Tag Archive for: public relations

The following is an excerpt of a guest column by Helio Fred Garcia published on August 10, 2022 by New York University School of Professional Studies’ biweekly LinkedIn newsletter, The Pitch.

Misinformation kills. Both people and democracy.

In May, the head of the Food and Drug Administration warned that misinformation has become the leading cause of death in the United States.

In 2020 misinformation about COVID-19 led to the worst handled pandemic response in the developed world and caused hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths. Starting in mid-2021 misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine and vaccinations continued the wave of preventable fatalities.

As of mid-summer 2022, more than one million Americans – one in every 324 – has died of COVID-19.

The risks of misinformation go well beyond public health. The January 6 Committee hearings show how misinformation inspired thousands of people to attack the Capitol on the day that the 2020 presidential election was to be certified. Some of those domestic terrorists sought out and threatened to assassinate Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and other members of Congress.

But misinformation doesn’t just put human life at risk. Misinformation risks killing democracy itself.

Political misinformation continues as hundreds of candidates for state office persist in trafficking in the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen, and promise to take control of the voting bureaucracy in many states. Misinformation also erodes civic trust and the public’s confidence in civic institutions, which are essential for democracy to work.

COVID-19 Misinformation

Cornell University’s Alliance for Science conducted the first comprehensive study of COVID-19 misinformation. It reviewed more than one million articles with COVID-19 misinformation published in the first six months of the pandemic. It found that President Donald Trump was directly quoted in 37 percent of all instances of misinformation. But when the researchers included Trump misinformation that was retold by others, they concluded that he was responsible for fully 50 percent of all misinformation statements about COVID.

The study concluded that Trump was “likely the largest driver of the COVID-19 misinformation ‘infodemic.’”

It further noted that:

“These findings are of significant concern because if people are misled by unscientific and unsubstantiated claims about the disease, they may attempt harmful cures or be less likely to observe official guidance and thus risk spreading the virus.”

We saw just this phenomenon play out in the summer of 2020.

In the final two months of Trump’s presidency, vaccines were approved and distributed to the individual states. But there was no plan on how to get the vaccines into people’s arms. Even worse, there was no public education campaign to help citizens understand the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, or to promote the civic duty to get vaccinated in order to stop the spread.

U.S. Army four-star general Gus Perna, who managed Operation Warp Speed (OWS), which developed and delivered vaccines in record time, notes that this failure gave an opening for misinformation to flourish:

“Where was the long-term strategy for getting people ready to start taking the vaccine? … That was not part of the OWS portfolio. It’s a personal choice to get the vaccine or not. But where was the presentation to inform everybody, so that they could make the best decision? Where was the responsibility to not let this get politicized? … It just didn’t exist.”

And in that information vacuum, vaccine skeptics, and later political actors opposed to President Joe Biden, spread vaccine misinformation that continues to the present day. More than a third of Americans are not fully vaccinated. A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis in April concluded that nearly a quarter million COVID-19 deaths between June 2021 and March 2022 could have been prevented with vaccinations:

“These vaccine-preventable deaths represent 60% of all adult COVID-19 deaths since June 2021, and a quarter (24%) of the nearly 1 million COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began… Unvaccinated people now represent a small share of the population, but a majority of COVID-19 deaths.”

The Fraud About Election Fraud

The January 6 Committee hearings have definitively demonstrated that the Big Lie claiming that the 2020 election was stolen was not only false but known by President Trump and his inner circle to be false.

Then-Attorney General Bill Barr, who for 22 months had been sycophant-in-chief for Trump, eventually told truth to power. After the 2020 election Barr told Trump that the Department of Justice had investigated all the claims of voter fraud and concluded that there was none.

Barr testified to the committee:

“I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff, which I told the president was bullshit.”

After the January 6 attack failed to prevent the certification of electors, Trump was still repeating the lie that he had actually won the election. In out-takes of a video the day after the attack, presented by the January 6 Committee, Trump told his staff, “I don’t want to say the election is over.”

