PR’s Top Pros Talk… Navigating the Socio-Cultural Climate – Krishana Davis
Krishana Davis, Director of Digital at Precision Strategies
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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: KRISHANA DAVIS
DOUG: One of the things that you advocate is a nontraditional approach to PR from corporate clients. That’s partially informed from your experience in political communications. Can you share what you mean by a nontraditional approach and how it works?
KRISHANA: Sure. I would say even beyond that, it’s also very clear from my previous experience as a reporter and so, so many times PR professionals want to have this like stakeholder relationship with journalists. Right. And that’s great sometimes. But when you think about it long term, a lot of those reporters don’t have the sway to decide what things go to print and which things do not. And I actually think that it’s better to have a more back and forth with freelance reporters. The freelance reporters have this like drive and need to get paid at the end of the day. Right, They need to have a livelihood and make sure that they are also reporting the news. And so I actually think that they’re more likely to hear and listen to a pitch that may be a little bit nontraditional. Let’s say a client of yours is consistently always looking to be in the press and you’ve exhausted all of your traditional media contacts. Look at freelance reporters and talk to them and say, hey, I know that you write for X, X and X publication. I would like to start a relationship with you instead, because you know that there’s a higher likelihood that that person will be able to pitch an editor and get it.
DOUG: That’s really interesting approach and makes a lot of sense. Why not pitch a reporter that’s motivated to see your article come out, than one who really couldn’t care because they’re getting paid either way. So it has to move them for other reasons of journalism or whatever. One of the things that I’ve always thought is there’s a lot of lessons to be learned from political communicators because you get such direct feedback. What are the polls say? What are the money? What’s the money that you’ve raised? Can you maybe share some of the lessons that political communications can share and inform corporate communicators that you advise and others advise?
KRISHANA: Yeah, of course. I think one of the big things is to be morally focused. Right. So many of the times. Yes, you’re right. We’re looking at polling data and we’re saying, OK, this is what we should or shouldn’t say. So corporations have adapted that. They also pull focus groups and try to figure out what do their customers want to hear, what do they say? But I think what they can learn from political organizations is a moral compass, a moral approach. And so for the most part, when you’re looking at politics, especially in progressive politics, there’s a stake in the ground somewhere that says this is what we care about. This is how we want to move society forward. And we’re going to always use that as our North Star, regardless of what may be the mainstream or like our audiences have wanted. And I think one of the best examples of that is like if you were to have polled during the 1960’s, most people didn’t like Martin Luther King. Most people weren’t pro the civil rights movement. Most people weren’t pro some of these things. So there’s this groupthink mentality that if you’re always so focused on what the customer wants and not focused on like that moral compass, a lot of times you end up on the wrong side of history as well.
DOUG: And I’ll give you credit for using moral compass and politicians in the same paragraph in a positive way. That’s when we always don’t get to hear. One of the changes you’ve also observed is going back to the 60s as you referenced, then it seemed like corporations were well behind government in terms of progressive policies, and it was federal government, especially those trying to impose progressive change. And that sort of switch run a whole number of issues. LGBTQ is one of the examples corporations seemed further ahead. So are there any lessons for the political communicators that might come from corporate communicators?
KRISHANA: You know, I honestly don’t think that there’s this many, because at the end of the day, these corporations need to make sure that their bottom line is being fed, right. So a lot of the times they more end up like commodifying some of these issues more so than like doing them in an approach that really feels like it’s embedded on the ground. So, for example. Right, like the corporations that don’t do it well is, June is Pride Month, and they’ll go and give you, like, Pride shirts and like just kind of rip off of what you’re seeing in the groundswell. I think the corporations who do it well, for example, might say X number of your proceeds are going to go to this mutual aid organization that’s run by black trans people. Right. And so, like, that’s how a corporation can do that work. Well, and I would say the lessons the progressive movement or political movements in general can take from that is always looking at the grassroots first and making sure that like any investment dollars, things that you’re giving is going back to the people. Most marginalized and most impacted by whatever the work is, and so that’s kind of your juxtaposition of like the corporations who are doing it in a way that just feels like they’re commodifying or procreating on an image or the ones who are truly saying, OK, like, I want to make sure I’m having investment in the community and impacting those who are marginalized.
