Managing Ethical Conversations at the Leadership Table

By Rob Campbell
IABCLA, Membership VP

Richard Edelman

On April 12, USC hosted its 28th Annual Kenneth Owler Smith Symposium. Richard Edelman, CEO and founder of Edelman Communications, shared his perspective on ethics and trust in communications during his keynote speech. Edelman is the creator of the Edelman Trust Barometer.

His remarks offered a host of information and thoughtful points intended to help communications leaders better manage ethical conversations at the leadership table. Here are a few highlights that may help you take action:

1. Existential challenge of trust: by understanding the media is now considered the least trusted institution globally, communications professionals can advocate for better ethical actions and ideas that change the purpose of a business.  Among media channels, social media is 40 percent less trusted than traditional methods. 

2. Employer reputation: employers are now considered the No. 1 trusted source of information after family, friends, groups, and the media. People are now withdrawing from traditional sources and expecting leadership to speak up and, as a result, businesses have the opportunity to change society.

3. Be your own media company: organizations can and should consider creating and distributing their own news and information to ensure accuracy and transparency. Doing so means owning story tone and language that can and does get modified in social and traditional media outlets. 

4. Perception gaps: be aware that among stakeholders your organization’s reputation can vary greatly, so be prepared to address partners. Reputation perception is key to solidifying and upholding your organization’s ethical status.

If your organization needs to establish ethical standards, Edelman offered the following four steps:

1. Accuracy: organizations should aim for factually and rigorously sharing information with stakeholders. 

2. Transparency: leaders should be accountable for what they promote through transparent communications that provide clarity and deliver information correctly the first time. 

3. Open Exchange: create platforms for consumers and employees that offer an opportunity for an exchange of ideas, conversation and, as needed, feedback. 

4. Ethics training: train employees at all levels about the importance of ethics and what it means to conduct business with moral responsibility.

In summary, the consensus during April’s symposium was communications is the vehicle by which an organization can lead change and be an advocate for a better community. Ethical communications can alter a business, give purpose to a brand, and can help solve societal problems.

Associate Consultant Opening

Associate Consultant Opening

PulsePoint Group in Century City is looking for a full-time Associate Consultant to work with clients primarily in the communications function.

PulsePoint, a division of ICF International, is an established management, communications, and digital consulting firm.

If have a degree in Marketing, Communications, Business or related field and one to five years experience, preferably in agency and consulting, this could be an opportunity for you.

Read the detailed job description: Pulsepoint job opening 4.18

The New Shape of Internal Communications

My fellow IABCLA board member Ephraim Freed recently wrote a blog post entitled “The iconoclast’s guide to internal communications” where he outlined best practices for internal communications. An iconoclast, we note, is “a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions.” Freed, the employee experience manager at Regent, L.P., encouraged me to comment on his work.

Here are my thoughts:

– Item #1: “The smasher of cherished traditions has no time for dry, boring communications that may, in fact, say nothing at all,” he wrote. “Today’s leading internal comms teams help executives tell authentic stories that show emotional vulnerability, ensure transparency around decision-making, and strive to help employees make personal connections to leaders, the brand and each other.”

The words “authentic” “vulnerability,” and “transparency” stand out. In our information age, people crave genuineness. The public is inundated with news, opinion, and marketing and its volume and ease of access can create cynicism and doubt – it’s hard to know who or what to trust. Therefore, it is vital that communications professionals help others tell authentic stories that can slice through the clutter by conveying genuineness. Leaders need to be relatable to their employees, letting them know they also face struggles in their personal and professional lives.

Freed mentions, for example, Facebook’s Cheryl Sandberg. The tech giant’s COO is an executive who embraces openness. She discussed the challenges of being a woman in the workplace in her book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” In addition, Sandberg chronicled her grief following the loss of her husband in “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.”

– Item #2: “The new internal comms team is actually an employee experience team that, in addition to multimedia communications capabilities, includes skills around UXD, research and data analysis, business process management and product management,” Freed notes. “This team also needs to be connected at the hip with technical teams that work on networking and security, sys admin, development and support.”

