PRSA Orlando Members Share Timeless Career Advice on Women’s History Month

By: Veronica Figueroa Fernandez, PRSA Orlando Diversity & Inclusion Chair
As an association with a focus on personal and professional development, and in celebration of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, PRSA Orlando connected with longstanding members and public relations practitioners who have achieved success in their field. Continue reading to learn how the industry has changed in the last three decades and for timeless advice from these industry veterans.

Geri Evans, APR, Fellow PRSA, President, Evans PR Group

  • How long have you been in the PR industry? I have been in the communication and PR Industry since 1970, first teaching a wide variety of communication courses at the college and university level, and then entering corporate communications in 1996 beginning in the hotel industry, moving into the healthcare and association fields, and then starting my own firm in 2003.
  • How has the industry changed since you started? The greatest change I have seen (aside from the rapid expansion of channels PR professionals have available to them for the distribution of their message) is in the actual role of the PR professional from implementer/doer to influencer/trusted advisor.  It has been exciting to watch PR professionals become the company’s conscience, the strategic communication leader, a valued person at the head table, a true influencer.   
  • What is the best career advice you have ever received?  Doing the right thing may not always bring success, but compromising your integrity will almost always lead to failure.
  • What advice would you give aspiring public relations students? Show up, be present, stay curious, learn all that you can, be nice, and show gratitude.

Danielle Hollander, APR, Chief Marketing Officer, Visit Orlando

  • How long have you been in the PR industry? Over 30 years
  • How has the industry changed since you started? How media is defined has changed greatly as to how messages are delivered. One thing that has not changed is messaging is still the key as is relationships.
  • What is the best career advice you have ever received? Take time to know all aspects of the business, clients, and how they contribute to the success of the company. Advice for working women: It’s not about achieving balance, it is about achieving integration when it comes to meshing work and life. When you are at work, you don’t stop being a mom, sister, daughter, wife, or partner. And when you are not at work you don’t stop being a professional.
  • What advice would you give aspiring public relations students? Learn how to read, understand and utilize data. Always be curious.

Lorelie Johnson, APR, Senior Director, Communications – Florida, Charter Communications

  • How long have you been in the PR industry? Over 20 years
  • How has the industry changed since you started? Technology has made the biggest impact along with the constant access to news and information.
  • What is the best career advice you have ever received? Do the best with what you have and if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it.
  • What advice would you give aspiring public relations students? Never underestimate the power of connecting in person or picking up the phone when building relationships.

Vicky Mixson, APR, Executive Vice President & Chief Communications Office, Wycliffe Bible Translators

  • How long have you been in the PR industry? After I graduated from the University of Florida in 1978, Roger Pynn (another former PRSA Orlando chapter president) hired me as Orlando’s first female PR account executive at McAllister-Barker Associates. 
  • How has the industry changed since you started? Almost everything about the industry has changed in the last four decades. The primary “tools of the trade” when I started my career included electric typewriters, telecopiers (an early version of fax machines), snail mail, business cards, and landline phones. Oh, and businesswomen wore pantyhose! Things moved at a slower pace. Local media relations efforts involved getting to know reporters who covered the types of businesses you represented and partnering with them to be a resource for their stories. Orlando had three TV network affiliates, one major newspaper, and a handful of news radio stations.
  • What is the best career advice you have ever received? Early on, one of my mentors told me, “People like to work with people they like.” How true that is! We almost always choose likability over ability. Both qualities matter, but likability, combined with competence and the willingness to work hard, is the secret sauce to long-term career success.
  • What advice would you give aspiring public relations students? 1) Take a genuine interest in people. Be as concerned with helping others succeed as you are in building your own brand. 2) Never stop learning — listen to podcasts, read good books, attend webinars, invite interesting people to coffee or lunch, volunteer. 

Muffet Robinson, Director of Public Relations, Pathlight HOME

  • How long have you been in the PR industry?  I’ve been in the PR industry for more than 25 years, in both Baltimore and Orlando. 
  • How has the industry changed since you started? The PR  industry was more specialized when I began, in terms of what I did and what I had to know to be successful. My specialties were community relations, public outreach and writing, and eventually media relations. I didn’t have to worry about actually designing graphics to go with materials I wrote, or about posting anything anywhere and adding any lead-in content. I had only to concern myself with how everything would fit together to become a great finished product, or what I would say to a reporter about a project or “happening.” The digital world, especially social media, changed everything! As exciting as it has been, a PR pro must now know something about everything in the PR tool kit, be able to strategize it all, and be much more generalized in their knowledge and abilities. Job specs now require candidates to be multifaceted in PR, knowing how to write and design, etc., and even to have some marketing know-how as well. And need I mention how quickly a news story goes around the world?
  • What is the best career advice you have ever received?  The best advice I have received is to train your successor and make your boss look good!
  • What advice would you give aspiring public relations students? My advice to students: (1) Become an excellent writer, be clear, and pay attention to grammar and syntax. No matter what your focus area is, you will need to communicate it or about it. (2) Always be honest and transparent in your dealings with people. PRSA has a Code of Ethics for a reason. (3) There’s no such thing as “off the record.”   

Lorri Shaban, APR, President, True North Marketing + Public Relations

  • How long have you been in the PR industry? Since my first internship at the Florida Department of Tourism, it’s been a wild, wonderful 30-year ride that I expect to continue for years to come. I’ve sat on both sides of the boardroom table, as a corporate executive and as the head of an agency (where I’m admittedly more comfortable). And I’m fortunate to have found a career that I love, one that requires equal parts strategy, creativity, and hustle. 
  • How has the industry changed since you started? I’m not quite sure how we accomplished so much without cell phones, laptops, and email (horse and buggy, anyone?). But what turned the industry on its head was the introduction of both the “world wide web” and later, social media. News outlets began moving their content online, and suddenly we all became intrepid explorers in a whole new world. We could research and analyze content, reporters, positions, white papers—all of which made our planning and approach much more targeted and strategic.  
  • What is the best career advice you have ever received? Four simple things, from two brilliant counselors and mentors, Roger Pynn and Joe Curley: 
  1. Focus on what keeps your client awake at night.
  2. Analyze the big picture, not just the snapshot.
  3. Bring your clients solutions, not problems.
  4. Anticipate. Don’t wait to be asked. (My personal favorite, which one day I’ll have tattooed on my wrist.)
  • What advice would you give aspiring public relations students? No matter how much experience you have, you’re not expected to know everything on day one. It takes time to learn the products, processes, people, and culture. Take advantage of that honeymoon period and ask loads of questions. Do your own research. Be inquisitive and curious and absorb as much as you can. With that foundation, you’ll start connecting dots and your creativity (and confidence) will grow. That’s when you start adding value to an organization – and become invaluable yourself. Oh, and anticipate – don’t wait to be asked!