In early July 2022, more than 20 months after the 2020 election, Trump called the Wisconsin House Speaker and urged him to overturn Wisconsin’s 2022 election results. In its coverage of that phone call, NBC News noted that Trump “has repeatedly claimed without evidence” that there was widespread voter fraud.

In mid-July 2022, more than 18 months after the January 6 attack, Trump told a rally in Arizona, “I ran twice. I won twice and did much better the second time than I did the first, getting millions more votes in 2020 than we got in 2016.” While the second half of the sentence is true – he did get more popular votes in 2020 than in 2016 – the first part of the sentence, for which the second is support, is false. He did not win the presidency twice. In 2020 Joe Biden received more popular and electoral votes than Trump did. But much of the news media ran his quote without noting that it was false.

Communicators’ Professional Obligation to Combat Misinformation

Tim Snyder, Yale history professor and author of On Tyrannywrote in the New York Times after the January 6 attack,

“Post-truth is pre-fascism… Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions. Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around.”

Silence, in the face of misinformation, is complicity. Whether among civic leaders or communication professionals – in journalism, public relations, marketing, and public affairs.

The slogan on the Washington Post masthead is “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” It refers to the news media’s obligation to truth, especially when misinformation is putting democracy at risk.

Public relations professionals share a similar duty. The Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics makes clear how those of us whose profession is influencing public opinion have a particular duty. The Code’s first principle is:

“Protecting and advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful information is essential to serving the public interest and contributing to informed decision making in a democratic society.”

Under the Code, the first three obligations of a public relations professional are:

“Preserve the integrity of the process of communication. Be honest and accurate in all communications. Act promptly to correct erroneous communications for which the practitioner is responsible.”

So what can professional communicators do?

We can recognize that misinformation is a significant problem and that communication professionals have a particular standing to take the problem seriously. And once we take the problem seriously, we can deploy our gifts to tackle the problem head on:

  • First, don’t be a misinformation mercenary. Don’t create or disseminate misinformation, on your own or for a client. Just say No when invited to help others lie.
  • Second, call out the misinformation when you see it. Diminish the likelihood that it will take hold and become the new normal. Our obligation as professional communicators extends well beyond not lying. It includes preserving the integrity of the communication process. Communication professionals are far more likely to recognize intentionally misleading information early than the public at large is. As important, we have the capacity and tools to call attention to it.
  • Third, rally other communicators – journalists, PR people, marketers, public affairs leaders – to do the same.

Just one example: In late July public relations wise man and executive editor of Business in Society John Paluszek wrote a LinkedIn column in which he called misinformation a “pandemic of the mind.” He provided tools and links to help communicators and others become well informed about misinformation and its antidotes.

Paluszek called on journalists and PR pros to work to confront the pandemic. At the strategic level, he says, it requires prioritizing the issue; committing for the long term; and persisting. And at the tactical level, Paluszek advises, “communicate, communicate, communicate.”

I am doing that now, in this column; and you can as well. Engage your network, as we professional communicators know how to do, and turn our individual efforts into a movement.

One way to think about American democracy and misinformation is the proverbial frog in a pot of water on a stove. American democracy is the frog. The information environment is the water. Misinformation is the flame that heats the water. And many Americans may not notice the water getting warmer. It’s our job to sound the alarm, and to remove the water from the source of heat – before it is too late.

The power of communication has never been stronger. The risks of misinformation have never been more serious. And the need for communicators to protect the integrity of the communication process – and thereby to protect democracy – has never been greater.

Read the full guest column and more from The Pitch here.

On April 21, 2022, Logos president Helio Fred Garcia participated in the inaugural Global Brand Convergence, a free online experience for higher education students, faculty, and professionals around the world in public relations and marketing. Garcia participated in a panel discussion on “Crisis in an Enduring Pandemic,” alongside renowned communicator and crisis advisor Dr. Guanpeng (Steven) Dong.

