make leaders shine.
But sometimes the hardest product to sell is yourself — and even the savviest communicators aren’t immune from this challenge. Fortunately, even if you dread updating your resume or working your network, there are a few easy ways you can use your communication skills to help land your next job.
That’s exactly what Suzanne OBrien shared during IABC’s Seattle’s latest ProTalk. Suzanne is a career coach and founder/CEO of Suzanne OBrien Careers and specializes in helping professionals define their value, build a professional brand and maximize results at each step of the job search. Here are a few of the top takeaways from the discussion.
Don’t: Think of job descriptions as a list of requirements.
Do: Consider them an employer’s wish list.
Job descriptions often include a statement such as, “The ideal candidate will have…” Many job seekers, particularly women, tend to interpret this as a list of must-haves. However, the key word here is “ideal,” Suzanne says. “It might be that you haven’t done that exact thing, but have done something similar. Or have done it in your personal life. Or are passionate about the space. Whatever the situation, find a way to tell that story and bridge that gap.”
She points out that this is equally important to consider if you’re the hiring manager and want to be more inclusive. “If you would still hire a strong candidate who didn’t meet a particular requirement, take it out.”
Don’t: Focus on where you fall short.
Do: Share what you’ve accomplished.
In resumes and cover letters, we tend to say things like, “I currently lead communications at a healthcare company, but I’d really like to lead communications at a tech company.” We lead with the differences and things we don’t currently do. This draws attention to where we’re unqualified.
Instead, Suzanne says, “Imagine a Venn diagram with what you’ve done in one circle, and where you want to be in another. Build your story around where they intersect.”
Don’t: Over-emphasize the job you already have.
Do: Position yourself for the job you want.
Use LinkedIn’s features to your advantage. While the headline of your profile could be [TITLE] at [COMPANY], if you’re looking for a new role, use that space to position yourself for where you want to go next. Your summary is another great place to articulate your personal brand and highlight what you can offer — even if it’s not exactly what you’re doing now.
“A given task might only be 10% of the work you’re doing now. But if it’s 90% of what you want to be doing in the future, that’s where you should focus,” Suzanne says. And while the most challenging projects might be the ones you’re most proud of, “If you hated doing it, don’t put it on your resume.”
Don’t: Worry about being well-rounded.
Do: Develop your personal brand.
Recruiters and hiring managers are likely sorting through hundreds of applications for a position. One way to stand out is to send a clear and consistent message across your LinkedIn profile, resume, cover letter and interviews — and you can do this by determining your personal brand.
Suzanne recommends that clients think about their personal brands in terms of three themes. “These could include the work you do, how you go about doing it, how you interact with others, or what you’d like to be doing,” she says.
“If you’re stumped on an interview question, bring it back to one of your three themes. This will leave interviewers with a clear idea of what you have to offer and what sets you apart.”
Photo: Tima Miroshnichenko
Four PR Trends for 2023
Thank you to my friend and colleague, Julie Wright of (W)right on Communications, for crafting this insightful piece to what lies ahead this year in PR — it was too good not to share!
SAN DIEGO; Jan. 10, 2023 — When you advise innovators, change makers and industry leaders every day, it’s expected that you’re also keeping a finger or two on the pulse of shifting trends in business, public relations, and media. It’s our job to help client partners understand current trends, spot future trends, and make the most of them.
So, what are we ready to make the most of in 2023?
Click here to read the rest of the piece!
Photo: Eugene Capon
Note: the following article recently appeared in Catalyst, the official publication of IABC, and I wanted to share the piece as it offers helpful content. I serve on the board of IABC Los Angeles (IABCLA).
By: Danielle Bond, SCMP
Climate change is a complex topic, but it’s one that needs our attention. It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation, so what role can communicators play in helping organizations and the public understand its urgency?
I spoke with Dr. Marco Tedesco, a Lamont research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and an adjunct scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. His research focuses on the dynamics of seasonal snowpack, ice sheet surface properties, high latitude fieldwork, global climate change and its implications on the economy and real estate.
Dr. Tedesco speaks about humanizing climate science through empathy and the impacts climate change is having on human species and the planet. He talks of his concerns about greenwashing and its impact on real climate transformation, as well as the unintended climate gentrification impacts — the intersection of climate change with other social justice issues.