Ann Marie Varga, APR, Manager, Internal Communications, AdventHealth

  • How long have you been in the PR industry? 38 years 
  • How has the industry changed since you started? The field of public relations has changed significantly in nearly four decades. I started my career in the mid-‘80s before the Internet — yes, it’s true, there hasn’t always been an Internet. I actually didn’t know what public relations when I graduated with a degree in English and Speech Communications from Rollins College. I loved to write and an on-air stint hosting an interview show on Rollins WPRK Radio sparked a love of reporting in me, which has served me well over the years as a publicist and issues manager. For my very first job, I literally “joined the circus” when I answered an ad for a writer at Circus World, a theme park then located southwest of Walt Disney World. My love of reporting and writing was put to great use and it really was the coolest job in the world! I got to play with baby elephants, Michael Jackson used to come regularly to ride our wooden rollercoaster, my office was an actual train car, and I worked with media from around the world during a time when the news was balanced and much more manageable. While it was baptism by fire as I learned on the job about public relations, issues management, and crisis communication, today’s 24/7 news cycle and citizen journalism are far more challenging. It makes getting ahead of the news impossible. This was never more evident than during my tenure at Orange County Government when I led my team through the Pulse Nightclub Tragedy. The relationships we built with colleagues during good times, served us well as professionals from every institution and organization in Central Florida who worked together for our community. I absolutely love what I do and this field is forever fascinating.
  • What is the best career advice you have ever received? “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is probably the best career advice I ever received. I actually think that’s good career advice and life advice. I would say that my “sage” advice is to always treat colleagues with respect and dignity — no matter their position or their title. Always be a champion for others because life often goes full circle. An incredibly talented UCF communications student was an intern at our agency in the late ‘80s. I took a hiatus from my career path to have two kids and she continued her trajectory. She later was my boss at a statewide electric utility and then my client when she was Vice President of Communications for a global company. She remains one of my best friends to this day. I can tell you countless stories of others who have gone on to be incredibly successful — honestly far surpassing me. Mentoring others and helping them succeed is a worthy purpose and that invested effort has always come back to me when needed.
  • What advice would you give aspiring public relations students? First, leave your ego at the door. Whether you’re a rookie or a veteran in your field, you will gain more through an attitude of appreciation than entitlement. There’s a huge divide between being confident and being cocky. I guarantee there will always be someone in the room who knows more than you do, no matter your age or level of experience. Second, embrace change. The field of communications has changed so much since I started my career and it will definitely continue to change. If you don’t adapt and seek out innovation, you will be left behind.

The Significance of Black History Month in 2021

By: Veronica Figueroa Fernandez, PRSA Orlando Diversity & Inclusion Chair

Traditionally, the month of February is dedicated to celebrate the history and accomplishments of African Americans and their central role in American history. However, given the events that took place in the last year, such as protests calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality, Black History Month has more significance than ever in 2021. This year, it is important to go beyond the 28-day celebration and instead leverage our roles as communicators to educate our audiences, uplift Black voices and stories, and continue to advocate for change. 

What follows are quotes from PRSA Orlando members when asked what Black History Month meant to them and asked about its significance in 2021:

Kimberly Allen, Communications Coordinator, Seminole State College of Florida:

“Black History Month means honoring the stories and successes of African Americans and highlighting how these contributions form a vital piece of the collective American history. Personally and professionally, it reminds me of those who laid the foundation for who and where I am today and on whose shoulders my accomplishments rest. As a communicator, the celebration of Black history implores me not only to remember the stories of Black achievement from the past, but also to ensure they live on and that progress continues.” 

 

 

 

 

Richard Alleyne:

“While a 28-day observance hardly does justice to the many contributions people of African descent have made to this country, this year’s Black History Month is particularly poignant given the level of attention paid to last year’s protests around racial equity.  The stark realities and grievances held by this historically marginalized group were laid bare by these civic actions and have sparked long-overdue conversations and policy reform.  I remain hopeful sustained change will come and I’ll continue to do my part to help bring it about.” 

 

 

 

 

 

Shayla Cannady, Senior Manager, Public Relations, Orange County Public Schools:

“As a child, my parents were intentional about exposing me to the history of Blacks in America. Today those countless lessons serve as reminders of the sacrifices made so that I may seize the opportunities that have been afforded to me over my life. Professionally, it is not only my responsibility, but my obligation, to use my education and expertise to share stories of Black Americans past and present, champion for cultural awareness through communication, and promote inclusion for all minority and marginalized groups in America. While this year, we celebrate the inauguration of the first Black woman elected as U.S. Vice President, the tragic events and repeated, fervent cries for racial justice in 2020 highlighted in the media only serve to showcase the progress that still needs to be made in this nation. For the past 45 years, America has earmarked Black History Month as a time to recognize and celebrate the achievements of individuals of African and Caribbean heritage. Twenty-eight days, however, are inadequate to cover such a robust history of success, let alone stories that include struggle and strife in this “land of the free and home of the brave.” Acknowledgment of past and current atrocities, as well as the accomplishments of Black Americans has to occur, not just in February but every day, to create a safe and brave space for dialogue, understanding, and healing current and future generations so desperately deserve.” 

 

Vanessa Green-Skyrmes, Founder, VGS Communications:

“As a Hispanic journalist and PR professional, Black History Month has had a positive impact on what minorities are able to accomplish. It has undoubtedly opened professional doors and along with that, it has allowed me to broadcast the importance of this month-long celebration in an act of gratitude. This is the epitome of why I value so much the influence one can have on the message that is received by an audience. Words matter and you must understand that your reputation can take years to build and mere seconds to destroy. This year, Black History Month has an even more powerful message that must be highlighted: BLACK LIVES MATTER. Following last year’s marches, it is only appropriate to heighten the significance of this celebration because the inclusivity of an entire race is worthy of being fought for and acknowledged. Those who attended marches and protests are being recognized during Black History Month along with many others who have made a difference in history because their allegiance to contribute to the greater good is how racial justice is accomplished. It has been a year of awakening and realization that even though some say the politically correct terms in regards to racial injustice and discussions, it doesn’t really mean they truly believe it. We have to be conscious of our actions, intentional with our messaging, and acknowledge that as a country we still have a lot of work to do.” 