The words “employee experience team” resonates. As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve come to appreciate the group dynamic and the fact that each person brings different experiences and abilities to the collective. My primary skills are PR/marketing writing and project management, and so I must rely on those who are adept in areas outside of these. One of my favorite expressions is “I know what I don’t know,” and I’m all too happy to collaborate with a colleague who possesses an expertise that I lack.

– Item #3: “In the new model internal comms plays a role of expert sherpa, helping employees at all levels identify their audiences, use optimal channels, and deliver content that meets relevant quality standards,” Freed explains.

The phrase “helping employees at all levels identify their audiences” is noticeable. It is vital to hear from people at various standings in an organization, as everyone brings value and perspective. A personal example of this is a blog entry I recently wrote for the IABCLA site
(“I Found My People in IABCLA”). The chapter’s senior leadership asked me to talk about the association from the perspective of someone who recently moved to Southern California and joined the board. They felt that as a newcomer, I would offer a fresh take on the value of involvement in the group.

To summarize, my takeaway from the Freed’s post is: the field of communications is fluid and must change with the times. Further, the best comms is authentic, team oriented, and should involve individuals at all levels of an organization. “Today the employee is the customer, the leader is a listener, and internal comms is a multidisciplinary team that facilitates connection and change,” Freed noted, and I completely agree.

Creating Engaging Content with Facebook’s Newest Update

 

We hosted our first event of 2018 on February 21! Julie Wright, president and founder of (W)right on Communications, moderated our Dine & Discuss focused on the newest Facebook algorithm changes and how that impacts brand strategy.

If you don’t already know, the Facebook algorithm, nicknamed the “friends and family update,” favors content from your friends rather than from businesses. This change pushes for businesses to pay for boosted content in order to still be seen. Although paid boosted content can be very valuable, Julie advises that there’s still a great opportunity to be seen through organic content – that is if you are creating the right kind. In order to still reach audiences amidst the algorithm change it is crucial to create content that fosters engagement, meaning content that encourages comments, conversation and sharing.

Julie shared seven tips on how to do that:

1. Avoid yes or no questions: Julie says to think of social media as a cocktail party. Asking yes or no questions at a cocktail party leaves room for a one word answer and doesn’t allow for the conversation to flourish. Instead, try to ask questions that encourage a longer response and more engagement.

2. Focus on nostalgia: This is great for unique content creation. For example, take part in #ThrowbackThursdays or #FlashbackFridays.

3. Focus on storytelling: Posts that tell a story are more engaging and interesting.

4. Feature real people: Whether this means using user generated content or posting about your company’s employees, showcasing real people and real emotions creates engaging content.

5. Use Facebook Live: Facebook Live achieves 6x the interaction than organic content. Followers are notified when a buisness goes live, encouraging more viewers to watch and engage with the video. Furthermore, the video can live on as a post on your page allowing followers to watch the video long after it was recorded. Julie advises to still prep before going live: decide on an introduction, have a focus for the video and end with a call to action.

6. See First option on Facebook: Facebook users have the ability to check off a “see first” option for a Facebook page. This guarantees that your page’s content will have priority for showing in their newsfeeds. Julie says not to be afraid to ask your followers to check off this option for your page! For example: “If you want all the latest news on our upcoming event, make sure to check off the “see first” option on our page….” More information on how to set it up is here.

7. Turn on the Audience Optimization setting: Facebook allows you to improve your organic visibility on posts by turning on this function in your settings. This allows you to target your posts to specific segments of your page’s audience based on their interests! An easy and effective tool. More information on how to use the function is here.

We want to thank Julie for the invaluable insight and to all those who could make it last night! We all enjoyed great food and even better conversations. To those who couldn’t make it, we hope the above tips will help get your social media strategy focused in the right direction!

Join us at our next IABCLA event: Coffee Connection on March 3!