Conceived by Jacqueline Strayer, the Global Brand Convergence was designed to connect and create a community to share ideas, innovations, and concepts to advance them in the classroom and in the profession. The inaugural event boasted more than 500 registered attendees from 50 countries and 54 colleges and universities.

In their session, Garcia and Dr. Dong discussed lessons learned from of how the COVID-19 pandemic was handled by the US and by China and several core principles and best practices in crisis response. Garcia and Dr. Dong have worked together in several capacities over the past 10 years, and in 2019 Dr. Dong was awarded the Logos Institute Outstanding Leader Award.

Watch the full panel discussion, moderated by Iliana Axiotiades here:

In addition to Garcia’s participation in the event, Logos Consulting Group was proud to be one of the sponsors for this annual event. To learn more about the Global Brand Convergence, visit https://www.globalbrandconvergence.com/.

The following is an excerpt of a guest column by Helio Fred Garcia published in the May 2022 issue of PRSA’s Strategies & Tactics

Effective crisis communication can help organizations maintain trust, inspire confidence, and build competitive advantage.

The pandemic, the Great Resignation, political polarization in the United States and war in Europe have made the need for effective crisis communication even greater.

Increasingly PR professionals are being seen not only as communicators, but also as business problem-solvers, who can help their clients navigate the challenges of maintaining the trust of stakeholders in rapidly-changing times where the stakes are increasingly high.

But PR people don’t deserve a seat at the leadership table simply because of our function. We need to earn that seat. And that means we need to elevate our game and become a respected voice when CEOs and other leaders are under stress and worried about their enterprise and their legacy. Take, for example, the common struggle PR people have with lawyers. And how easy it is for CEOs to take lawyers’ well-intentioned advice.

Making the business case

Over more than 40 years I have advised lawyers and been hired through lawyers to advise our mutual clients. I have taught lawyers through bar associations and have trained individual lawyers in crisis management. And I have fought with lawyers; sometimes I have won those fights. And I have learned from lawyers.

A typical interaction is this: In the CEO’s office the lawyer will give all the legal reasons to say as little as possible – ideally nothing – in the early phases of a crisis. The CEO will then look at me.

My reply is not to make the PR case, but to make the business case:

“I believe you have received excellent legal advice. And you should take it seriously. But please recognize that you don’t have a legal problem, at least not yet. You have a business problem. And you need to make a business decision. You need to consider the risk of legal liability seriously. But not exclusively.

You should also consider the consequences of losing the trust of those who matter to you: your employees, customers, investors, regulators, and others. Silence now will be interpreted as indifference, or worse, and will lead to loss of trust of those who matter most to the company. You can protect yourself from legal liability that will play out years from now, but lose the company in the process. Or you can attend to the immediate needs and concerns of your stakeholders now, in ways that manage future legal liability.”

It’s very hard for the lawyers to object to that. But the key is that we need to be in the room in the first place, to make the case directly to the CEO in the lawyer’s presence. Otherwise, the CEO could reflexively take the lawyer’s advice, without considering the short-term implications. And we’d then be tasked with implementing a suboptimal response.

The CEO then typically asks me to advise on what we could say that would pass legal muster. I ask the lawyer about categories of possible communication:

  • Acknowledge: Can we acknowledge awareness of what has happened? The answer is usually Yes, but very carefully. My reply, Great. Let’s do it carefully.
  • Can we express empathy toward those who are affected? The lawyer usually says, Yes, but we need to be careful to not admit blame. Same reply by me:  Great. Let’s do it carefully, in a way that doesn’t admit blame.
  • Can we declare our values? When the lawyers object, I point out that we typically have them published on our website.
  • Can we describe the overall approach we will take to address the crisis and resolve it? The lawyers usually say we need to be very careful. I again reply, Great. Let’s do it carefully.
  • Can we make some kind of commitment? How about a procedural commitment: We’ll update you when we know more. Or a substantive commitment: We’ll get to the bottom of this and fix it.

