Joint SFPRRT-Golden Gate University panel offered insights for a fast-changing year
On April 28, San Francisco PR Round Table and event partner Golden Gate University welcomed Lisa Abboud, principal, InterEthnica; Victoria Sánchez De Alba, founder, De Alba Communications; and Jay Rooney, adjunct professor of Communications and Marketing at GGU to the “Reckoning, Recovering and Reopening” panel.
In a lively discussion moderated by Sarah Segal of Greenbrier Segal, the three guests shared their thoughts on multicultural communications and digital media, and why it’s so important to understand your audience and client organizations in a dynamic political, social and PR landscape.
- Reaching multicultural audiences starts with your staffing. The demographics of the U.S. are changing fast – and if you don’t connect with diverse audiences, you’re hurting your clients’ growth and your own organization. It’s not just a matter of translating content into multiple languages. “To communicate effectively, you need deep empathy and an understanding of values,” said Victoria. “And to achieve that, you need to hire diverse experts who reflect the community you’re targeting.”
- To avoid overgeneralizations, take the time to do research. “The number-one I see in communications is assuming communities are homogenous,” said Lisa. “You have to do the research, but it doesn’t have to be elaborate. Run simple user testing and panels, and make sure your testers reflect the people you’re trying to reach.”
- When doing secondary research, don’t stop with census data. Even with outreach efforts, the census will likely provide an incomplete picture of the U.S. population. “Given the roadblocks, we already know some communities were less likely to fill out the form, especially the Latino and undocumented communities,” said Victoria. That underscores the need to review multiple data sources. “For added perspective, look at planning and election departments, financial institutions, and real estate data,” advised Lisa.
- When segmenting audiences, don’t forget history. In communications, we’re accustomed to segmenting audiences by demographics and psychographics, but less often by historical experience. “On a recent project, we were working towards the goal of making access to new housing more equitable,” said Lisa. “That meant starting with the people who had experienced the most harm. They might have been the smallest proportion of the population numerically, but they were the most impacted, and that’s what equity is all about.”
- Listen to how people identify themselves. “Be wary of naming other people’s ethnicity simply to make yourself comfortable,” said Lisa. She pointed to the term Latinx, which isn’t always embraced by many Spanish-speaking outlets or people to whom the term is applied. Whenever possible, take your cues from the people or organization you’re working with – and that starts with careful listening.
- Ask questions and be aware of voices that aren’t being heard. “As communications professionals, it’s our job to ask the right questions and make sure decision-makers have diverse perspectives,” said Victoria. Earlier in the pandemic, the need for PPE (personal protective equipment) for essential workers was critical – yet farmworkers were often overlooked, even though they were vital to the nation’s food supply and lived in high-risk environments. “We have a responsibility to our fellow human beings who are being left out,” she added.
- Maintain relationships with your community. “Make sure you have a list of organizations and people that you connect with regularly, not just on projects,” said Lisa. “It’s crucial to have strong relationships you can leverage on behalf of the communities you serve.” For example, Victoria engaged community leaders in a campaign to increase participation in the recent U.S. census – and communicated that the proposed citizenship question was not included.
- Bring a media literacy lens to meme culture. Memes and other digital content can spread lightning-fast, whether for good or for ill. “Meme culture is a basket of contradictions,” said Jay. “It can be empathetic, productive, vicious, and nihilistic, and it’s a driving force behind our best and worst impulses as a society.” Media literacy and critical thinking skills aren’t quick fixes, but they are critical in the long run. “It’s crucial to be able to step back and understand what buttons the original poster is trying to push,” he explained.
- Recognize that nuance can get lost in social media. “With the character limits of social media posts, it can be difficult to convey nuance, and much can be left up to interpretation,” said Jay. The “cancel culture” is a way to punish those who transgress social norms – and if your clients finds themselves on the wrong side of it, there’s no hard-and-fast rule on how to proceed. “In general, the higher profile you are, the more important it is to engage,” he added.
- Before blaming your audience for not being tech-savvy, know their social channels. Access to technology can be an issue, but so can the type of technology. For example, WeChat is popular in the U.S. Chinese-speaking community, and use of mobile phones is high in the Latino community – important considerations if a communications plan assumes users are accessing content from a laptop or tablet.
Congratulations to Our 2021 Scholarship Winners!
The panel ended on a celebratory note, as we heard a few words from each of the 2021 Philip N. McCombs Scholarship Program winners: Michael Gregory of USF, Sophia Howard of USF, Elena Linardi of Santa Clara University, and Holly Nguyen of St. Mary’s. The 2021 Patricia Harden Scholarship went to Lauren Fernandes of Sonoma State. Kudos to all the winners. We we can’t wait to see where your PR journey takes you next. (Stay tuned for bios about the winners.)
—Story by Board Member Ed Kamrin, Kamrin Communications