5 Takeaways: Presidential Perspectives

Why Leadership Matters

Panelists Toni James, APR, CPRC, (Ocala Chapter president 1985 and 1996); Carole Savage-Hagans, APR, CPRC, (Ocala Chapter president 1992 and 2012); and Lauren DeIorio, (Ocala Chapter president for half of 2015 and 2016) shared insights about their time in FPRA leadership and how it affected their lives and careers.

  1. Leading involves community. Cultivating a supportive and welcoming environment helps grow and strengthen initiatives.
  2. Being a leader is a two-way street. By putting in time and effort into your role, you will gain knowledge, experience and a network of supporters.
  3. You don’t have to know everything to lead. Having technical education in your field can help, but it’s not going to be all that you will need to be successful. Being open to new techniques, making mistakes and learning from your experiences will strengthen your confidence and leading style.
  4. It’s a slow climb. Starting at the foundation of your organization and learning to lead in different roles will make the ascent into leadership an easier transition.
  5. Time management is key for a leader to succeed. Using visuals and to-do lists – and setting aside time to reassess your progress – are all great tactics. However, whatever works for you and keeps you on-time will be the best tactic for you.

5 Takeaways: Symmetry and the PR Brew

Starting Yourself from the Ground Up: The Story of Symmetry and the PR Brew

Owner and operator of Symmetry Coffee & Crêpes and the Buzz & Grind, Mike Mills understands success happens when you pour something good into your community. By focusing on the customer experience, he has created a word-of-mouth network that has launched his companies into growth mode.

  1. Discover how to view time and how to spend time. Target audiences have families and commitments that are constantly changing – is your product worth their time?
  2. Love people. An easy statement that is a hard task to pull off, but when love is received, it is then returned tenfold.
  3. Treat your audience like family and evolve the communication status quo to welcome them. As an example of this, Mills created a “Mug Wall” of 400 hooks where businesses and community members can hang their preferred coffee mug to use when they return.
  4. Change the customer experience within the walls of your business by putting the right people in the right place. The foundation of any successful business has a team that is ready to bleed for its mission. The wrong people can sink it.
  5. Research, learn and understand why a product in your field is successful and copy the parts that work. A quality product will sell itself if your audience is taken care of.

5 Takeaways: COVID Communications Panel

COVID Panel

COVID Panel

“A candid look at COVID communications from the lens of those in the trenches”

Our panelists – Lauren Debick, APR, who worked for a major healthcare system in Marion County; Ashley Jeffrey, senior manager of media communications at AdventHealth; and Christy Jergens, APR, the community health director for the Florida Department of Health in Marion County – shared a transparent and transformative view of what it is like to deal with a pandemic that is constantly evolving as well as public policy and government guidance that seemingly shift on a daily basis.

  1. Know that your No. 1 stakeholder is your staff; provide consistent information and messaging. Tactics used include daily in-house newscasts, use of a Facebook group to communicate with staff in real-time, daily Facebook Live updates, quick turnaround website updates and 24-hour call center.
  2. Regardless of the tactic, consistency, clarity and brevity are key. Examples: Facebook Live and internal newscast drop at the same time every day; don’t inundate employees with myriad emails from different sources; and consolidate to leadership briefings and daily safety huddles with directors, who can disseminate the information down the chain.
  3. While technology is critical, it is important to bridge the gap for stakeholders who may not have social media accounts or be digitally savvy. Know your audience, i.e., a senior who only has a landline or an employee without a Facebook account. Be ready to use traditional and non-tradition platforms. 
  4. Unlike most events, such as a hurricane, the pandemic never seems to end. What proved most challenging with COVID is dealing with the length and extent of the crisis, as well as keeping up with the media and ensuring the information is consistent.
  5. Burnout is real. Take time to rest and renew – and to simply breathe (even when it seems there’s never a calm moment to catch your breath).

5 Takeaways: Tim Walsh

As a professional speaker, author, game designer and filmmaker, Tim Walsh is out to prove that “play” is not a four-letter word, and neither is “fail.” The former is a means through which we can super-charge creativity and connect with others; the latter can lead to success, if we’re not afraid to embrace it.