Tyrone Law, Public Relations Specialist, Zillow:

“Black History Month began because for so long the accomplishments and contributions of Black Americans were often deliberately excluded from America’s history of growth in helping it become the most powerful country on Earth today — and the month has been observed for just four decades — let that sink in. As a professional communicator, I think of Black History Month as an awareness campaign, which has and still is contributing to what I believe is mainstream America’s shift towards a more realistic and accurately-depicted diverse and inclusive American identity. We can see this through media, policy, and various workplace activities. As a Black PR person, I get a thrill out of being able to help shape, spread, connect and influence culture and information in rooms and for organizations that many of my ancestors never had a chance to impact. As an industry, we have a long way to go in the fight towards more diverse representation at all levels, but I feel we are headed in the right direction. Happy Black History Month, PR peeps!” 

 

Kena Lewis, APR, Corporate Director, Public Affairs & Media Relations, External Affairs, Orlando Health:

“Black history is a vital component of American history that, unfortunately, has not been accurately or widely shared. The result is generations of Americans who are unaware of the contributions we, as a people, have made to this great nation or of the actions taken against us to eradicate our history – both literally and figuratively. As a professional communicator, I hold myself responsible for not only providing accurate information but also for calling attention to inaccurate information and correcting it. Telling the truth is not enough. We also have to dispel untruths. Black History Month takes on even more significance in 2021. Some individuals will and are attempting to position the protests and the protesters as something other than what they were and are. We must be alert and engaged to ensure the events of 2020 are presented accurately, especially in history books, so as to not let others twist our story to fit their preferred narratives.” 

 

Aijana Williams, Senior Specialist, Internal Communications, Hilton Grand Vacations:

“Black History month means recognizing the incredible accomplishments of those in the Black community—past and present. It means looking at our past and seeing how far we’ve come, yet, still having so far to go. It also means providing an opportunity for others to see a broader spectrum of who Black people are. We are inventors, writers, musicians, scientists and so much more, and this is the perfect time to put it all on display and celebrate. When I think about my role as a communicator it’s important to share my unique perspective as a Black woman. Hopefully, in doing so, I lend a voice to others who may otherwise not be heard. Following last year’s protests and the light they shined on the continued racial injustices in this country, Black History Month 2021 is a chance for many to recognize that Black history is American history. You can’t separate the two. We all have a role to play in working towards a more just society for everyone.” 

What we learned at supper: PRSA members on Race and Diversity in the Workplace

By: Tyrone Law, Diversity & Inclusion Committee Member and Veronica Figueroa, Diversity & Inclusion Chair for the PRSA Orlando Chapter

Racial inequality is not new in this country. But following a year marred with racial unrest after the death of George Floyd, social justice issues have been brought to the forefront through national conversations about systemic racism, police brutality and social injustice. 

The power of these conversations was undeniable, and organizations across the country felt compelled to respond by releasing statements against racism, making donations to civil rights groups, and sharing anti-racism resources with their stakeholders. However, as corporations pledged a role in combating systemic racism, the public was quick to point out that many of those organizations’ track record on representation and diversity within the C-suite and in marketing did not line up with their statements. 

The events that transpired in 2020 were the basis of PRSA Orlando’s third annual Dinner, Diversity and Dialogue gathering, where eight PRSA Orlando members of diverse backgrounds discussed race and diversity in the workplace. Attendees brought their unique experiences and perspectives to the conversation and discussed tangible building blocks to help move forward D&I practices in the field of public relations from theory to practice. The COVID-19 pandemic shifted the conversation from in-person to virtual, and the Anderson-Devitt Foundation, a family foundation that seeks to help the community be a better place to live, covered the cost of the virtual dinner.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the ethnic makeup of the public relations industry in the U.S. in 2019 was 87.9% White, 8.3% Black, 2.6% Asian American, and 5.7% Hispanic American. This statistic sparked a dialogue that made the attendees contemplate some fundamental questions: As a community of public relations professionals, where do our core values lie? Are the typical public relations industry hiring and career advancement opportunities equal across the board? Are we intentional as it relates to the authenticity and delivery of our communications efforts? 

Be Authentic

Companies and organizations have to be authentic in their D&I efforts. The only way to achieve this is for them to build diverse teams at all levels, as well as a workplace culture that is genuinely inclusive. That means including Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) employees in decision-making processes. For example, companies who released statements in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement need to have an understanding of Black culture and experience, not just at the lower level, but also in the C-Suite, otherwise their message will not be well-received. “Start at the bottom, promote from within, invest in your team, and train people at all levels to avoid drive-by D&I,” one PRSA Orlando member suggested. 

Representation Matters

Nobody wants to feel alone. During the discussion, one of our attendees shared that “it is draining to attend meetings and events where no one looks like you.” And while diversity is important, the key to reaping the benefits of a diverse workforce is inclusion. For example, simply hiring BIPOC will not boost employee morale, unless those employees are allowed to share their voice and opinion, paving a path of trust and active involvement. 

Studies have shown that younger generations view cognitive diversity as a necessary element for innovation and ideal teamwork. This means that inclusion of people who have different styles of problem-solving and can offer unique perspectives given their backgrounds is becoming more and more important to companies as they look to build thriving, in sync teams. 

Companies that do not prioritize D&I, may not be able to attract the top-tier talent who expects to see a diverse mix of backgrounds represented to help brainstorm new ideas, strategies and tactics. For example, an attendee shared that as a Hispanic woman entering white-dominated spaces, it was difficult to relate to her counterparts or share ideas because she didn’t have the same experiences they did growing up. 

Another member shared that in order to attract diverse candidates, hiring managers need to put in the work. “As public relations professionals, we have to seek out candidates who are not applying. We can’t assume that underrepresented demographics are aware of the job opportunities we are posting about,” the member said. “In the past, I’ve called potential candidates who hadn’t applied or who hadn’t heard of the role. We should be bending over backwards to build diverse and inclusive teams.” 

Empower BIPOC Voices 

While there is still much work to be done, many companies and organizations are making strides toward hiring more diverse talent, or “walking the walk,” but that is just the first step. Once they’ve been hired, companies must also be intentional about retaining, empowering and promoting them.