We are now in a different territory when it comes to climate change, according to Dr. Tedesco. “There is a new generation of media and communicators who grew up with climate baked into their culture,” he says.
So how can we do more? Through convergence of intersectionality, information, inspiration, urgency and humanization.
Ultimately, he says scientists are humans who are motivated by their love of the planet. His advice for communicators is to learn the science in the same way scientists must learn communication.
“The convergence toward the meeting of the two disciplines of communication and science has to happen on both sides, and I think this is happening,” he says. But we can do more. Read on to find out how.
We want to elevate amongst our members and the broader communications profession the role we can play in helping audiences understand climate risk and the transition that's needed if we're going to avoid catastrophic outcomes. As a scientist, how important do you believe good communication is in tackling the climate crisis?
Some scientists don't feel comfortable expressing too much of their view besides the proper numbers. When you combine this with the coverage of false information, the beginning of climate science has been very bumpy.
There is a new generation of media and communicators who grew up with climate baked into their culture. There's a better understanding from the public, too. You see this with the way the economic market is reacting, the choices toward net zero — they are supported by government, but also embraced by people.
If we look at climate change as a hazard, it’s really the combination of the physical manifestation of climate change and the exposure of people. Over the last five years, there has been a shift in consciousness of the global scale of the anthropogenic nature of climate change, and the energy revolution that we're all living through. There has been more room to focus on the social side of climate change — and I do believe that climate change is a social justice problem before being a physical problem. It's of course both. However, I think the social side of climate change is far more immediate. It needs more attention as people are suffering now.
How can we communicate with the right amount of urgency — but at the same time, not to the point that people feel like they can’t do anything about it?
It's complicated to talk about such big themes and try to provide people with tools to scale them properly. When it comes to climate change, the issues are so big they become unfathomable, so we start to forget about it.
Some people compare the concept of climate change with the concept of death. You can only process part of it, and at some point you keep living with the idea of it — knowing that it's going to happen. But you don't know how to deal with that.
There is a huge machinery required to build a scientific consensus at a global level.
We have a duty and responsibility to not only promote the science, but to actively promote the potential of science. We need to connect and align globally and not just annually — across financial markets, policy and scientifically.
Balancing the right amount of urgency with context and curating the facts in a connected way is paramount. We need to share scientific discoveries and the consequences of these discoveries with governments, industries and consumers.
Can you reflect on any examples where you've seen science and business communicators working together effectively to build understanding and trust around these complex issues?
The Washington Post was a real turn in direction, winning a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for their work. They were the ones instead of scientists who took a risk and created a common language through their communication style and graphics. They became such experts on something that we knew as scientists. I think they built trust with the readers about their competence on the science, explaining the information in a way that wasn’t sterile. It was strongly contextualized through other research that was part of the knowledge of the communicator. The message was strong, organic and coherent to building on multiple articles.
They really built a crowd and engaged the audience to be educated, similar to what the New York Times did. They were direct, straight to the heart of the piece. The language was burning, passionate and yet very technical. You could feel they were thinking about humanizing — you could feel that they were heavily involved in the research and they cared about the article.
4) Humanizing a Complex Issue — The Washington Post’s Award-Winning Climate Reporting
In 2020, the Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize for its climate change reporting, “2°C: Beyond the Limit,” a piece that blends nearly two centuries of temperature data with the realities of global hot spots today.
The Post analyzed 170 years of temperature records, pinpointing locations where the climate has already increased 2 degrees Celsius (or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) — a threshold the international community hopes the planet will not reach.
Following this research, teams of journalists were deployed to put a face to this complex issue, telling the story of scientists, government officials, farmers and more who are impacted by these hot spots.
“As with the coronavirus, we are well served if we pay attention to the science. In producing this series, our staff not only paid attention to the science, but also built on it with deeper and more granular analysis,” The Post says in a release about their coverage. “And then, with the full resources of our news organization, we put a human face to the numbers, showing the severe impact that extreme warming is already having on communities around the world.”
How can we help translate climate science so it's meaningful and actionable by people?
I think we need to humanize the way we communicate it. It's important for those who listen and those who talk.
I look at [climate change] in a very emotional way, as would most scientists. We’re people who are in love with nature, and we shouldn’t forget this. Yes, the proper communication of proper scientific results is important, but how can we just be technicians?
