PR’s Top Pros Talk – Olga Fleming
Olga Fleming, CEO at Y&R PR, on Social Justice and the Need for Action
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DOUG: I’m here with Olga Fleming and thanks so much for joining us. There’s been so much change over the last few months with COVID and now with the social justice issues coming to the forefront. How are you navigating that in your role in communicating at one with your staff and team, but also to clients?
OLGA: So, the first thing I think that both of these very troubling, obviously, have turned our worlds upside down things that they have in common is that community is stronger than everything else. And if you think about these two things that are happening in our world right now one of the things that we’re telling our clients is use service key communities, and communities are so much stronger than a virus and they’re much stronger together than hatred. And so we are working with our clients to ensure that they really understand their communities well enough so that they can be authentic communicators.
DOUG: That that’s great and really good thoughts to be focusing on the community, and at Y&R you have an interesting community in which PR is a part of this total global brand. So there are so many other areas that Y&R is helping clients. How are you navigating what’s the right mix of what’s in the advertising pool, what’s in the marketing pool, what’s in the PR pool, and how is that changing with all that’s going on? Is PR becoming more important?
OLGA: So integrated communications is a very important component of the marketing mix. That being said that we work hand in glove with our colleagues across work streams to ensure that we are engaging with our clients and helping them to communicate with their audiences in the best way possible. And one of the things that we’re finding is that there’s multiple ways of communicating in these times. The one thing that we’re finding that we need to be across all work streams whether it’s advertising for a broadcast prospective, social media and social conversations and even news releases and press announcements is empathy. And also backing up that empathy with some form of action. So it’s one thing to ensure that you are understanding of your audiences’ or your customers’ needs, it’s another thing to ensure that you are doing something about it. So those are the kinds of things that we’re helping our companies navigate through all the different work streams. But again, it’s making sure that all those work streams are aligned.
DOUG: A lot of the PR people we work with are telling us it’s more important than ever because of COVID and these issues that their CEO, that their leadership communicates to the public through television and broadcast. We’ve seen those numbers up. Is that what you’re thinking too that it’s important to communicate, and how do you figure out the right message?
OLGA: So there is two parts that question. it’s what channel we use right and what messages do you put out there. From a channel perspective I think that people maybe are watching more TV, but I think they’re watching the news. I’m not quite sure they’re watching commercials. I think they’re binge watching Netflix and other shows that they enjoy. So what we tell our clients to do is, number one, make sure that whatever they’re doing they are taking care of their employees first. Their employees and communicating to their employees is number one. Number two is make sure that people understand how you are going to help navigate the environment for your customer, but then take that message in a variety of forms and put it on the channels that your customers use in order to engage with your brand. So it’s not enough to just be on broadcast. A lot of people are on social media. Most people at this time are really consuming a lot of information COVID-19 on social. So you have to be present in those channels in order to make a difference.
DOUG: And there is a hunger for that kind of information. You’ve done a lot of work in the health space, and that’s an area that’s obviously being affected. Even if it’s health issues that are not say directly about finding a cure for COVID- 19, but everything almost relates just because the way that our societal norms of change. What are your tips and suggestions for navigating that with health clients?
OLGA: So with health clients, obviously, COVID-19 hasn’t stopped a lot of research and development as well as medicines that are out there for very chronic and serious diseases like diabetes or cancer or heart disease. And so what we’re telling our clients is we need to ensure that all communities, all constituencies from a health perspective feel like they are getting the help that they need at this time, because we haven’t solved those diseases or conditions yet, that pandemic is one thing. But at the same time most companies in this space are trying to do their best to find antibodies therapies or vaccines with respect COVID-19, and communicating in that realm is a double edged sword. You don’t want to give false hope, but you also want to make sure that you’re providing people with the information that you are trying to solve this challenge that’s in front of us. So we’ve tried to tell them to continue as usual with respect to development of medicines for the other diseases I just mentioned and put at the forefront work that you’re doing for COVID-19
DOUG: And finally, COVID-19 is having different impacts on different diverse members of our communities in any brand’s constituency and obviously the George Floyd and social justice protests have really brought those different impacts into focus. How are you advising clients to navigate those kinds of issues and make sure they maintain diversity? Some have cut back on staff, others have not. How do they keep a diverse workforce and have the right message to different diverse groups that may be impacted so differently by what’s going on?
OLGA: I think COVID-19 really shed a light on the discrepancies that we’re seeing in how certain communities are communicated to, educated. and the experiences that they have. However, this is something that is a deep down issue. And so what we’re telling our clients is to ensure that whatever you put out there is authentic to you and you’re in your community, but staying silent is no longer an option. So we can’t just say we’re for social justice. What does that mean exactly? We’re really trying to ensure that our clients define what being for social justice means. Does it mean you will go out and make sure that you’re recruiting a more diversified workforce? Does it mean that you will look at pro bono work that potentially you could be doing for certain organizations that are historically black organizations? What are you doing in the communities that you serve in order to ensure that the inequality is dealt with? So this is something that we’ve been dealing with for a very long time. And it’s interesting that the pandemic really kind of lit a fire under everyone to showcase the discrepancies that are out there. But what I will say is that we are encouraging our clients to put action behind words, because the time is now.
DOUG: I think action behind words is so important. Thanks so much for your time with us. Congratulations on your continued success. Stay safe and keep doing the amazing job of navigating your team through this and your clients as well.
OLGA: Thank you.