Attendees suggested in-person or online training at every level, from interns to the executive level, intended to address unconscious biases and help teams understand and embrace each other’s cultures and backgrounds. Businesses with D&I at the forefront of their corporate consciousness encourage employees to be their authentic selves. This empowers team members to share creative, out-of-the-box ideas that would have otherwise not been shared. 

“Employees do their best work when they are comfortable,” one member said. “We sometimes don’t realize that some of our colleagues are anxiously making mental calculations throughout the day trying to blend in. Am I dressed okay? Did I say the right thing? It can be exhausting, but it is how many BIPOC employees navigate work on a day-to-day basis.” 

“I feel most empowered when my leaders and colleagues get to know me, allowing me to show my true self at work,” another member chimed in. “My previous employer made an effort to hire diverse candidates and ensured everyone felt included. It gave me the confidence I needed to share ideas, which led to a promotion.”

Implementing D&I measures that allow employees to feel comfortable at work should be a part of the DNA of every organization, and should be displayed from the hiring process and beyond. 

Creating Genuine and Authentic Campaigns & Messaging 

In order to market well to an audience, companies need to understand their perspectives, and what is important to them. Consult with players on the team who can provide insight into a specific culture relevant to the campaign. Marketing creatives and communicators need to be comfortable in telling their leadership that messaging is inauthentic, according to one attendee. 

When asked about brands that have made an impact through authentic messaging, one attendee mentioned the 2018 P&G ad “The Talk” which addressed the conversations Black Americans have had with their children about racism and the realities of discrimination throughout the years. Unsurprisingly, the agencies that worked on the Emmy Award-winning ad featured diverse teams, and understood the Black experience

Attendees also discussed companies and brands that have missed the mark, such as Adidas. In public and on social media, Adidas condemned racism and called for unity and change, but behind closed doors employees felt the long inaction on racism and discrimination within the company was related to its senior leadership. As one attendee put it, “Adidas profited from Black culture, without addressing its internal problems.” 

A sports league that fumbled the ball with its Black Lives Matter messaging was the NFL. In September, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that the league would stencil “End racism” and “It takes all of us” in the end zones at each stadium. He shared that, “the NFL stands with the Black community, the players, clubs and fans confronting systemic racism.” 

The move was seen as ironic and widely criticized, given the fact that the NFL did not support San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racism in 2016. He has not played since his contract ended in 2017, and has not been picked up by other teams in the league since. 

“[The NFL] could’ve been the first to take a stand and been a leader years ago,” one member shared. “Instead they blackballed players and think we will forget because they took a stand this year. It doesn’t seem genuine, you can’t make it right, and people remember that.” 

“I am young in the sense that I am not jaded, but it starts to ring hollow when brands take these stands and then move on,” another member said. “You have to show you are genuine and you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” 

Moving Forward: How PRSA Orlando Can Support D&I In PR and Membership 

  • Outreach to high school students. Think about ways to give high school students the opportunity to learn about the public relations industry, develop and hone their skills, and network with industry professionals, who they may not otherwise have had the opportunity to connect with and learn from. 

“I didn’t even know that public relations was a potential career path I could strive for when I was in high school,” one member shared. “If PRSA Orlando’s intention is to fuel the industry with diverse talent, it should find ways to connect with BIPOC high school students to introduce the idea of communications as a career to them, or create a mentorship program where students can shadow PR professionals.” 

  • Develop dynamic relationships with multicultural organizations. “I’d love to see PRSA Orlando connect with other community organizations and groups that are dedicated to breaking barriers and promoting D&I,” a member suggested. 

In Central Florida, there are countless professional organizations that work to promote and advance BIPOC businesses and professionals, and the attendees agreed that PRSA Orlando should be more strategic in building relationships with underrepresented groups in order to further strides and promote D&I in the profession at large.  

  • Tightening it up at home. Throughout dinner, attendees mentioned the importance and value of meeting public relations professionals who “looked like them,” and several thoughts and ideas on this topic were discussed, such as assigning a designated outreach committee for new members, connecting with them one-on-one, introducing them to other members, and making a targeted effort to invite new members to events. 

Make D&I Part of Vision and Mission

By being inclusive to different demographics, public relations professionals can open themselves and their businesses to more viewers, customers, and clients that they would otherwise miss. A diverse workforce is not only great for the employees who work for you, but also for your company and your bottom line. Everyone agreed that companies and organizations need to make D&I part of the vision and mission. If it isn’t, their D&I efforts will always be seen as reactive. 

Welcome Your Insights

We welcome suggestions from our PRSA Orlando members on how we can help communications professionals address diversity and inclusion in the profession and at large.

Please reach out to PRSA Orlando’s 2021 Diversity and Inclusion Chair, Veronica Figueroa, to continue the discussion.

Don’t Forget the “B” in D&I Efforts

By: Tory Moore, PRSA Orlando VP, Administration 

Brené  Brown, a renowned professor at the University of Houston and New York Times bestselling author, reminds leaders that diversity and inclusion should consider adding an additional letter to the D&I acronym – a B, for belonging.

We feel a sense of belonging when we can show up as our true selves, bring our talents and our perspectives, be seen, know that we matter and that we’re a part of something,” Brown said at the recent Qualtrics Work Different conference. “The thing that’s very powerful about belonging is that true belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are, it invites us to be who we are.”

Brown’s research focuses on empathy, shame, and vulnerability. Often, she investigates how these elements interact within the workplace and provides leaders with a framework for cultivating a healthy workplace. She elaborates that now, more than ever, we must make room for belonging in the workplace that honors, embraces, and becomes a part of diversity and inclusion efforts.

“The special courage it takes to experience true belonging is not just about braving the wilderness,” she said. “We’re going to need to intentionally be with people who are different from us. We’re going to have to learn how to listen, have hard conversations, look for joy, share pain, and be more curious than defensive, all while seeking moments of togetherness.”

She added that to achieve true belonging, we must consider love in the workplace. While to many this may seem odd, she elaborates on love’s ability to bring care and connection to those we work with. This rings especially true in 2020, where many of our colleagues have faced difficulties during a global pandemic, an intense election and other national and worldwide challenges.

“The thing we also don’t talk about, which doesn’t make sense, is that care and connection and affection for each other is an irreducible need for people at work,” she said. “When you walk into the office, your need for care and your need for respect and your need for connection doesn’t dissipate.”

One of her strongest statements during the talk was that if leaders cannot care for the people they are leading, they should not be leading at all. A profound statement, but she explains the intrinsic need humans have for this level of connection in the workplace.