In essence, when the lawyers say we should say as little as possible or say nothing, they are channeling an unspoken fear that the company’s leaders will say something dumb; something that will not only increase risks in future litigation but also energize adversaries, regulators, and others to come after the company.

I don’t want the company to say something dumb either. But between self-defeating silence and self-destructive blabbering, there’s lots of room to maneuver. This recognition often leads to the lawyers and communicators collaborating early in the crisis to find the balance. It doesn’t need to be adversarial or either-or.

Managing the choices

At a high level of practice, crisis communication is a rigorous process of managing the choices we make with a view on the desired outcome. The discipline is that leaders should never make choices based on personal preference; they usually do so in ways that make them feel less vulnerable that that can infuriate stakeholders.

Rather, we need to have clear criteria on the choices leaders make – of what to do and say, of when to do and say it; of whom to say it to; of who should do the talking. The more rigorous the approach, the more likely we’ll be seen to be business problem-solvers, and to be in the room before decisions are made.

 

Read the full article and more here.

On Tuesday, February 15, 2022, Logos president Helio Fred Garcia’s interview on the PR Pace Podcast was released. PR Pace, hosted by Annie Pace Scranton of Pace Public Relations, breaks down each week the biggest news stories through a PR lens.

In their conversation, Garcia discuss how to effectively in a crisis. Garcia describes the work we do at Logos Consulting Group, how we approach our work across industries and around the world, core principles of crisis response, how PR professionals can win a seat at the table, and more.

Listen to the full interview below:

NEW YORK (September 29, 2021) – On September 28, 2021, president of Logos Consulting Group Helio Fred Garcia was awarded the 2021 John W. Hill award for lifetime achievement by the New York Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA-NY).

The John W. Hill Award, PRSA-NY’s highest honor, recognizes professional achievement in the practice of public relations. Named for the founder of one of the world’s preeminent PR firms, the award has been presented annually since 1977. Previous recipients have included Jon Iwata, Fellow of Yale School of Management, Andy Polansky, CEO of Weber Shandwick, and James E. Lukaszewski, America’s Crisis Guru® and a mentor of Garcia.

“However far we can see, it is because we stand on the shoulders of those who came before. And I have been blessed to stand on the shoulders of some giants.” Garcia noted in his acceptance speech. “Thank you for this award. I am humbled and honored.”

The award winner is chosen by the chapter’s Executive Committee for confirmation and endorsement following a public nomination period. To be considered for this award, nominees must meet the following criteria:

  • Leadership in the development of the practice of public relations.
  • Demonstration of the highest standards of integrity.
  • Fostering and promoting understanding among people.
  • Service to the public beyond the scope of the nominee’s regular duties.
  • Promoting communications and understanding through education and the exchange of ideas.

For 40 years, Garcia has helped leaders build trust, inspire loyalty, and lead effectively. He is a coach, counselor, teacher, writer, and speaker whose clients include some of the largest and best-known companies and organizations in the world. He is the author of five books on crisis, communication, and leadership. Garcia is an adjunct professor at the NYU Stern School of Business and an adjunct associate professor of management and communication in NYU’s School of Professional Studies, MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication program, where he has received numerous awards for teaching excellence.

“Of all the things I have had the good fortune to do in my career, the one I am most proud of is my teaching at New York University, where over the last 34 years I have taught more than 4,000 students,” Garcia reflected. “Bringing the next generation of PR into the field is one of the joys in my life. And I invite the young people here to take the opportunity to find ways to bring the next generation up.”

The award was presented at the 2021 Big Apple Award ceremony, a public relations industry gala recognizing outstanding team accomplishments, as well as exceptional achievements by individual public relations practitioners.

Garcia closed his acceptance speech with a message to the young public relations practitioners in attendance: “However far we see, we stand on the shoulders of others. You have stood on the shoulders of others. And others can stand on your shoulders.”

On July 21, 2021, Logos President Helio Fred Garcia was mentioned in NeoMarketing Podcast on civility and decency in crisis communication.