Humanizing climate change has become more natural, but at the same time the question is how we tell these stories without overselling progress. I think empathy is something that can be stimulated through the humanizing side of climate change. It is one extremely powerful tool that is now being properly developed and utilized in many cultures. It could also help [us] better understand in which direction to fix things.
Humanizing the consequences of climate change is not just good for communicating to lay people, but it's been incredibly important for inspiring my new lines of work and research on climate justice.
Climate justice is the science of climate applied to society directly, rather than looking at long-term physical changes over 30, 50 or 100 years. We're talking about a different kind of climate science, which is to look at the short-term implication on people. I think in this case again, communication has been extremely important. It was the song that woke me up from the sleep.
Can you tell me about the two terms you used, climate justice and climate gentrification?
Climate gentrification is the process through which socially vulnerable populations are affected by climate events, displaced or forced to move out as a result of climate change.
What's going to happen to some areas or classes of population as we transition to our new energy [system]? How do we make it equitable and just? What about jobs in the energy sector for people who are socially vulnerable and are exposed to low-income issues, for example.
Climate justice looks in this direction and tries to understand what the impact on the socially vulnerable population has been, what can be done and what are the potential consequences of the actions they are taking now to mitigate climate change and the social level population. Another way to think about climate justice is as social justice seen through the lens of climate.
It's not only the socially vulnerable populations are more exposed, but they will be more and more exposed, and that's the sad reality.
7) How concerned are you about greenwashing? If you wanted to send a message to communication professionals, what might it be?
It goes back to the problem of accountability and liability. Unfortunately, we live in a society where we are bombed by information and misinformation. We get so much content within a single day that, at the end, the things that stick become part of our knowledge. With greenwashing, I think they're really capitalizing on this.
It's extremely important for communicators to be knowledgeable but not become too specialized. They are not just the expert communicator, but they need to know the facts and communicate those facts in a contextual way.
Communicators should understand that this is a battle and there is some exposure in being part of this battle. If they decide to go into this arena, they really need to spend time doing some homework and being stronger on the technical side.
Photo: Nataliya Vaitkevich at Pexels.com
Note: the following article recently appeared in Catalyst, the official publication of IABC. I wanted to share the piece as it offers helpful content. I serve on the board of IABC Los Angeles (IABCLA).
By: Nancy Duarte
When shelter-in-place orders came through, seemingly overnight, the world as I’d known it — my team had known it — was in lockdown. The following Monday would be our first all-company meeting since the mandatory shut down.
My team was facing our fiercest monster together. Sure, during our 34 years in business, we’ve endured other significant challenges, which tested our resolve. During that Monday meeting, we did what we’ve always done in crisis: We told stories.
After we told stories of overcoming previous crises, it became clear that my team had no intention of shrinking in fear. They would not be deterred. Rather, they rallied. With agility and innovation, our team transformed all of Duarte’s in-person workshops and all our clients’ massive live industry events to virtual experiences. It was no small feat. We did things during COVID we never thought possible.
Similarly, over the years, I have watched firsthand how our clients — who are leaders at the world’s highest-performing brands — use the power of story broaden their influence. Why? Because stories engage us and make us feel affection for an organization’s culture and products.
Our executive clients understand story is a powerful communication device. I’m not talking about fairy tales, fiction, falsehoods or spin. I’m talking about framing your point of view in a logical, story-based structure. Stories can move people to embrace big ideas and accomplish great things. Most of all, stories help us transform information into meaning and move us to act. Ultimately, that is why stories have the power to build influence.
Today, almost every role within an organization requires you to influence others in some way. Whether you manage a team, work alongside them or even communicate up … leveraging the power of story can help increase your influence.
1) Identity Stories: Illustrate Who We Are
First, stories provide insight into where we came from and what we stand for — as individuals and as organizations. The stories we share reveal to others why we show up the way we do and how our life experiences shaped and transformed us. This enables others to find moments of connection with us. We become more relatable characters, which helps foster trust and, in turn, build influence. Stories have the power to make ideas stick in our brains like glue, especially when we wrap them in a memorable and emotional story package. Every leader should have a handful of stories ready to share, so they can help others get unstuck.
These stories can be told from three perspectives:
A) I Stories: Told from the first person, an “I story” is one you personally experienced and learned a lesson from. These are the most powerful stories to tell because you can tell of your transformation from a place of personal conviction. As leaders, it’s essential to tell stories that tell of the messy middle and illustrate both triumph and failure. I’ll follow a leader who’s tried and failed and talks about it before I’ll follow one who pretends life isn’t hard.