“We need to rethink how we’re taking care of ourselves, how we’re taking care of each other, how we’re taking care of our communities — we’re going to need to rethink how we’re showing up with each other,” she said.

The best news of all? All of these are teachable skills, she says. If something seems off with a coworker or employee, check-in with them. Listen. Ask questions. She reminds leaders that achieving goals and performance metrics are not mutually exclusive to genuinely caring for team members. The leaders that will succeed through these difficult times are those that will lean in and develop or improve these skills, she says.

“The leaders who are still going to be standing in five years are the leaders that don’t see them as mutually exclusive, but are completely dependent on both,” she explained.

Consider, how are you ensuring true understanding and belonging in your diversity and inclusion efforts? Where can you improve? Take one small step this week and expand on this as time goes on. The key is to get started.

A screenshot of a virtual panel discussion

Takeaways From Adweek’s Hispanic & Latin American Summit

By: Veronica Figueroa Fernandez, PRSA Orlando Diversity & Inclusion Chair

Last month Adweek brought together 12 marketing leaders from global brands together for the inaugural Hispanic & Latin American Summit, where they discussed the gap between Hispanic and Latino consumers and the small marketing budgets allotted to them, the lack of Hispanic leaders in marketing, failures to reach the community, and the vibrant diversity found within them. 

Claudia Romo Edelman, founder of We Are All Human, moderated the conversation. She stressed the importance of Hispanic professionals remaining connected to their own roots and living authentically, and referenced P&G’s Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard, who suppressed his Mexican heritage for fear of being labeled. With Hispanic Heritage Month in full swing, we wanted to share insights from these leaders on the importance of Hispanic and Latino representation in the workplace and branding.

Claudia Romo Edelman, Founder, We Are All Human

  • The time for Hispanics is now. Hispanics need to be unified, be a community, and help, support, hire and mentor each other.
  • There is a need for allyship to open doors and give the Hispanic community a platform. 
  • According to statistics shared by Claudia, Hispanics and Latin Americans make up 18 percent of the population but only make one percent of elected officials holding office, leaders in the C-suite, and entertainment. “We have to change that equation,” she said. 

Maria Winans, CMO, IBM Americas 

  • In recent months, Maria has learned that brands need to be more human, lead with empathy, and give permission to their teams to be creative in re-imagining the future.
  • She applauded IBM’s advocacy efforts in mentorship, sponsorships, and intern programs dedicated to talent in underrepresented communities. 

Steven Wolfe Pereira, CEO and founder, Encantos 

  • The Hispanic community is over-mentored and under-invested.
  • “Let’s be crystal clear. We are invisible as a community, we are not acknowledged by brands. […] This is an epidemic across every industry. They love our dollars but they do not show up for us,” he said.
  • Steven mentioned that he’s taken part in similar conversations since the late 90s. “I am over incrementalism. We need to have control over our stories, companies, and leadership,” he shared. His frustrations were what led him to start his own company.
  • To Steven, unless there is a [Hispanic or Latin American] person in a position of power and influence, not in a D&I role, there will not be any change.

Yvette Peña, VP of Multicultural Leadership, AARP

  • Yvette believes that D&I should be everyone’s responsibility, not just the responsibility of the D&I department. 

Ivan Heredia, VP of Brand Engagement and Revenue, The Walt Disney Company

  • If you’re stuck between a place where the world is moving at a quick pace but your corporate environment isn’t, Ivan recommends that employees have ‘owner mentality’ to raise their hands, especially if they are the only Hispanic or Latin American in the room, and build a case study that’ll unlock opportunities to tell more stories, drive the bottom line, and build a path to representation. 

Rosi Ajjam, VP and GM at Estee Lauder’s Aramis and Designer Fragrance Lab Series

  • When Rosi moved to the United States four years ago, she did not know how to network. Through the help of her mentors, she was able to learn how to navigate cultural and business dynamics. 
  • She encourages Hispanic and Latin American leaders to share their stories and become mentors to younger colleagues. 

Andrea Perez, Global VP and GM, Nike’s Jordan Brand 

  • Andrea stressed the importance of mentoring BIPOC and doubling down on the injustices seen in the Black community in order to help address the injustices in the Latino community. 

Susan Betts, Director of Brand Strategy and Management, Google

  • When asked if they identified as Latina because she is Brazilian she said, “There is no one flavor of Latina. We are beautifully intersectional. I can be white, blue-eyed, speak English, and still be 100 percent Latina.”
  • Part of Susan’s agreement with Google is to focus on inclusive marketing, and she shared that three years ago Google began looking at their creative and extracting data. Through the audit, they found that they made progress in increasing the representation of BIPOC in their work. However, in 2019 they learned that only 6 percent of their ads portrayed Hispanic or Latin Americans. As a company, they now know that they need to do more to represent this community through positive portrayals that actively fight stereotypes. 

Fabiola Torres, CMO and Senior VP of Energy, PepsiCo

  • Fabiola mentioned that while brands want to appeal to new audiences and appear inclusive, they often hire “experts” in the Hispanic market that develop work rooted in stereotypes. She notes that their work does not represent the culture of today. 
  • It is important to re-learn and re-educate yourself and consult people outside of your comfort zone.
  • Fabiola shared that brands need to understand that there is a difference between marketing to a U.S. Hispanic market and marketing to an audience in Latin American countries. While there are commonalities, there are things that separate the audiences and brands should take the time to gather insights from focus groups. 

Xavier Gutierrez, President and CEO, Arizona Coyotes

  • Be authentic and admit when you need help in marketing to the Hispanic community. 
  • Be unapologetic about being Latino/Latina and open to the fact that it may cause discomfort. 
  • “We need to promote and support an ownership mentality in our community, business, capital, corporate development pathway, and truly support each other in those factors.” 

If you weren’t able to make the summit, you can catch the recordings here.

Interns pose at a NASCAR event

How To Create A Diverse & Inclusive Internship Program In Your Workplace

By: Veronica Figueroa Fernandez, PRSA Orlando Diversity & Inclusion Chair

Building a diverse and inclusive company culture in the workplace has become a primary focus for many organizations, especially over the past year. Whether you’re running a well-known brand or a small business, building the right foundations for diversity and inclusion within your business should be an integral part of your diverse growth strategy. D&I college internships can be a stepping stone at building diversity within your company and can be one of the most effective ways to create meaningful change. 