I Found My People in IABCLA

By Eli Natinsky
IABCLA, Vice President of Operations

“Do you want to join the board?” IABCLA Vice President Jenny Matkovich asked me at the end of my first chapter event in November. I had the opportunity to not only meet Jenny at that first function, but several board members and chapter regulars. It was a warm and welcoming group, so it was an easy decision when I was asked to take on a leadership role.

I was already well-versed in the benefits of IABC, having been involved in the Detroit chapter. I gained a great deal from my participation – networking, friendship, professional development, educational opportunities. So, IABC was one of the first organizations I sought out when I moved from my hometown of Southeast Michigan to Los Angeles this past fall.

I’m now the vice president of operations, and my duties include taking notes during board meetings, writing up said minutes, researching and implementing internal tools such as conferencing capabilities, creating blog posts such as this, and contributing in whatever other ways are needed. It’s the first time I’ve been on the board of a professional organization, and I love it.

I took part in our board retreat in January, and it was tremendous experience. There was great energy and enthusiasm at the gathering and several programs were conceived – this includes Dine & Discuss on February 21 at TOMGEORGE and Coffee Connection on March 3 at Andante Coffee Roaster. I’m excited for both happenings, as it’s rewarding to see ideas go from inception to completion.

Being on the board has provided me entry into the LA communications world. I look forward to continuing to build relationships with other local practitioners, as well as exploring the regional comms landscape. I’m now searching for a full-time position, and my involvement in the association will likely play a part in securing me a job.

I often hear of the need to “find your people” in that it’s important to seek out like-minded individuals who appreciate you. I’m happy to say I’ve found them in IABCLA, and I encourage other communications professionals in Southern California to become involved just as I have. Thank you to Jenny and the other board members – Ephraim Freed, Deborah Hudson, Sara Laurence, Morgan Robson, Grant Skakun – for including me in their efforts to build a stronger chapter.

Ready to learn new skills and take a leadership role in a supportive environment?

IABCLA has several board openings….

… If you have web experience or would like to add WordPress to the list of skills on your resume, IABCLA needs a Director of Website (Webmaster)

… If you have the gift of gab and are interested in reaching out to communications vendors and corporations to build our partners, sponsors, IABCLA needs a VP, Sponsorships and Corporate Membership

… If you’re interested in professional development and have or want to develop skills and experience in events, IABCLA is looking for a VP, Professional Development

… If you’re a skilled networker, or someone who wants to build your LA network, IABCLA needs a VP, Membership

… If you’re detail oriented, IABCLA needs a Treasurer

To learn more, email: president@iabcla.com

Communications Specialist Opening

PCL – a top general contracting organization – is seeking an experienced Communication Specialist for the Los Angeles District office located in Glendale, California. If you have a bachelor’s degree in communications or related field, excellent skills, and the ability to work effectively under pressure in a fast-paced environment, this may be for you.

Read the detailed job profile. 

If you’re interested in applying, contact: Ana Stokley at astokley@pcl.com

Why IABCLA?

It’s membership month at IABC. If you’re interested in building your career and your network, and meeting innovative and established communicators in the LA area – IABCLA is for you. And this month you can join or renew your membership at a 10 percent discount.

I joined IABC 15 years ago when I transitioned from writer and video producer to communicator. IABC provided the resources, the contacts, and professional certification that established me in the profession. My IABC volunteer assignments expanded my horizons globally. When I moved to Switzerland, IABC was a network and safety net in a new cultural environment.

What’s in it for you?

In addition to events and programs in LA, IABC membership puts you in touch with communicators around the world and gives you access to research, newsletters, and thought leaders as well as job postings and an online directory of more than 1,000 members worldwide.

Find out what we’re up to at IABCLA.

Join Now!

-Deborah Hudson, President

Communications case study: Responding to a CEO’s potentially unethical demands

By IABCLA President Deborah Hudson

Ethics. My thoughts about ethics are pretty simple and direct. I have a strong moral bent and can tell the difference between right and wrong. When I encounter ethical issues I quickly find a clear, specific response. I thought that covered the bases.