In the podcast, hosts Pritch Pritchard and Kyle Golding of The Golding Group, discussed how communication professionals like Helio Fred Garcia and Jim Lukaszewski highlight the importance of civility and decency in crisis communication.

Click here to listen to the podcast here.

This is an excerpt of a guest column by Helio Fred Garcia, originally published in the May issue of PRSA’s Strategy & Tactics.

A foundational principle of any organization’s crisis response is that indifference to the situation is toxic. Leaders must show they care. This was true before COVID-19 and it will become even more essential as we recover from the pandemic, which has been the most disruptive crisis most of us have ever faced.

To be clear, the need for leaders to care during times of crisis is neither sentimental nor soft. Rather, caring is a necessary discipline for leaders — a fact made clear when we analyze the factors that build trust and reputation.

For all organizations, a common goal in every crisis is to maintain or restore the trust of stakeholders — which include investors, employees, customers, suppliers and increasingly, communities. And it’s much harder to restore trust after it’s been lost than to maintain that trust in the first place.

Trust is the natural result of promises fulfilled, expectations met and values lived. When people experience a company fulfilling its promises — whether those promises are explicit or merely implied by a brand’s identity — their trust in the organization remains or increases. When people see a brand break its promises, on the other hand, their trust in the organization falls.

Similarly, when customer expectations for a company are met, trust in the brand remains or increases. But when leaders or companies fail to meet those expectations, trust erodes.

Such expectations can be set by the company itself, through explicit or implicit promises and/or through precedents set by the organization’s past behavior. Consumer expectations also derive from laws and social mores, which change over time. Company leaders should always stay abreast of social expectations.

When it comes to the trust that rises or falls according to the values lived by a business, the company’s stated values set an expectation. When people experience a company living up to its stated values, their trust remains; conversely, when they see a company failing to live up to its stated values, their trust diminishes.

One of the disciplines of effective crisis response is to get the decision criterion — the basis of choice — right. A poorly handled crisis often results from leaders making decisions based on what scares them least. In times of crisis, leaders need to make decisions based on the tested criteria that determine trust.

 

Caring builds trust

When deciding how to respond in a crisis, leaders do well by first identifying their most important constituents and then asking themselves: What would reasonable people expect a responsible organization to do in this circumstance?

Reasonable people don’t take their cues from internet trolls or bots, from critics or adversaries or even from the news media or social media. Instead, reasonable people respond to those they trust and to those whose trust they need for themselves. Reasonable people have expectations that are appropriate to the crisis, to the harm that people have experienced and to the kind of organization that is experiencing the crisis.

A responsible company asks what reasonable people would expect it to do, which leads to the company having a fuller array of predictably helpful options.

Consider, for example, the scenario that an explosion has occurred at a factory. Reasonable people won’t expect a responsible company to immediately know what has caused the blast. Reporters will ask for an explanation and people on social media will speculate, but stakeholder trust won’t dissolve simply because the company doesn’t know the cause at the time of the explosion.

Reasonable people will expect the company to acknowledge what has happened, to work with first responders to rescue those inside the factory and to provide for the families of employees who were injured or killed.

We can inventory the specific expectations of different stakeholders — including employees and more particularly, those workers directly affected by the disaster; customers and more precisely, those who have used a certain product from a certain retailer on a certain date.

Regardless of the nature of crisis an organization faces, every interested party shares a common expectation: that the organization and its leaders will care. Customers, employees, investors and others expect leaders to care that the organization’s processes, systems or judgment have failed; that as a consequence people have been placed at risk and need to be protected; and that the company may need to make changes to prevent similar crises from occurring again.

In any crisis, what it means for leaders to care can vary according to the circumstances, but the need to care is universal. At a basic level, caring means that leaders mitigate any ongoing risk to people and help them out of the crisis.

 

Building for the future 

In the past year, half a million Americans have died from COVID-19 and 30 million others have been infected by the virus. The pandemic crashed the economy, forcing hardships on many people. Collectively, our mental health has suffered from the stress of the coronavirus outbreak, including the strain of being confined in our homes. How we work has changed, perhaps forever. At the same time, social and political divisions seem to be growing, not shrinking.