B) We Stories: Similarly, “we stories” are stories experienced by a group of people you were part of who learned a lesson together. A “we story” could be about your family, your team, your company or community. These stories are about how you overcame obstacles with others, like the origin stories of co-founders or entire departments achieving a big goal. The stories can also be told with deep conviction from your perspective because you lived through it.
C) They Stories: Third-person stories, or “they stories,” are told about other people or historical events, but you personally played no part in it. You’re simply relaying the outcome of the lesson someone else learned. These stories are great to tell, but if you do tell one, immerse yourself in the lesson of the story and tell it in a way that transports people to feel like they were there.
Each of these story perspectives, when used in the right moment, can transform how others relate to you and your organization.
2) Insight Stories: Lend Meaning to Data
The power of story not only comes in the lessons learned but also in how people find meaning in the insights that lead to action. This is particularly true when discerning stories to tell from data to convey critical information or influence decision making.
Illustrating clear insights and making clear recommendations from data moves people from a place of “let me think about it...” to “let’s do something about it.” That’s why communicating data using story principles speeds up the decision-making process.
Many analytical roles spend time deeply exploring the data, and they can swizzle it and plot great charts. Some data geeks at this stage feel more comfortable flicking charts to those in a higher pay grade to figure out what data is telling you to do. Yet, one of two things happens when exploring data: You find either a problem or an opportunity in the data. But, once a problem or opportunity has been identified in data, you have a communication challenge to solve.
In order to advance in your career, the threshold for you to cross becomes learning how to explain the action others are to take based on data — and using story structures to do so. The ability to identify the action and communicate it well moves you from an individual contributor to a strategic advisor. And, as you build this muscle, you become more trusted and broaden your influence.
3) Idea Stories: Create New Futures
Finally, stories give traction to your ideas by moving an audience away from the status quo and creating longing for an alternate future. A great story has a cathartic release, where there’s a building of tension and releasing it. The beginning of a great talk should establish “what is.” This is the shared current reality and mindsets of the audience, organization and industry.
Then, you contrast the current state of “what is” with the future state by sharing “what could be.” The audience begins to see the ideal picture of their world with your idea adopted. The gap between “what is” and “what could be” is similar to the inciting incident in story. This gap between “what is” and “what could be” throws the hero’s world off balance and causes them to grapple whether they’ll leave what feels safe to them or choose your proposed future.
Stating the gaps clearly and repeatedly in your presentation helps the audience separate from
the status quo and makes your future state more alluring. However, like with any story, the audience knows that the path to “what could be” might not be an easy one. Like a young hobbit at the start of a book, your audience needs to be shaken out of complacency.
How you end a talk is very important. The principle of recency states that people will remember the last thing you said more than the beginning or middle, so make your final point powerful. End by stating what I call the “new bliss.” Make it clear how their world and life will flourish if they choose to adopt your idea in their future.
Great Stories Start With You
Through the power of story, we have been able to keep our teams focused and engaged during COVID. But it has required me, and really each one of us, to keep facing this unknown future by admitting our fears amidst the challenges which, when shared authentically, builds greater trust as we work toward our vision.
Communicating through story creates longing and makes others more willing to travel into the future with you. That’s why I encourage you to keep finding ways to infuse story into your communications. Whether you’re battling a monster like COVID or rolling out a new initiative in a challenging market, telling your story is the first step in changing the world.
Photo: Matheus Bertelli at Pexels.com
Note: the following article recently appeared in Catalyst, the official publication of IABC. I wanted to share the piece as it offers helpful content. I serve on the board of IABC Los Angeles (IABCLA).
By: Elizabeth Williams, ABC, FRSA, and Mike Atkins, CPC
Even before the pandemic challenged our notions of, well, everything, consumer trust was on
the decline. According to one study, only 27% of Canadians trusted large corporations in
2020[i], and more than half[ii] believed business leaders purposely misled the public. That
said, 86%[iii] also expected these leaders to be speaking out on important social issues.
Yet in its annual ranking of the most trusted brands in Canada, the Gustavson School of
Business[iv] identified some brands that had seen big gains in 2020. We wanted to
understand why five brands — Astro Yogurt, President’s Choice, Interac, Quaker Oats and
Lego — saw big year-over-year gains in trust, so we analyzed their public-facing
communications on social media, press releases and websites from March to December 2020.