Interns bring immense value to organizations, often bringing cutting-edge ideas to the table that can lead your company to success. A diverse class of interns means you’ll gain access to unique perspectives and develop an inclusive company culture. However, because internships are often unpaid, they become inaccessible to many in the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community. 

Jordan Leatherman, Diversity & Inclusion Senior Account Executive at NASCAR, recently spoke to us about her organization’s diversity internship program. Twenty years ago, NASCAR created the NASCAR Diversity Internship Program (NDIP) to create an opportunity for students of color. Over the last two decades, the program has successfully grown to be a staple within the industry with 30 students participating each summer. 

The NDIP is a 10-week paid summer internship aimed at BIPOC who are currently enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate degree program or are considered a recent graduate. Eligible participants begin their experience with a 3-day orientation weekend centered around the NASCAR All-Star Race, and throughout the internship, they have access to weekly Lunch & Learns with industry executives, networking opportunities, and a mentorship program. 

If you’re just getting started on creating a diverse and inclusive internship program in your workplace, Jordan Leatherman has shared three tips to select candidates from different backgrounds. 

Diversify your candidate pool.

In order to hire interns who contribute to your organization’s diversity and inclusion goals, you will have to diversify your recruitment tactics. NASCAR currently works with Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), and top universities through Handshake to identify candidates for internships. Handshake is a platform that connects students on college campuses with internships and entry-level jobs. NASCAR also partners with organizations like the United Negro College Fund (UNCF),  Association of Latino Professionals For America (ALPFA), and National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) to promote the internship application. 

Leverage professional associations and organizations focused on serving diverse populations, and consider advertising in and attending events sponsored by those organizations. Niche job boards such as DiversityWorking, 70 Million Jobs, and Hirepurpose are just a small sample of how to connect with new audiences. Throughout the last 20 years, NASCAR has hired more than 20 interns from the NASCAR Diversity Internship Program for numerous roles in the organization including Brandon Thompson, VP of Diversity & Inclusion, and Kathryn Lee, Senior Manager of Marketing Activation.

Pay. Your. Interns! 

Internships are a critical component of a student’s college career, giving them a competitive advantage in the job market and an opportunity to gain experience in their desired field. However, financial barriers often prevent low-income students from pursuing and accepting unpaid internships. Students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds may need an income in order to pay for classes, their rent, or other necessities, leaving these valuable internships off the table. 

When organizations limit their internships to those who can afford them, their less affluent peers will graduate without the relevant work experience necessary to quickly land an entry-level job. “Paid internships eliminate barriers to students who would not be financially able to participate in unpaid internships. Historically unpaid internships are typically less diverse than their paid counterparts,” said Leatherman. 

Unpaid internships are a controversial topic in all industries, but with the knowledge that the public relations industry has a diversity problem, it is important to address the issue and enact change from the bottom up. In fact, the PR Council announced last year that its members pledged to pay their interns in the United States at least minimum wage in their market. The policy went into effect on January 1, 2020.

Create an environment that is inclusive and welcoming. 

Leatherman says that it is important to institute diversity and unconscious bias training within your organization prior to the start of the internships. These programs are designed to expose employees to their unconscious biases and provide tools to eliminate discriminatory behaviors and thoughts. 

Biases are formed based on experiences, things you hear, media portrayals, institutional influences, and other external factors. When faced with situations that fit into these preconceived opinions people have created, they make a number of automatic perceptions and assumptions that are often incorrect. Making D&I a part of your organizational policies and systems is key to disrupt patterns of thinking and ensure everyone, from interns to your executive leadership, is on the same page. 

As employers move toward full D&I in the workplace, they should incorporate a comprehensive definition of diversity that applies to all hiring practices, including internship programs. For more ideas on how to create an inclusive internship program, check youth.gov’s how-to guide for employers. 

An group of employees have a discussion in an office meeting

How To Create An Equitable Workplace For Older Workers

By: Veronica Figueroa Fernandez, PRSA Orlando Diversity & Inclusion Chair

Nearly 2 out of 3 workers ages 45 and older have seen or experienced age discrimination on the job, according to results of a wide-ranging AARP workplace survey. More than 50 years after the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was signed into law, forbidding employment discrimination against anyone over 40 years of age in the United States, “age discrimination remains a significant and costly problem for workers, their families, and our economy.”

An investigation by ProPublica and the Urban Institute found that 56 percent of workers over the age of 50 reports that they were pushed out of their jobs by their employers before they were ready to retire. Some of the comments these employees heard include, “older workers can’t handle the day-to-day demands of the job,” and “they can’t be retrained and are too hard to manage.”

Patti Temple Rocks, author of “I’m Not Done: It’s Time To Talk About Ageism In The Workplace,” writes that ageism in the workplace produces slanted messaging and it is bad for business. She shares that the idea that workers become less valuable as they age ignores reality. “The years of experience and the confidence that comes from an expanded track record of success can make employees more effective,” she said. 

She observes that when it comes to the creative world of advertising, the belief that people get better with experience is often replaced with the belief that the only answer is innovation, making us believe that innovation can only be achieved by young people. 

What many companies do not understand is that older workers possess a depth of knowledge and experience that is worth paying for. They believe that investing in younger workers is cost-effective and less risky, when in fact according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workers 45-54 stayed on the job twice as long as those 25-34, so concentrating on training those over 40 was seen as a sound investment. 

In 2019, the median age of workers in advertising, public relations, and related services was 38.5. It is no wonder that advertising is considered a “Peter Pan” industry, meaning few employees make it long enough to retire from their roles. 

Organizations that sincerely value their employees and actively encourage them to reach their full potential need to create an equitable workplace where workers of all ages feel respected. So, how does one go about that? 

Remove hidden bias from the job description.

You’ve seen the job descriptions looking for a high-energy, savvy digital native that can outline a communications strategy in their sleep. While many managers do not intend to exclude older job applicants, common phrases in job descriptions may seem that way. “Digital native” for example, may discourage qualified applicants who didn’t grow up with an iPhone attached to their hand, scrolling through different social media feeds. “High-energy,” “ninja,” and “guru” often refer to younger candidates. 

More often than not, job applications require candidates to share milestone dates and information, such as college graduation year or highest GPA achieved. This can discourage older candidates from submitting an application, giving the perception that your company is searching for younger candidates. The best and brightest should be given an opportunity, regardless of age. 

Portray a diverse public persona.