In his presentation “It’s OK to Fail” – also titled “Take a Chance: Go Directly to Fail,” Walsh offered the following:

  1. Societal schadenfreude – laughing at others’ failure – may be why we’re afraid to fail. Being fearful of making mistakes leads to perfection paralysis.
  2. Failure is a lack of success, not the opposite of success. We must define what failure or success means to us individually; otherwise, we allow others to tell us what success means.
  3. Lean into failure and embrace it, as the founders of Wham-O did in 1948. Their failed attempts to sell falcons turned the production of a slingshot into the most successful outdoor toy company in the world (think Hula Hoop, SuperBall, Slip ‘n’ Slide, Frisbee and Hacky Sack).
  4. Failing a lot means you’re trying a lot, as Wham-O discovered with a litany of failed products (Mr. Hootie Rake, Patio Bomb Shelter, Instant Fish, among many others).
  5. “Atomic Habits” by James Clear emphasizes the importance of tracking your habits to make small, incremental daily changes. Often, we avoid failure by not measuring it and not finding the honest truth ourselves.  

5 Takeaways: Amelia Bell, APR, CPRC

Amelia Bell

Amelia BellAt September’s professional development meeting, Amelia Bell, APR, CPRC, communications manager at RTI Surgical, discussed strategies for communicating with employees when the world is upside down – starting with RTI’s Surgical Holdings sale of OEM business and separation of the company into OEM and Pure Play Spine all while COVID forced furlough of 70% of employees (including, for a few weeks, her own).

The 5 takeaways from her presentation, “Communicating with employees through the looking glass”:

  1. Never make assumptions and ask endless questions. Then re-ask questions to identify not only what employees want to know but also what they need to know, and what communication channels will be most effective.
  2. Communicate often even if there’s nothing to communicate. It’s all about reassurance and consistency.
  3. Set expectations and be transparent.
  4. Adaptability is key. You need to be nimble enough to pivot at a moment’s notice. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. And don’t be afraid to ask for, and accept, help.
  5. Focus on the future. That means having a communications plan in place that supports the company’s new focus, and considers if current processes will work moving forward.

5 Takeaways: Devon Chestnut, APR, CPRC

At August’s virtual professional development meeting, Devon Chestnut, APR, CPRC, communications manager at Cox Communications and our incoming FPRA state president, presented “Innovative Communications: Using electronic tools to effectively reach your audience.”

The 5 takeaways from her presentation include:

  1. The environment that we work in drives how we communicate with both our internal customers (staff) and external customers (the public).
  2. Evaluate your communications tools and find enhancements to fill in the gaps.
  3. Share content across multiple platforms. People retain 95% of information from videos and only 10% of information from reading text.
  4. Invest in tools to produce videos and be visual. Be catchy with headlines and repurpose content.

Produce relevant and engaging content, get creative and educate employees on how to look their best, especially when producing videos. For example, purchase an inexpensive ring light.

5 takeaways: Justin Brennan

Justin Brennan

During April’s presentation, Justin Brennan, former director of impact partnerships at Participant Media and president of Purpose & Vision Consulting, provided insight on how public relations practitioners and marketers can strengthen and redefine partnerships and content strategies to be more inclusive, effective and stabilizing.

Here are 5 takeaways from his presentation “How to market to a multicultural society.”

  1. There’s never going to be one message that works for everyone. We’re supposed to make mistakes, and trial and error is OK.
  2. Switch from marketing “to” to marketing “with” to achieve inclusivity.
  3. Representation matters; make sure your target audience is involved in the creative process.
  4. To effectively address your publics’ concerns, your team should reflect your community.
  5. The new advertising world is not one-size-fits-all. We need separate campaigns and multiple messages to reach diverse audiences.

5 takeaways: Lauren Debick, APR

In 2019, the public relations profession was listed as one of the top 10 most stressful occupations – and that was before the pandemic. While 2020 challenged everyone, it also gave people unique opportunities to pause, reflect and decide who they want to be – for themselves and for their families, communities and workplaces.