Early, Often, Authentically
Spoiler alert: The brands that built trust communicated early, often and authentically in the early weeks of the pandemic.
For example, President’s Choice, the upmarket store brand for Canada’s biggest grocery chain, was an early mover when supply chains were uncertain and conflicts over public health mandates were being waged in supermarkets. The company’s CEO, usually visible for seasonal product launches, was front and center in a series of videos posted to Facebook and Instagram, reassuring consumers that its inventory was secure and reminding them to be kind to essential retail workers. During Black Lives Matter protests in May 2020, the company also made a large donation to support Black businesses. The brand climbed 10 spots in the ranking for 2020, whereas its competitors moved little.
Astro Yogurt was also quick to address concerns about food supply, sharing Facebook messages about its support for Canadian dairy farmers and its production workers who were continuing to move products through the supply chain. The brand also switched up its consumer messaging from sales promotions to healthy eating habits during the first lockdowns, inviting followers to participate in online contests. The brand climbed an impressive 60 places to rank 10th overall. Again, it was the only brand in its category to see a significant year over year rise.
Lego may seem an obvious brand builder among families struggling to entertain bored kids during the first lockdowns, but we don’t see the same trust growth among other toy brands, suggesting Lego went a bit further to move from sixth to third place. Indeed, we saw the company’s social media and web messages initially reassure consumers that their products would be easily available. Plus, the brand shared regular building ideas families could try at home. It also announced a new Lego brick made out of recycled plastic in June 2020.
Quaker Oats stood out among other cereal brands, not just because of its wholesome comfort but through its messaging about support for global food supply chains and donations to local food programs. Additionally, in the weeks following the killing of George Floyd, the brand announced it would discontinue its controversial Aunt Jemima brand, which we believe contributed to its 16-point jump in the rankings.
Interac is a Canadian technology company that enables consumers to use their credit and debit cards at multiple merchants through multiple banks. Other than an annual holiday campaign touting the safety of retail debit transactions, it’s a relatively obscure brand for consumers. In 2020, however, Interac was highly visible on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn with two sets of messages: One reassuring consumers, many of them new to ecommerce, about the safety of online transactions and offering tips for cybersecurity; the other celebrating its newly remote workforce and its successful transition to new ways of working during a period of rapid growth, helping it claim fourth place in the ranking, a 12-spot gain.
Other brands secured their supply chains, supported their employees and gave generously to communities and causes in 2020; why did these five brands build trust and others in their categories didn’t?
Let’s step back and look at the elements of trust. According to research[v], individuals decide whether or not to trust others based on three things:
These principles apply to brands as well, but consumers also weigh their alignment with the brand’s values, their functional trust in the brand and their existing relationship, if any. These elements define brand trust. And in our assessment of the messages, we saw that the five brands here:
In the case of President’s Choice, the brand’s messages clearly articulated an ability to keep their stores stocked, their benevolence toward their customers, communities and employees, and their track record of delivering on promises. Astro’s focus on benevolence toward essential agricultural workers and consumers, and demonstrated ability to keep dairy products moving, added to the integrity demonstrated with its employee recognition.
Interac also recognized its employees and doubled down on ability by providing a steady stream of messages about fraud prevention and the safety of cashless transactions.
Not many brands would choose a time of racial tension to shine a light on their own problematic brand. Yet in announcing the retirement of its Aunt Jemima brand in 2020, Quaker Oats deftly demonstrated its benevolence toward racialized communities and backed it up with substantial financial support to Black Lives Matter. When we analyzed the social media responses to the announcement, we had expected at least some commentary on the timing but found almost all comments to be positive and supportive.
Similarly, Lego’s announcement that it had developed a brick made from recycled plastic, in addition to its donations to children’s charities, demonstrated benevolence. Along with signalling ability through its stream of building ideas, and integrity through its steady inventory, the brand built strong trust among Canadians.
Timing is another key here. We noted that all of these brands moved very quickly when the pandemic was declared in March 2020. They were actively communicating with their customers, employees and communities within days and weeks, with messages acknowledging the uncertainty of the times and the quickly shifting information and public policies.
