IPR Conference Showcases Data to Improve Communication Strategies

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The Institute of Public Relations Bridge Conference on April 10 and 11 featured pertinent research that informed attendees—communications practitioners and academics—of useful trends for building campaigns, engaging with students and emerging knowledge to ponder.

Many of this year’s sessions discussed timely concerns for 2024 including public affairs, trust in business and government, owning your narrative in an election year and the role of communicators in the election process, in addition to topics on measurement, DEI and more.

Much of the data offered reflected the implications of public perception on businesses and public entities. PRNEWS chose several sessions to share meaningful takeaways from, to help PR pros navigate this year’s challenges.

Winning Strategies for Business Engagement in Society

Doug Pinkham, President, Public Affairs Council and Michelle Russo, Chief Communications Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, shared vital research and information regarding public attitudes and expectations for business.

Pinkham guided the audience through the Council’s Sept. 2023 Public Affairs Pulse Survey, conducted by Morning Consult, which looked at U.S. public opinion on issues intersecting business, government and society.

As far as levels of trust for political information, businesses came in second at 43%, just behind friends and family (68%). Businesses also came out ahead of the news media and the Democratic and Republican parties.

And even though it seems like there’s a lot of people complaining about the economy and inflation nowadays, people still have a lot to like about businesses.

The Pulse said 60% of respondents gave credit to companies providing useful products and services. (Think iPhone or Starbucks). Another 53% appreciated companies who served their customers well, and 50% noted the importance of businesses creating jobs. However, companies were most criticized for overpaying top executives, not protecting the environment, and not supporting local communities enough.

This leaves corporate communicators with a big job to do in regards to gaining and maintaining the trust of the public. Russo explained how the outreach of The Chamber could help businesses to tell a better story, creating an environment needed for them to thrive and grow.

“Good stories aren’t about systems or corporations, they are about people,” Russo said.

She provided several steps for businesses to put their best foot forward when telling their story:

  • Make people feel heard and acknowledge their concerns, rather than defending the status quo.
  • Remind people that they have power—every single day they vote with their dollar.
  • Show people the personal benefits of business. All businesses are inherently local. Lean in and spell it out to shift the story.

Beyond Red and Blue: Own Your Narrative in a Global Election Year

Bradley Akubuiro and Jeff Nussbaum, partners at Bully Pulpit International, were joined by Axios’ Eleanor Hawkins, author of Axios Communicators, to discuss this year’s convergence of communications and public affairs and how businesses should be engaging around this.

Akubuiro led the conversation with a strong statement, which thread through the remainder of the chat—”Figure out where you stand and stand there.”

“Target, Anheuser Busch—companies that have gotten in real trouble, took a stand, but then when confronted, they backed up,” he said. “Consistency is rewarded. Hypocrisy is not. At least if you know where you are and know what you stand for, you can live with the consequences.

Hawkins noted not seeing as many DEI pitches in her inbox as in years’ past.

“You’d think that’s something you’d want to promote for potential consumers and employees,” she said. “It’s maybe over corrective—so as not to be seen as performative.”

Nussbaum says another way for organizations to get involved, without seeming overtly political, is to ramp up civic engagement practices.

“It’s an American statement, not a political statement,” Nussbaum said. “You can get behind things like voter registration drives, giving time off to vote, providing tool kits for folks who want to run for office—those things have political outcomes, but are not exclusively political.”

Empowering Voices: The Role of Communicators in the Election Process

Adav Noti, J.D., Executive Director, Campaign Legal Center believes there can be better communication about the election process with help from the private sector. Noti cited the latest Edelman Trust Barometer in which 79% of respondents named the relationship with their employer the most trusted in the U.S..

“Most Americans think they know how elections work, but they don’t,” he said. ‘This was ok for hundreds of years, but now there’s an ongoing effort to mislead people about the election process—mis- and disinformation getting more traction than it should—because people really don’t understand [how it all works].”

Noti explained the best way to counter these false narratives is with accurate communications about the process, which includes stories of transparency, integrity and oversight.

“At each stage of the election process there are processes,” he said. “No one is ever alone with ballots or results. This is built into law to prevent it from happening.”

Noti said it’s important for organizations and businesses to plan ahead to avoid disinformation and instability in advance.

“There was a brief time after the January 6 [insurrection] where the private sector put out statements condemning violence,” he said. “It’s better to get a message reducing support for undemocratic practices and political violence out in advance. This is a way to demonstrate engagement that focuses on process, not policy."

Nicole Schuman is managing editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal