Businesses must now decide how to manage three intertwined issues: the election, Covid-19, and the necessity of action on diversity, equality and inclusion. Our October 23 #FridayForum, featuring Edelman COO Lisa Ross and moderated by PRSA-SV Board Member/SJSU Assistant PR Professor Dr. Shaun Fletcher, left many of us craving to continue the conversation long after the hour was up.
Today is Election Day — usually a day of excitement and voting pride. This year, Lisa Ross sees a nation divided and struggling. “European CEOs talk about our presidential candidates more openly. I have not had one American CEO say “Trump” or “Biden.” But they do say “vote, vote, vote.”
Lisa explained that Edelman is not writing statements telling CEOs and brands what to say. “Our job as communicators is to help them to speak authentically and honestly, but not to speak for them.”
In the event of a contested election, she advises CEOs to be prepared, be clear with audiences about the importance of civic engagement, and be empathetic. People are struggling because they know everything is not magically going to change, regardless of the outcome of the election.
“Market leaders should focus on people, clients and their responsibility to the communities in which they operate. Vote, speak your truth and run your business so you can sleep at night,” Lisa said.
For many of us, this pandemic is the greatest crisis we’ve faced in our lifetime. People are fragile and hurting. Lisa encouraged us to prepare for the ensuing economic downturn and trust that our nation will come out of it stronger.
Speaking of trust, the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Spring Update released in May revealed a remarkable shift in the landscape of trust since January. Amid the pandemic, government trust surged 11 points, making it the most trusted institution for the first time in the agency’s 20 years of study. The research also revealed a marked disappointment in how the private sector has performed during this crisis.
To increase trust, Lisa advises business leaders to speak out. She said, “It’s OK to admit you’re vulnerable, as long as you can demonstrate you still have the ability to lead. Focus on what you do know. Silence is not an option.”
The results of another Edelman study released in September focused on systemic racism – an issue that demands both brands and corporations speak out to educate and advocate for change.
“Systemic racism is a stain on this country. It’s the crucible in which trust will be shaped for generations to come. When someone says ‘I stand with you’ I tell them I don’t need you to stand with me. I need you to stand by yourself, by your country and lead change. This is an equity issue. If you believe in equity, then you can take a stand. It’s about becoming an ‘anti-racist.’ Do you really believe Black Lives Matter? Do you really believe that we should take a stand against racism? A true leader must live that every day. CEOs: Will you put that message on your lawn or a sticker on your car? Then you are living it.”
To combat racism in the workplace, Lisa advises companies to “get their houses in order” now because there will be consequences if they don’t. She admits that at Edelman, like at most companies, DE&I is a work in progress.
“When I became the US COO just prior to the pandemic, I asked myself how I want to be measured and how I want Edelman to be measured. Our CEO believes that we’re here to drive purpose through business. In any engagement, we ask, ‘What’s our purpose? What’s our societal good?’ We’ve had to look inside and make commitments. Our goal is to change the color and the culture of Edelman. We have to do this with intent and purpose. That’s when we’ll see a change in the organization.”
Lisa’s parting advice for communicators is: “Do what you can with the resources you have. It has to be germane and authentic to you and your company. Focus on investment, intention and measurement. Operate with intent every single day. Set goals and then meet those goals. Then have a public conversation about those goals every quarter for the next five years.”