Many times, before submitting a job application, candidates will visit your website and social media profiles to see what the culture at your agency or organization is like. If you’re lucky enough to work in a diverse office, share that! Ensure that your agency’s public profile demonstrates racial diversity and generational diversity. If you’re using stock photos on your website, make sure that they portray diversity and inclusion. 

Train your management to recognize hidden biases. 

Are leaders in your organization making assumptions that older workers cannot grasp changing technology? How are you training your leadership to eliminate age assumption practices? Managers need the training to help acknowledge and remove those biases. 

Update your policies. 

In a perfect world, it would be enough to trust your employees to treat each other with respect, but that is why it is important to place policies in place and enforce them. Update your workplace harassment policies to include that your employees cannot discriminate based on age and stress that they will not tolerate unfair treatment. Additionally, if your company has the ability to, consider offering a competitive retirement incentive plan to encourage your employees to stay for the long-haul. 

Offer professional development opportunities across the board. 

Professional development should be an ongoing process throughout an individual’s career, ensuring that employees remain relevant and up to date with knowledge and skills. Like their younger colleagues, older employees will leave companies if there aren’t opportunities to continue to grow in their careers. Do you encourage your younger employees to attend industry seminars or to earn certifications but do not do the same for your older employees? There is always something new for your employees to learn. Offer training and career advancement opportunities, fair to all ages and levels. 

Do you have any tips on creating an equitable workplace for older workers? Share them with us!

Tips For Making Social Media Content Accessible To The Blind; Visually Impaired

By: Veronica Figueroa Fernandez, PRSA Orlando Diversity & Inclusion Chair

Last month marked 30 years since a major milestone in our nation’s history – the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law by President George H. W. Bush. In three decades we have seen how the lives of Americans have transformed, ensuring equal opportunities and access to the 61 million adults living with disabilities in the U.S. when it comes to employment, government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.

And although increasing physical accessibility has been a central focus, it is important to recognize the obstacles that remain in place, such as creating accessible and inclusive social media content for the blind and visually impaired. 

Today, our lives revolve around a constant stream of breaking news alerts, status updates, tweets, memes, images, and videos. Social media has shaped our public discourse, from allowing us to connect with loved ones to reacting to happenings around the world.

Many aspects of social media are still inaccessible for the 2.2 billion people worldwide who suffer from vision impairment or blindness, despite the best efforts of social media giants like Facebook and Twitter. Creating a social media strategy inclusive of your audience takes time and effort, so we’ve shared a few tips below to help you get started. 

How Does A Blind Person Use A Smartphone?

Despite the iPhone being accessible to the blind and visually impaired since the launch of the iPhone 3GS over a decade ago, many still do not understand how they navigate their phones. The iPhone and other Apple products use VoiceOver, a screen reader program found in the phone’s settings. Android smartphones use TalkBack.

Screen readers are assistive technology that attempts to interpret what is being displayed on the screen. In the case of an iPhone, users can touch or drag their finger around the screen, and VoiceOver will read or describe whatever the user has selected, from reading sentences to describing images and emojis. The phone even has the capability of assigning commands from a gesture. And although the iPhone has the capability of “reading” an image, if the social media manager who posted the image originally is not following best practices for social media accessibility the screen reader tends to miss a lot.

Include Alt-Text.

Screen readers describe the content, images, and charts to the blind and visually impaired using alternative text, or alt-text for short. When developing a social media strategy, marketers should keep descriptive alt-text in mind when drafting captions for future social media posts.

  • Avoid saying, “This is a picture of…” They know. Because the screen reader will automatically recognize an image, you can assume the user is aware as well. An alt-text caption of a picture, for example, could read, “My very excited one-year-old nephew and I were ready to have fun at Universal Studios Orlando and posed in front of the globe outside of the park entrance,” rather than, “This is a picture of my nephew and I outside Universal Studios Orlando.” 
  • Everyone loves a laugh. Be descriptive and don’t be afraid of using humor. 
  • Some blind and visually impaired social media users lost their vision gradually and are familiar with color, so don’t be afraid to mention it. 
  • Don’t overthink your caption! Your captions are being read by a robot, but don’t feel like you have to write like one. 
  • Screen readers read everything, so avoid using excessive emojis on your captions or alt-text. No one wants to hear, “face with tears of joy,” fifteen times in a row. 
  • Transcribe text. Screen readers won’t be able to read images such as a picture of a historical marker, plaque, chart, meme, screenshot, or GIF. Summarize what the image is showing.

How-To Add Alt-Text.

The automatic alt-text social media platforms use does not always work and will use general terms such as “food” as an automatic descriptor when you could be describing dishes such as “a succulent roasted pig, with a side of crispy Brussels sprouts in a bowl,” or “a hearty, warm chicken soup.”

The character count for alt-text varies by the social network. We’ve linked to each social network’s how-to below, but it is easy to figure out once you upload an image and choose edit or advanced editing options.

Write Your Hashtags in Camel Case.

Make your hashtags accessible by capitalizing the first letter of each word. This format is known as camel case and allows screen readers to read the words individually rather than as one long, jumbled word. #YourHashtagsShouldLookLikeThis

Color contrast.

Color contrast is important for colorblind social media users. According to W3C, the contrast between text color and background should be 4.5 to 1. Problematic color combinations include red and green, green and brown, green and blue, blue and gray, blue and purple, green and gray, and green and black.

Earlier this year Marks & Spencer, a British retailer, posted an image regarding some of their new measures in place surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. The initial image was incredibly difficult to read, but once enough of us tweeted at them, they swapped out the image for one that was easier to read.

First Version:

Second Version:

These tactics are only a small glimpse at how social media marketing can be inclusive and accessible to the blind and visually impaired. And while social media giants like Facebook have opened many doors to these users, they continue to encounter many glitches and problems with the programming and feel as if there isn’t enough manpower dedicated to addressing these issues. By making a few adjustments in your social media strategy, you are opening your brand up to a wider audience to fall in love with you. 

The original version of this blog post appeared on Laughing Samurai.

Black and white puzzle pieces

PRSA Unveils D&I Strategy, Outlines Steps To Building Diverse Organization

By: Veronica Figueroa Fernandez, PRSA Orlando Diversity & Inclusion Chair

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, we have seen a national outcry and protests against racism, injustice and police brutality occur worldwide, calling for change. Finding words to respond to social injustice isn’t easy, but there are steps we can take to navigate these issues with sensitivity. 