But IABCLA colleague Cheryl Farrell opened my eyes. When we met with a handful of other members to dine and discuss “Communications Ethics in the era of ‘alternative facts,’” she said, “I think there’s always an ethical issue. Whenever human beings are involved, there’s conflict.”

And the discussion proved her point.

Case study: A CEO’s demand for employee names

Cheryl posed a case study based loosely on the changing fortunes of a communications giant: massive layoffs, followed by the CEO’s resignation and conviction on fraud. Employees faced insecurity, a loss of control and disillusionment in a corporation that they were once proud of.

The new CEO introduced himself and his new direction during a town hall, but was surprised by tough and confrontational questioning from employees.  The CEO shut down discussion, then demanded the names of questioners from the Communications department.

What is the ethical response?

5 responses to questionable ethics from the CEO

It turns out that everyone at the table that night had a different ethical resolution:

1: Build the CEO’s connections with the employees

One said, “I’d agree and set up a lunch for the CEO to sit down and talk to the employees whose names he asked for so he could get beyond the bitterness and see their sense of ownership and engagement.”

2: Advise the CEO on legal issues

Another suggested that it might be time to consult Compliance and would be important to counsel the CEO about legal protections for whistleblowers.

3: Advise the CEO to listen more before acting

A third suggested reframing the demand in communications terms – pointing to other CEO communications transitions – suggesting taking the high road of listening before launching new plans.

4: Ask the CEO why he wanted the names

Another person at the table suggested asking the CEO why he was asking for names in order to understand his intentions and try to speak to his underlying needs.

5: Wait

After tempers cool, ask the CEO how he wants to respond to the questions at the town hall.

Hearing the different approaches broadened everyone’s perspective. For me, it was a profound learning moment in the complexity of ethics: there’s more than one right answer.

Internal communicators: Holding the middle ground

All of these responses speak to the role of internal communicators today: We sit on this shaky ground between employees and executives, trying to serve both while ensuring ethical behavior and doing what’s best for the business.

A strong ethical foundation can make the internal communicator’s in-between ground more firm, but it doesn’t make these types of challenges any easier.

Based on the responses from peers around the table I see a simple checklist for those moments when we need to engage with an executive around an ethically challenging demand:

  1. Do your research on the legal implications
  2. Ask the executive why he’s made the demand
  3. Look for a way to show the human side of the issue
  4. Find a way to help the executive listen more to employees
  5. Help the executive connect with employees

This simple checklist can turn an ethical perspective into actionable next steps. Responding quickly from an ethical center is more important than ever In these days of “alternative facts,” viral videos and rushed judgments.

Employees and executives both need us.

So, if you were facing the situation in this case study, what would you do?

Event Recap: Nine & Dine Discussion About Ethics in the Age of Alternative Facts

Six LA communicators gathered around the dinner table in Venice March 31 to share experiences and challenge each other on how ethics play a role in our professional lives. As one diner said, “we have a balancing act inside us.”

The discussion focused mostly on internal communications, reviewing ethical issues inherent in leadership, as well as corporate culture, change management and organizational strategy. The group’s discussion continually circled around the idea that internal communicators, especially, play a variety of roles all at once. While they help executives and organizational leaders drive change, they also are like the nerve networks of the human body, bringing signals in from all the extremities to inform the central brain.

Cheryl Farrell (Internal Communications Manager at RAND Corporation), who facilitated the conversation, posed a “lightning round” where individuals posed solutions to a short case study. Six participants contributed six unique solutions.

IABCLA’s new VP for Communications, Ephraim Freed, summed up the discussion at the end of the night saying: “internal communicators are advisers to executives, champions of employees and bastions of truth and ethics.”

IABCLA members and those interested in IABC can look out for our next Nine & Dine event, which will focus on the topic of diversity and take place in downtown Los Angeles.