Not Everyone’s a Winner
What about the brands that lost trust? We looked at three brands whose rankings fell substantially in 2020 and concluded they had two things in common. First, they were almost entirely silent during and about the pandemic in 2020. Two of the brands posted little or no content, while a third continued to share marketing content, apparently oblivious to the pandemic. In one case, a supermarket chain remained silent while social and traditional media castigated them for their treatment of employees and tone-deaf responses to social issues. Most of these brands did take actions that demonstrated ability, benevolence and integrity, but they didn’t go the final step and communicate it to their stakeholders.
While much has changed in two years, we offer these takeaways to help build brand trust in the future.
[i] Proof Strategies Inc., (2021). 2021 results report Proof CanTrust Index. https://getproof.com/what-we-do/cantrust/
[ii & iii] Edelman Data & Intelligence (2021). 2021 Edelman trust barometer. https://www.edelman.com/trust/2021-trust-barometer
[iv] Gustavson brand trust index. University of Victoria. https://www.uvic.ca/gustavson/brandtrust/
[v] Mayer, R. C., Davis, J. H., & Schoorman, F. D. (1995). An Integrative Model of Organizational Trust. The Academy of Management Review, 20(3), 709–734. https://doi.org/10.2307/258792
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What Are Your Superpowers?
Note: the following article recently appeared in Catalyst, the official publication of IABC. The content was initially presented at the IABC World Conference 2022 in New York City. I serve on the board of IABC Los Angeles (IABCLA).
By: Mike Klein, Monique Zytnik and Mabongi Dlamini
One of the big challenges that we as communication professionals face is that we don’t collectively appreciate the magnitude and significance of the contributions we make to business. We don’t fully illustrate how we can convert ideas into impact. To address this we developed an IABC 2022 World Conference session — “The Superpowers of Communication Professionals” — to give our most important skills the recognition they deserve and boost the confidence of our fellow incognito super heroes who put those skills into action. We want them to be able to confidently step out into the bright spotlight and draw attention with the value that we bring.
What are the superpowers of communication professionals?
We identified 11 distinct skills that merited discussion as “communication professional superpowers,” because they move beyond the transactional production and craft skills into being able to deliver impact at scale — things like amplification (the ability to increase the reach and scale of a conversation), contextualization (the ability to put individual concerns and events into a broader story or perspective) and mobilization (the ability to get people to change behaviors and take action).
As you would expect at an IABC World Conference, we were speaking with the converted, as 92% already believed that communication professionals have superpowers to some degree. We hope with this article that you reflect on your own superpowers and take up the challenge to encourage your fellow communicators to proudly wear their powers with pride.
In recognizing our superpower-grade skills, we essentially recognize communication pros as superheroes in our own right while, at the same time, noting that we also need to look at how we deploy these superpowers and respond to blockers that keep us from achieving superhuman success.
Click here for the remainder of the story.
Communicating a Mentoring Culture
The following article was inspired by IABC Seattle’s recent webinar, “Communicating a Mentoring Culture.” It recently appeared in Catalyst, the official publication of IABC.
I wanted to share the piece as it offers helpful content. I serve on the board of IABC Los Angeles (IABCLA).
By: Lisa Z. Fain
In a nod to the widely accepted truth that mentoring has tangible benefits for mentors, mentees and organizations, more than 71% of Fortune 500 companies now have mentoring programs. For many of these companies, however, mentoring is just that — programmatic.
Outside of the formal mentor/mentee relationship, there is little commitment to leveraging the benefits of mentoring for the greater organizational good. This means that companies are leaving potential benefits on the table by limiting the rewards of mentoring to the few who are participating in a formal mentoring program. For organizations to take full advantage of the benefits of mentoring, they must develop a mentoring culture.
What Is a Mentoring Culture?
Ultimately, mentoring is impactful because it fosters learning, encourages development and creates connection. According to Dr. Lois J. Zachary, author of “Creating a Mentoring Culture,” mentoring creates more organizational resiliency in the face of change and contributes to organizational stability by managing knowledge and facilitating communication. To create a mentoring culture, mentoring must be embedded into an organization’s ecosystem, which is where communicators come in.
Here are three ways for communications professionals to promote a mentoring culture:
1. Create Anchors. To make mentoring stick, it must be connected to the cultural attributes and established systems in the organization. To do this:
2. Talk about it. To create a mentoring culture, employees must trust that their organization has a commitment to the development of and creation of space for mentoring. Build the following into your communication strategy for leadership.
