How to Hold True to Core Values in Times of Crisis
June 09, 2020
By PRSA Silicon Valley Chapter President & HP Global Head of Print Communications Vanessa Yanez and PRSA-SV Intern Elsa Kebede

In the midst of a global pandemic, injustice and discrimination in the US have reached a tipping point. Our June 5 #FridayForum with HP’s Chief Communications Officer Karen Kahn and Chief Diversity Officer Lesley Slaton Brown honed in on the current inflection point felt across society. Karen and Lesley revealed how their unique partnership ensures HP is holding true to its core values – even in a time of crisis. In a lively discussion led by guest moderator Aarti Shah, executive editor of Provoke, Karen (KK) and Lesley (LSB) emphasized that we must all take responsibility to address injustice and discrimination.

First, Look in the Mirror

KK: As communicators, as much as we have a job to help our brand navigate, we also have a huge responsibility to make our brands look in the mirror. We must focus inward before we can drive systemic change outward.

LSB: We can’t be frozen. This is not the time to try to challenge people on their views or challenge the data. Look at the disproportionate impact on communities of color in civil justice and the pandemic. It is the time to listen and ultimately move from the moment to a movement that allows mobility to scale and sustain over time.

Who Has the Burden to Act? We All Do! 

KK: We can’t look to the Black community to show us the way and tell us what they need. We all have a responsibility to read, be smart, take actions in our own lives and groups and not expect that others are going to lead for us. 

LSB: The time is now for the majority to step up and lead. That’s a very different place than where we’ve been.

This is a Movement, Not an Initiative 

KK: Systemically, racism cuts across education, healthcare, criminal justice, policy, unemployment and voter suppression. Viewing this as a diversity and inclusion issue does not do it justice. This is a social justice issue. A racial issue. This is a fracture in our society. I think we’ve hit a breaking point. Enough is enough. 

LSB: HP has never approached our D&I work as initiatives. It’s fundamentally embedded into our business strategy and shows up in the form of business priorities, performance metrics and a sustainability framework that focuses on the planet, people and communities.

Trust Comes  with Corporate Values 

KK: The definition of a great corporate culture, and of values, and of character, is what you do when no one’s looking. We have to pretend that no one’s looking and focus on doing the right thing.

LSB: People will make decisions to support brands that align with their values. Companies need to step into their authenticity. If they don’t have the right corporate values, they’re going to be forced to have them in order to generate revenue and improve the bottom line.

Microaggressions and “All Lives Matter”

KK: Not being racist isn’t enough. We’re in a situation of trauma with the Black community. For the senior leaders on this call, be present and vigilant. That’s the kind of stuff that erodes our cultures, people’s sense of themselves and their confidence. I encourage senior communicators to be extraordinarily mindful and make courageous decisions to call out bad behavior.

LSB: Humanity needs to be better. We can’t get to all lives if we can’t deal with Black lives.

Advice for Communicators

KK: Don’t mistake good communication for action. It will backfire.

LSB: Share stories of what good behavior looks like. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We’re going to be on this ride together. Approach it with grace. 

In a Nutshell

  • As individuals and communicators for national and global brands, it’s important that practitioners take responsibility to understand the depths in which racism and white supremacy are woven into civilization as a whole. It’s only with education and a historical perspective that businesses can authentically address the racial bias, injustices, and disparities that exist within their own walls.
  • The White majority needs to take the lead on taking action to combat white supremacy and racial injustice in this country.
  • There cannot be a short-term fix for an age-old, systemic problem. Brands must be prepared to reflect on their corporate values. If they fall short, they should reevaluate and incorporate racial equality as a business priority. 
  • Microaggressions foster a toxic work environment that is detrimental to Black professional’s mental health, confidence, and sense of self. Senior leaders need to speak up when they hear or see racist behavior.

June 5 #FridayForum Breaks Attendance Records

The on-demand event video has now been viewed over 700 times on the PRSA Silicon Valley Facebook group page. For the live event, we were joined by 250 colleagues from the states of California, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Texas, Washington and Wyoming, and from Mexico, Colombia, Nigeria and Dubai. If you didn’t have a chance to join us, watch the#FridayForum live recording here.  To monitor how our community is doing the work to understand, act and lead in a time of crisis, we’ll continue to share live comments and questions.