DOUG: And I could have a lot more impact than just saying, OK, this month because it’s X, Y, Z month, we’re supporting that one. And that’s when you sort of lose sight of what the organization is about, why they’re even doing it. They seem like followers rather than leaders. You also talk about how political campaigns have moved beyond political ads. It’s really about outside of political ads and I’ll let you talk about that and then say maybe does that make sense for corporations and should they be shifting some of their dollars that way? But first, about what do you mean by outside of political ads?
KRISHANA: Yeah. So go to any political election cycle, you kind of see the same dark, luminous political ad that basically has this like voice and it comes on and tells you why I like ‘insert person’ is that evil, bad person not to vote for them? That’s my political voice. But I think where we’re moving to now, especially when it comes to cultural competency, is leading people where they are. So let’s say you’re talking to a black or Latin X or API audience, for example. Right. You want to make sure that ad feels like it’s in school, too. If they’re watching a YouTube video and it’s a makeup tutorial or NBA highlights that it feels like it was made to dovetail and whatever they’re watching and interact with to their experience. So, for example, this last cycle with one of our clients, SEIU, we ran a slew of telenovela style ads, right. So like this is already like a style of like entertainment that we know Latin audiences enjoy, have done so historically. And then we thought about ways that we can make it relevant to today. And so we use that as this kind of like soap opera style way of talking about these very important topics. And I mean, they perform leaps and bounds above all the other ads that we did. And so it’s do you understand your audience and creating ads that like look and feel and dovetail to the things they’re watching, they’re already using for entertainment and then also making sure that it’s not like weird or kooky or not like forcing the moment, like either it works or it doesn’t work you know?
DOUG: And that translates to being part of a cultural moment that we’re in that’s relevant for the brands that you talk about, can you share some ideas there?
KRISHANA: For sure? So I think that if you look at 2020, not only did we have this very heightened election cycle one, but also we had two very important moments that like hit people and made them stop in their tracks. So one, this really large COVID-19 pandemic that disproportionately impacted black communities. And number two, you have police sanctioned violence and police brutality against black communities as well. And so then we couldn’t treat 20, 20 like any other election cycle. You had to stop and say, how are we meeting people where they are? So that meant that like people’s economics and their pockets and how they were going to feed their families and homelessness and rent and whether or not they had safe work environments, all became that much more important. Right. And so what we had to stop that. We couldn’t go about things like status quo. And so to me, the way corporations meet that moment as well is kind of it kind of goes back a little bit to the conversation we were previously having, which is it can’t just be OK, Well, it’s Hispanic Heritage Month, so let’s make a logo and change our branding on our website. It has to be like, what are the needs of LatinX communities right now in this moment? How has society changed? Right. And how can we as an organization, as a company, meet them where they are? What are their needs? So it could be anything is as simple. Let them give you that example. There is a black designer, Fresco, who did a partnership with Levi, a denim company. And some people might say, like, what’s revolutionary about that? Right. But the way Fresco’s able to tell a story that, well, black people made denim popular. Right. Like black people were some of the leaders in the 60s to change how people were dressing and like, popularized it. Right. And so, like that then becomes like I’m going beyond the base level of what you could do and kind of going a little bit deeper and willing to tell the deeper story as well. And I think that that’s what makes it like a well-rounded PR campaign and not just like I’m going to parachute into this community because as Black History Month or Hispanic History Month or Pride or whatever the case may be.
DOUG: And to your point, know the way people consume information, there is so many more different ways. And the idea is you can assume the same style of communication will be perfect for each of those channels. You’ve got to evolve not just what your story is, but how you’re telling it to make sure it represents and with increased transparency, you can’t do OK. I’m going to do this story to this group and this story to another group. And they don’t matter because that will be very quickly outed. Any final thoughts you want to leave our audience with?
KRISHANA: I think the big thought is to make sure that you not only have black people at the table, but you’re paying them. You are making sure that they have the resources they need to go out of their way. Right. And that goes for any marginalized community. Like if you want to talk to a community that’s not just whatever mainstream, white, status quo, community that has been lifted up in the world, that you have to, like, bring people to the table, pay them and get out of their way and make sure they have the resources to thrive and like, truly do the work. And also, you can’t micromanage them in the process.
DOUG: And brands know there’s a lot of money to be made outside of work with the traditional white community that you describe. So it’s in their self-interest to have a broader constituency of people that they service. Thanks so much for your great insights and sharing your time.
KRISHANA: Thank you so much. I appreciate being here and I look forward to talking to you again in the future.