Having suffered these hardships, people are fragile, exhausted and vulnerable, even as they try to feel hopeful for the future.

Leaders should know that people need them to care, now more than ever. Some leaders might feel tempted to assume (or to hope) that everything has already returned to normal, so they can step on the accelerator for their businesses. And in non-crisis environments, that may be the case. But for leaders of organizations still recovering from the pandemic, the need for caring has only increased.

Caring requires empathy; and empathy requires humility. Leaders who have successfully guided their organizations through the pandemic have demonstrated humility within themselves and expressed empathy for others. As we move into recovery, we can follow their example.

Read full article here.

The Dilemma

If you are a communication professional, then you have probably experienced that moment of frustration when you’ve given vitally important advice to your boss, but it landed on deaf ears or they didn’t seem to be interested at all in what you had to say. You may also know that feeling when the event or consequence you warned the boss about actually happens, and then you have to scramble and try to fix something that was completely preventable.

This frustration is common in the communication field and explainable. In some instances, the boss simply doesn’t know what you do. In others, they may think that they know what you do but they couldn’t be more wrong. This misalignment often leads to you being marginalized in your role and doing work that does not capitalize on your professional capabilities. For some communication professionals that can mean becoming a glorified speech writer or copy editor; for others it means planning company events or posting what others write on the company website. But for all – the frustration is real.

The Good News

The good news is that this is preventable (assuming you have a reasonable boss who wants to do well). Part of the challenge for communication professionals is that we often become our own worst enemy. As professional communicators we tend to focus on the communication itself and in the process fail to speak to the direct concerns of our boss.

To win a seat at the table and get your boss to listen to you, communication professionals should keep in mind the following mantra:

It isn’t about the communication. It is about the effect of the communication.

One of the sad realities is that as communicators, we know that communication is a rigorous, strategic discipline. But the word ‘communication’ itself is confusing. Because if you think of communication as reading, writing, and speaking – well, we’ve all been doing that our whole lives, so we must be very good at it and your boss probably feels the same way.

“The true value of a professional communicator is not that we can string words and sentences together and get them out into the right hands,” explains Helio Fred Garcia, the president of Logos Consulting Group.“The value of the communicator is that we can influence those who matter to our bosses to feel, think, know, or do something they otherwise would not.”

Predictive Ability

One way communication professionals can think about what they do is to understand their role as “applied anthropologists.”

This idea was first espoused by the father of public relations, Edward L. Bernays. Bernays explained in Crystallizing Public Opinion, “Public relations is a vocation applied by a social scientist who advises a client or employer on social attitudes and the actions to take to win support of the public upon whom the viability of the client depends.” In other words, the professional communicator shapes the opinions of those they try to influence.

Nearly a century after this book was published, the idea of the communication professionals’ function as an applied social scientist still holds true. With this concept in mind, the communicator understands the social and power relationships within groups and among groups. And the applied part of anthropologists is that the communication professional knows how to then engage any given group to secure a predictable outcome.

“As professional communicators our job is to predict the future – to know the reaction and counter reaction to everything we do,” said Garcia. “If we subject this group to stimulus A for example, then we can predict how they will react, and to stimulus B…to stimulus C…and so on.”

This predictive ability is the value that communication professionals can bring to the table. Therefore, if you want the boss to listen to you, you need to demonstrate this predictive ability when you give advice to your boss.

It is not enough to say, “We need to release this statement.” The key is to focus on the outcome you seek, and then lay out the steps required to move those who matter to your boss to think, feel, know, and do what is necessary to reach that desired outcome. The strategic discipline to keep in mind, however, is that we must never make communication decisions on personal preference, but rather on the desired reaction and outcome.

The more you as a communication professional can show that you can predict the future and provoke the desired action to reach a desired outcome, the more respected your function will be and the more likely your boss will invite you to take a coveted seat at the table.

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