June 12 #FridayForum: Morning Consult Explores Data-Driven Brand Communications Impact, Shares Consumer Confidence, Public Opinion & Workforce Trends

In the midst of a pandemic and civil rights movement, the need for accurate data and information is critical. At this week’s “Friday Forum, hear how Morning Consult’s survey research, pooled from tens of thousands of national daily interviews, shapes our economy, politics, culture and daily life. This informative discussion led by Morning Consult Co-Founder & CEO Michael Ramlet and moderated Co-Founder & CRO Kyle Dropp will explore the importance of data-driven brand communications and share timely data on:

Join us on Friday, June 12 at 11 am PT / 2 pm ET

At PRSA Silicon Valley, we are committing right now:

PRSA National donates $100,000 a year to provide scholarships, develop PR programs, and PRSSA (student) chapters for professional development and mentorship. In that spirit, we are offering free membership and mentoring, access to job boards to anyone who needs it. Please contact me to learn more. 

• To listen and educate ourselves

• To continue to create safe space for open discussions 

• To speak the truth and not be silent

• To immediately expand our leadership team with a primary focus on Diversity & Inclusion 

• To each take personal responsibility to look for opportunities to effect change


Thanks for a critical discussion. I do feel there is a groundswell for taking action and I hope it happens. I also think it will take breaking down wallsl between functions since the issues affect organizations fundamentally. The pandemic will also have an impact on how we do business. We are in for major introspection about how and why we do business the way we have in the past and what will be different going forward. (Yoojin Rhee)

Love that, Lesley! Call folks “in” instead of “out” to engage in meaningful change and conversation. Thank you for your leadership in this!  (Lauren Cortinas)

I’m with Lesley.  We have to find ways of demonstrating we care about a person at the same time that we name their microaggressions and offer them a constructive alternative behavior to what they have done.  Though it may not feel fair,  we will get far more traction when we find ways to be direct, honest, and holding their dignity at the same time.  Our anxiety about calling out microaggressions too often leads us to be brittle and attacking, when what they will need, in order to hear our truth, is evidence that we also believe they have the potential to be a good, or even great, ally.  That is a complex message, and it is where the positive change will happen. (Kit Tennis)

Thank you, Karen. Businesses can sanitize these tough decisions and conversations to make everyone leaving feeling good. Sometimes thats just not possible, but can set the wheels of change in motion. Keep having the hard conversations in rooms that aren’t as diverse as they should be YET. (Shaun Fletcher)

All the small actions count as well as big action e.g – the small and macro conversation is critical to happen in all diverse venues. It is hopeful  and love hearing this being held by companies like HP in a larger container, global container of social justice, values, accountability….   YES!    (Anita L. Sanchez)

There are fundamental shifts in our society and the relationship of companies to society–beyond the walls of the organization–and with government. Alliances need to happen so we actually can make a difference. We need to recognize the value of coalitions to bring equality into our society. This couldn’t be more fundamental. (Judith Cushman)

You can’t have all lives matter until we have Black Lives Matter.  Thank you for no apologies about this focus.  All of us people of color will benefit from systemic change. (Anita L. Sanchez)

Questions from the community: 

  • What’s your advice to GLOBAL companies right now? Racism is a global issue. How do we use this moment to advocate for anti-racism globally?

  • For those of us who specialize in communicating and marketing on behalf of brands eager to reach marginalized demographics, how do we balance the efforts to focus on Black Lives Matter while still raising awareness of other issues that continue to be important at this time – especially with these populations being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. (Lauren Cortinas)

  •  Sustainability is a real concern. We’ve heard “corporate speak” across companies before and when the current injustice slowed in the news we lost momentum. Who will be the champion when this subject isn’t en vogue anymore? Particularly when Blacks and people of color aren’t typically represented in the C-Suite. (Shaun Fletcher)

  • Companies whose comms & actions include positions on policy to address systematic change (e.g. Snap on tax reform etc) know that discussions will be inherently politicized. Any reflections on how HP has been looking at this issue? (Robin Kim)

  • A lot of white people seem to be having their coming out as an ally in the fight against racism. I hear so many good intentions… However, some of those expressions of solidarity include microagressions, which I attribute to unconscious bias and lack awareness in general. What are ways to address this? (Christel van der Boom)

  • What are the extra responsibilities for technology companies, especially as technology tools are used for racial repression? ( David Vossbrink)

  • FB Question: In what ways should we hold companies and brands accountable to their proclaimed values?

PRovoke Media’s resource guide. and from Ernest Brown: A resource I’m offering to those willing to be white allies is “White Fragility” by Robin DeAngelo to get past 1. I don’t know what to say and 2. educate me Black person while you grieve.

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