PR’s Top Pros Talk COVID – Lisa Ross
Lisa Ross, COO of Edelman US and President of Edelman DC: See Something. Do Something.
Lisa emphasizes the importance of taking action in this moment – especially regarding the dramatic effects of COVID-19 on historically-marginalized communities. She notes the responsibility for brands to be serving and solving, rather than selling. And she notes that, despite low marks for all four institutions studied in Edelman’s Trust Barometer in January, the pandemic offers government, business, nonprofits and the media a chance to rebuild trust with their actions.
Check out Lisa’s most recent research piece.
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DOUG SIMON: I’m here with Lisa Ross and Lisa what is your most important piece of advice for communicators who are giving advice about how to navigate COVID-19?
LISA ROSS: It’s the advice that I’ve given myself, is what I’ve shared with communicators. That when this chaos started, as the new really, literally, brand spanking new, at the time, Chief Operating Officer for Edelman, I said to myself, and it’s what I’ve said to clients, I want to be measured by three things when this is all over. One, will we be there for our clients. It was critical for me that our clients felt like when you know what hit the fan and when we were struggling you were in the trenches with us. Secondly, the counsel I gave myself and to clients is be there for your colleagues, because at the end of the day, I really need my colleagues and I need their colleagues to say, you understood what I was going through, you saw my struggle, you saw that I was trying to work, you knew that I was dealing with things, but you also recognize that business could not be disrupted, and you gave me the tools and the support to do that. So, second thing, was making sure that at the end of the day your colleagues feel good about your performance. And the last thing that I said to them and to me: make sure you’re represented in your community. This is something that has happened to all of us. And in order for us to be good stewards of business we have to be responsible and active in our community. So be there for your clients, be there for your colleagues, and be there for your community.
DOUG SIMON: You’ve also recently written in an op-ed, that maintaining diversity is so crucial during this time. Especially, focusing on some of the marginalized groups that have been hit hardest by COVID-19. How were you advising and working with clients to help make sure they do that in a responsible way?
LISA ROSS: One, like I’ve sort of leaned into that old-fashioned model for behavior change. So, one be aware that those communities are disproportionately impacted. Learn about it, inform yourself, understand what the impact is what it means personally and professionally. If you know and you understand, you can’t help but care, and so show your care through your actions. And then the fourth thing, evangelize, tell other people. So I have a quick call to action to all of my colleagues now, when you’re looking at your employee base and you’re looking at your client base and if you’re looking at the world around you, I see the trend repeating itself: Client, colleagues, community. Make sure that you are aware of the disproportionate impact on communities and do something about it. First and foremost, by saying something about it.
DOUG SIMON: Yeah you mentioned evangelizing about that and that is so important. Now, as organizations go through change. Many are making cuts, changes in employees. How important is it that they maintain diversity of thought opinion, experience within their own organization because that can be harder to do if they more recently increased diversity and increased their focus on it? Typically, the last one hired might be the first one that gets furloughed. How do you navigate that?
LISA ROSS: I think this is where the rubber hits the road here. I think this is where we will learn so much about ourselves and in terms of how we’ve hired. If you have hired because you were window dressing, if you have hired because people were watching you and everybody was talking about the need to have a more diverse and inclusive workforce, then, those are the people that you’re going to let go. If you have hired because you know that a diverse workforce makes your work better, it makes you better, it makes your council better, it makes your products better, it makes your services better, then those people are not going to be disproportionately impacted if you have to make layoffs. So, I’d watch this very carefully and I found it really interesting. For those people who hired for the wrong reason, some of their folks might be disproportionately impacted. If you have a diverse community and they are intrinsic they are essential integral to the success of your business; you’re not going to lose those people because you can’t afford to.
DOUG SIMON: That’s very interesting and getting back to your point on evangelizing. We’ve sensed that it’s more important for brands to be getting their leaders, getting their spokespeople out in the media and on television, and interestingly we’ve actually surveyed broadcasters. Eighty-seven percent of them are open to interviewing brand spokespeople, the highest we’ve ever found. What are you doing to get your clients on TV?
LISA ROSS: I don’t know that we’re getting them on TV, but we are saying: be careful what you say because you have to say something right now. This is not about being visible. This is not about being present. This is not, look at me, look at me. It is about if you are serving and you are solving, then you should be talking. But if you’re just selling this is not the time for you to be visible. You know our trust data, The Edelman Trust Barometer, really well, and you know that one of the things that we talk about especially in recent years, we have an activist community, we have activist voters, we have activists customers, we have activists employees. So, people express how they feel by their actions. And so, the expectation of business is to lead, the expectation of CEOs is to lead, the expectation of brands is to do something. Not just to say something, but to do something, and you’re seeing a separation of brands now. Those who are talking about what they care about and those who are actually doing something to support those issues and those people that they care about.
DOUG SIMON: Is it important for the ones who are doing something, should they be communicating it to make sure their key constituencies are aware, since hopefully, it’s designed to be driving positive change not just sell product?
LISA ROSS: If it’s purposeful, if it’s purposeful. I mean, this is what we’ve talked about these issues for years and it’s so interesting to see the whole thing sort of come together in this period, again of chaos. But you have to lead, and speak, and act with purpose. And I think we’re all seeing and you’ve seen the memes and you’ve seen the attacks on those brands that are just doing (this) because they feel like they have to be present and those brands who are actually doing something. It’s not about what you say, it’s what you do. And people again will evaluate you accordingly.
DOUG SIMON: Great. And I think that’s an awesome final thought to leave us with. Thanks, so much Lisa for your time and the great work you do, both in your own company and advising the clients, it’s so nice to talk to you again as a great leader.
LISA ROSS: Always Doug. Thank you very much for providing an opportunity and a vehicle for us to have these conversations. It’s even more important now and I applaud you for making it happen, for doing.
DOUG SIMON: Thank you. I appreciate that.