3. Foster Community. There are no better ambassadors for a mentoring culture than people who are already committed to mentoring in some way. Harness the enthusiasm and momentum of current mentors and mentees by creating a sense of community. Here are three ways to do this:
Like any systemic change, creating a mentoring culture happens gradually, with time and intention. Communication is a key component of this change. These tips will take you far.
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Lisa Osborne Ross of Edelman spoke during the 2022 IABC World Conference.
Note: The following overview of the 2022 IABC World Conference recently appeared in Catalyst, the official publication of IABC. I wanted to share the article as it offers several communications insights. I serve on the board of IABC Los Angeles (IABCLA).
By: IABC Staff, Featuring IABC Members
After an inspiring four days in New York City attending educational sessions and connecting with colleagues from all over the globe, IABC World Conference 2022 attendees have a plethora of words to fill in the blanks of “Communication can…”
With so many sessions and opportunities for relationship-building, communication professionals added a wealth of knowledge to their toolboxes and new connections to their LinkedIn feeds. Here’s a glimpse of key takeaways from conference participants:
We’ll Meet You in the Metaverse
The metaverse was a key topic of interest at #IABC22. How will it impact the future of the communication profession? How do you even define the metaverse?
Megan Thomas also found inspiration in these immersive technology-related sessions. “While the robots aren’t quite coming to get us yet, with the metaverse potentially creating a $13 trillion economy over next three years, we need to prepare for another change in technology,” Thomas says.
“Business models will evolve as organizations seek to create ‘digital twins’ in the metaverse.”
Still, Thomas sees the use of augmented reality, virtual reality and immersive technologies as a prime opportunity for communication professionals. “In 10 years’ time we’ll still be asking, ‘How can communication be used to achieve an objective?’ And connecting humans will still be at the core of the communication profession,” Thomas says.
Get hundreds of communication professionals in one convention center, and you’re sure to witness several mic-drop moments. Joe Bobbey shares his favorite with Catalyst.
“One mic-drop moment was when Zora Artis, chair of the IABC 2022 World Conference, rallied attendees to stop calling ourselves communicators: ‘We are communication professionals,’” Bobbey says. “Many speakers provided inspiration for us to demonstrate our value and our elevated role in advancing our organization's value. Closing keynote speaker Lisa Osborne Ross brought it to a crescendo saying ‘This is our time.’ We have a seat at the table we didn't have before. She urged us to keep solving problems, taking action and making change.”
Jill Vitiello found similar inspiration in opening keynote speaker Frank Shaw’s presentation. “[Shaw] made a point that stuck with me. He noted that communication professionals need to ‘speak out, connect and negotiate,’” Vitiello says. “These leadership skills are our focus for enriching the employee experience in our organizations.”
Accessibility Is Key
Accessibility is a recurring theme at the IABC World Conference. How are you ensuring your communications are accessible to all?
Donna Itzoe found Matisse Hamel-Nelis’s presentation to be immediately applicable. “One significant learning I can put into practice today is ensuring that all our linked documents and social graphics require the same accessibility diligence as our web content,” Itzoe says. “I've already shared this with our content, social and web teams.”
Communication Can … Influence Culture
Communication professionals create culture, and there was no shortage of organizational culture discussion at the conference.
“Organizational culture and who takes responsibility for it is such a key topic for our current, turbulent times,” Monique Zytnik says. “Shane Hatton’s session ‘Let’s Talk Culture’ was fast paced and filled with insights based on his research. My favorite discussion was with Shane and Megan Thomas on an early morning run in Central Park. I applied his insights in an article I wrote today.”
During culture-focused sessions, Catherine Fisette was reminded that culture and communication drive each other, “especially at times of unprecedented crisis,” which communicators are all too familiar with recently.
Vitiello shares that by making a personal commitment to practice allyship in the workplace, communicators can weave DEI practices into the fabric of their cultures. “One of the best ways to get started is to craft your own story about your journey as an ally,” she says.
How is ESG making its mark on organizations? In a standing room only session, Bobbey found inspiration in how the ESG era is impacting climate, health, safety and ethical standards.
Putting the ‘I’ in IABC
IABC prides itself on connecting communication professionals from all corners of the globe. And with the celebration of the first in-person conference since 2019, IABC members were full of energy.
