The State of Communications 2020

September 29, 2020
By PRSASV Board Member Karen Smyth
The State of Communications 2020

2020 has without a doubt been THE year of upheaval. Covid awakened us to major disparities. Conversations about equity, diversity and inclusion are finally being heard but we know we have so much work to do. So what happens when a panel of PRSA-SV members and seasoned communicators take an hour to reflect on how this historic year has created shifts in not only in their industry but also their everyday lives? Well, you get a very rich conversation for starters so much so that it’s near impossible to capture everything.

On Friday, September 25, Aarti Shah, Executive Editor, Provoke and & PRSA-SV Board Advisor, presented results of a “pulse-check of the industry”.  It was a survey of hundreds of communications professionals including in house and agency practitioners.

Contributing their own anecdotes and perspectives were:

·       (Moderator) Scott Thornburg, APR Senior Relations Manager, Sojourn

·       Shaun Fletcher, Assistant Professor Public Relations & Sports Communications, San Jose State University

·       Syreeta Mussante Managing Director, North America, Hoffman Agency

·       Jazmin Eusébio, Account Associate, Highwire PR

·       Curtis Sparrer, Co-Founder and Principal, Bospar PR

·       Robin Kim, Practice Head, Global Technology and Innovation, Ruder Fin

·       Laura Desmarais, Corporate Communications & Senior PR Strategist, LTD Communications

We also heard from those new to the PRSA-SV Board and  their careers.

The Good News

Surveys showed that although PR Firms serving a multitude of industries, made job cuts and reported  losses early in the year, pessimism is down. Since May, budgets are getting closer to normal, hiring freezes lifted, furloughed employees are coming back, and in some fields, there’s even new growth (increased RFPs).

Curtis shared that he has seen some clients looking to PR as a means to counteract “advertising fatigue.” Scott reiterated with the importance of trustworthiness. Robin said that of her agency, Ruder Fin has thrived due to a very resilient client base in industries including healthcare and technology.

Still early in her career Jazmin, was pleased that she has seen her agency, Highwire hire many more diverse candidates.

In the Room Where It Happens

Right now, PR and communications functions have never been more important.  Corporate reputation is a priority  and CEOs are looking to their PR teams as strategic advisors. PRSA-SV Board member Alicia Nieva-Woodgate shared how her communications role  has become so much more aligned with Marketing. To her it’s as if they “share the same brain.”

PRSA-SV Board member, Jocelyn Breeland, added, “the combination of COVID and BLM have increased the appreciation at all levels of the value of public relations. Which is good, although it makes us very, very busy”

Staying Virtual

The adjustment to virtual has not been as much of a transition for agencies who already had distributed teams. Curtis shared that he felt this was the direction of the industry prior to Covid. He predicts that more than half the agencies will go to a distributed model.

Diversity Equity and Inclusion – We’ve have so much work to do!

Transitioning to issues surrounding diversity, Scott introduced Shaun, who recently wrote an article on the rising rates of depression and anxiety among young black Americans. Even prior to Covid, Shaun said that unfortunately our institutions have not done enough to allow the sharing of lived experiences from communities of color. This can be very detrimental to mental health and leads to a maintenance of stigmas. He said we all have a responsibility to do the work.

Aarti put forward that while opportunities have grown for women, it’s still mostly white women who have realized the benefits. Although are organizations are understanding the need to address diversity, they still aren’t understanding the role of a Diversity Officer.  Aarti quoted Suresh Raj, Chief Business Officer at Vision 7. Suresh said, “More often than not the Chief Diversity Officer tends to be the highest ranking person of color which is incredibly shameful. It is not the role of the Chief Diversity Officer to fix the problems. The Chief Diversity Officer amplifies and augments a company that already has equality”

Syreeta emphasized the need for PR agencies to keep pushing for change using her own experience of taking an Managing Director role held previously only by older white men. Syreeta said despite the agency’s actions to hire young women of color. Many of these women left, because they didn’t see a path to senior leadership.

Aarti also brought up some good examples of organizations doing their part to allow people to bring their authentic selves to work

PRSASV – We have Mentors!

Before signing off, Scott brought up the PRSASV Mentorship program. With a goal of encouraging greater diversity, Scott shared how PRSASV is reaching out to students to help them as they begin their industry journey.

There was a lot to unpack that’s for sure. I highly encourage you to check out the replay for more. Also, Take a look at these industry resources from Provoke


Comms Resources + Priorities


Most  recent survey:

Former survey: (show graphs)

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