At PRSA Orlando, we believe addressing diversity and inclusion, especially during this time of crisis,  has never been more important. PRSA’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee recently unveiled its 2020-2022 D&I Strategic Plan and new D&I Toolkit, outlining the organization’s efforts to become more diverse and inclusive. 

The strategic plan’s four objectives lay out the framework for PRSA, and its nationwide chapters, to fulfill its mission to position the organization as a model for the communications profession:

  • Increase awareness and understanding of PRSA as a diverse and inclusive organization among its members and staff by 15% by 2023.
  • Increase diverse representation among leadership throughout all levels of PRSA by 25% by 2023.
  • Increase awareness of PRSA as a diverse and inclusive organization among external stakeholders by 15% by 2023.
  • Increase and retain the number of multicultural students in PRSSA and new multicultural professionals into PRSA by 15% by 2023.

Additionally, the organization has acknowledged the lack of diversity across its membership and leadership and has shared definitive steps they are taking today: 

Improve Diversity of Board of Directors

While the current Board is among the most diverse in the organization’s history, PRSA has asked the Governance Committee to reexamine the Bylaws and to recommend amendments that can help move barriers that have kept Board leadership out of reach for so many members, particularly members of color. 

Increase Committee Participation

PRSA plans to engage more members from diverse backgrounds, including Black members, members of color, and LGBTQ+ members, with their national committees to ensure a range of perspectives and ideas are represented. 

Expand Delegate Representation

PRSA is asking Chapter leadership to reevaluate how they choose delegates for the annual meeting of the Leadership Assembly and consider the ways in which they can bring new voices and members of underrepresented communities into the process. 

Deliver on Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Plan

The three-year D&I Strategic Plan, published earlier this year, builds on research and investments by the Board that began in 2019 calls for an expansion of tools and resources across the organization to help build an inclusive community. Additionally, PRSA published a new D&I Toolkit that provides best practices and will help accelerate success and scale our efforts throughout the organization and the industry.

Develop Programs to Further Guide New Professionals

PRSA will be launching a pilot program to support new professionals of color, expanding upon past programs established by the College of Fellows and creating a comprehensive process to build more substantive and effective relationships. The program will launch this quarter and be available to the entire membership by the end of 2020.

Strengthen Relationship With HBCUs and HSIs

Our PRSSA students at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) need more advocates and resources to help bridge the gap between racial inequality and career advancement. Working closely with the faculty advisers at these institutions, PRSA will forge a deeper bond and connection with students interested in pursuing a career in communications and become a better ally to our future leaders.

Launch Training at the National and Local Levels

PRSA will provide unconscious bias training for all PRSA staff and Chapter, District & Section leadership this year and continue the instruction annually. They will also host professional development courses for all members focusing on D&I in the workplace and communicators’ roles in leading the conversation internally and externally for their organizations.

Pledge Support to Diversity Action Alliance

Along with the PRSA Foundation, PRSA is an active member of the Diversity Action Alliance (DAA) and has fully committed to the tenets of the coalition’s goals and objectives. Rooted in a mission to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in the communications and public relations profession, the DAA will provide transparency into the industry’s progress and hold stakeholders accountable and ensure we’re all working toward fulfilling our commitments.

PRSA Orlando believes that a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment fosters creativity, new perspectives, innovation, and better employee performance. Our chapter first introduced the Diversity & Inclusion Board Chair three years ago, in our continued efforts to increase focus on this important issue. Since then, our chapter won a 2018 PRSA Chapter Diversity & Inclusion Award, hosted its second annual Dinner, Diversity, & Dialogue gathering, and has continued to focus on providing meaningful blog posts and programs on the topic. We stand behind PRSA’s strategic vision and efforts to diversify our industry and create long-lasting change, and will continue to work hard to meet the needs of our underrepresented members. 

We welcome suggestions from our PRSA Orlando members on how we can help communications professionals address diversity and inclusion in the profession and at large.

Please reach out to PRSA Orlando’s 2020 Diversity and Inclusion Chair, Veronica Figueroa, to continue the discussion.

The Lowercase Black is a Color, Not a Person: New AP Stylebook Changes You Should Know Right Now

By Alyssa List, PRSA Orlando VP, Finance

The AP Stylebook made notable changes in its latest edition, updating its guidance on a number of relevant topics like race, gender-neutral language, and terms related to the coronavirus pandemic.  

One important change was the capitalization of Black when using it as an adjective that refers to racial, ethnic or cultural implications. The Associated Press said the decision to capitalize Black came after “more than two years of in-depth research and discussion with colleagues and respected thinkers from a diversity of backgrounds, both within and from outside the cooperative.”

On a recent Twitter #APStyleChat, AP said it is continuing to discuss whether to capitalize the term white, and if it will have any global impact. The decision will come within a month, AP said in a Twitter post.

African American is acceptable for those in the U.S, but the term is not interchangeable with Black. However, AP generally says to follow an individual’s preference, and be specific when possible.

A few other relevant changes:

  • Do not use either Black or white as a singular noun, but plural nouns are generally acceptable when clearly relevant and needed for reasons of space or sentence construction.
  • Capitalize Pride when referring to events or organizations honoring LGBTQ+ communities and on subsequent references. The new update also adds that the plus symbol (+) should only be used when it is part of a company, brand or event name. Otherwise, spell out plus.
  • In general, use terms that can apply to any gender: chair or chairperson, firefighter, busser, hero, server, etc. Avoid unfamiliar constructions. However, don’t use congressperson; use terms like U.S. representative, representative or member of Congress.
  • Without a common gender-neutral word, use the masculine noun that assumes a general word: host, actor. However, use actress when referring to awards with actress in the name.
  • Older adult or older people is preferred over senior citizens, seniors or elderly.
  • When possible, ask people how they prefer to be described when referring to a disabled person or a person with a disability.
  • COVID-19 can be referred to as the virus, but COVID-19 is the name of the disease, not the virus. The virus is named SARS-CoV-2. Do not shorten to COVID, even in headlines, unless part of a quote. Also, do not refer to coronavirus without the article “the.”
  • Avoid the term pathogen. Use virus, bacteria, germs or bugs.

And equally important, I will end with an unchanged rule that is a pet peeve of mine if not used correctly: The period and the comma always go within the quotation marks.

Please refer to the latest AP Stylebook for additional nuances and updates. PRSA members receive a 20% discount on one single-user subscription to the AP stylebook Online. Go here for details.