“The international aspect of IABC was put into exciting and sharp relief with this in-person event,” Kari McLean says. “The variety of accents, the variety of locations that attendees were from … It was so exciting to go from the middle of Ohio where I live, to talking with Takeshi Tsukiji, president of the Japan chapter, at the Dine Around. I attended Maria Jesus Villagran Cabanne’s session ‘When Culture Shapes Communication: Uruguay and the Pandemic, a Story of Success.’ I was entertained and enlightened by ‘The Behaviour Report’ presentation by my Aussie colleagues, and those incredible one-on-one conversations with people I think of as the global rock stars of IABC.”
“I’d heard about how inspiring the IABC World Conference is but never fully realized the energy, inspiration and sheer number of communication experts who gather for the event,” Zytnik says.
Vitiello says that the conference was a “keen reminder of the global scope of our wonderful network of business communication professionals.” Being part of this community, Vitiello explains, creates the opportunity to connect with thought leaders from all parts of the globe.
McLean likely speaks for many communication professionals in attendance, saying, “Being able to connect and share ideas with people from all over was energizing and kind of like drinking from a firehose. I’m glad to be able to spend time over the next weeks and months letting what I learned and observed become a part of how I approach my work going forward.”
Note: The following article on allyship recently appeared in Catalyst, the official publication of IABC. I serve on the board of IABC Los Angeles (IABCLA), and our chapter has hosted several webinars on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). I felt it was important to share the piece.
By: Jill Vitiello
Modern leaders understand the business case for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), yet many struggle to bring DEI principles to life in their companies. Allyship is the bridge between intention and action.
What is allyship? Some experts describe it as empathy in action. Allies use their privilege and power to create positive change for co-workers, neighbors and friends. Allies make it their business to become aware of social injustice. They develop allyship acumen by listening and learning from people’s lived experiences. Allies take action to correct inequity with no expectation of reward.
As professional communicators, we’re called upon to raise awareness of our employers’ DEI programs and promote them among our colleagues. Our position gives us enormous influence to drive the success of the DEI agenda. The best place from which to do this important work is from the position of allyship.
As allies, we are better equipped to listen to employees’ voices — even when what they tell us might be hard to hear. Every internal communicator has heard colleagues complain that DEI activities are merely performative; or conversely, that employees feel pressured to adopt DEI principles they disagree with. The goal of DEI activities is to create the lasting change that ensures a diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace. Communicators can influence that positive culture by becoming an ally to colleagues whose voices and concerns need to be amplified.
The greatest thing about becoming an ally is that it is a personal choice. Anyone, regardless of job title, seniority or company budget constraints, can choose to be an ally. As you consider allyship, here are three things to know right now.
1. Allyship is a journey
Many people are aware of social injustice. Those who decide to do something about it begin a journey of learning and action. The concept of allyship has its roots in the gay rights movement of the 1970s. It gained momentum in 2020 when George Floyd was murdered by a police officer. In 2021, “allyship” was the word of the year, according to Dictionary.com. Allyship may be in vogue one year and out the next. True allies believe they have a duty to stand for justice in their workplace and their community, whether or not it is fashionable.
2. Allyship is a way of life
If you’re like me, your decision to learn how to be an ally will change the way you view the world. When I decided to “seek first to understand” the lived experiences of others, I saw how my careless comments and unintentional slights deeply hurt people and, unfortunately, betrayed my own ignorance. By taking responsibility for educating myself rather than expecting underrepresented groups to do it for me, I learned mindfulness and, I hope to some degree, humility.
3. Allyship is not heroism
I’ve seen intended acts of allyship backfire when the supposed ally makes a show of defending an individual from a marginalized group against a perceived insult. Allies are not heroes, swooping in to save others from the perils of living in an unjust world. Instead, we are imperfect humans learning from others what we can do to uplift them. Perhaps the most sensitive part of allyship is learning what actions are meaningful to the people you want to support. Allies make mistakes and learn from them.
I believe that the more allies we have in the workplace, the more our DEI initiatives will thrive. Data collected by global management consulting firms and other employment authorities clearly show that companies with diverse workforces, inclusive business practices and equitable policies outperform those that do not prioritize DEI and embed its principles into their culture.
Companies that make DEI a business imperative are off to a great start. Companies that encourage their leaders and employees to become allies are ahead of the curve.
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I'm Eli Natinsky and I'm a communication specialist. This blog explores my work and professional interests. I also delve into other topics, including media, marketing, pop culture, and technology.