Here are 5 takeaways from Lauren Debick’s February presentation, “Love yourself, love your life and love your career”:

  1. Love yourself. Self-love means having a high regard for your own well-being and happiness, taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your needs for someone or something else. This is different for every person.
  2. Increase your self-love by celebrating moments when you are not perfect, doing at least one thing each day your present-day self and future self will thank you for and writing yourself compassionate letters. Perfectionism has real consequences. Perfectionists have shorter life spans and can suffer from eating disorders, depression and suicidal thoughts or actions.
  3. Love your life. Americans report being the unhappiest they’ve been in 50 years because of isolation, loneliness and less optimism about future generations. However, refocusing can help because it gives us control over our actions and our lives.
  4. Refocus by writing down your priorities, setting boundaries, getting organized and taking breaks. Also focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking is a myth, ineffective and unproductive.  
  5. Love your career. The average person spends 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime. If we’re going to spend one-third of our life at work, shouldn’t we do something that makes us happy? People who are happier tend to earn higher wages, and that’s not the same as saying people who earn higher wages are happier. People who love their work take fewer sick days and live 10 times longer.

5 Takeaways: Wesley Wilcox

Wesley WilcoxWesley Wilcox’s presentation, “The key to staying transparent with the public during an election”

  1.  Marion Countians cast 205,540 ballots in the Nov. 3, 2020, general election – 25% in-person on Election Day, 36% by mail and 39% at early voting sites. Historically, about 40% of people vote on Election Day, but this year, a historic number of ballots were cast at early voting sites, averaging about 6,000 a day.
  2. Marion County was one of the first counties in Florida to use ballottrax – a system that texts voters real-time updates about their vote-by-mail ballot from the time it was requested until it is counted. The majority of users were 65 or older. Wilcox himself voted by mail as shown in this day in the life of a ballot video.
  3. Biggest myth: Thinking voting by mail is not counted or only counted if needed, or thinking mail carriers throw out ballots. Florida has robust election laws that include ballot tracking and signature verification processes as well as strict deadlines for registering to vote, requesting a vote-by-mail ballot and receiving the ballot to be counted. “For most people, I have 5 to 15 signatures on file,” Wilcox said. “We also use a software algorithm to match signatures.” Out of the 74,000 vote-by-mail ballots cast, about 200 were rejected, and of those, the majority didn’t have a signature on the back of the envelope.
  4. Allegations of voter fraud occur during every election, but cases are few and mostly misinformation.
  5. On the historic 2020 election: “I knew it was going to be hard; it’s hard in normal times,” Wilcox said. To get through it: “Behave like a duck. Be calm on the surface, and paddle like crazy under the water.”

5 takeaways from Charlotte Bireley’s presentation, “Marketing During a Global Pandemic”

1. Do your research.

When COVID-19 caused more than 8,800 tourism industry job losses on Florida’s Treasure Coast – Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties – data revealed people were willing to drive three hours to smaller communities, beaches and outdoor places.

2. Be ready to pivot.

“We were all in survival mode,” Bireley said. She shifted the marketing message, developed a “nearcation” campaign and targeted people who were still willing to travel. Her team also verified that all destinations were safe and helped manage a webpage that listed open locales.

3. Take a chance on an edgy approach.

When enticing travels to visit, the tagline tapped into human nature’s rebellious side. Showing images of people riding horses on a pristine beach, potential visitors were told, “Don’t come here,” “Nothing to see” and “Don’t book a deal here.” Did visitors listen? The campaign resulted in $50,000 in hotel bookings, exceeding expectations.

4. Partner.

Bireley leveraged existing and new partnerships. She already had strong relationships with her counterparts in Indian River and Martin counties. “We’re one region and share similar assets” she said. The team also leveraged small business programs at a local college and identified the need for a local chapter of the lodging and restaurant association to help businesses, especially mom-and-pops.

5. Have reserves.

“It was smart to remain fiscally conservative (before the pandemic) and keep money in reserves,” Bireley said. Having money saved – originally in case of hurricanes – was “critical to keeping things going.”