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Why Cultural Fit Could Destroy Your Diversity Efforts

Culture is important. In fact, it’s what sets one organization distinctly apart from another. Your organizational culture is one of the most critical elements for having well-harmonized teams in which all the members fit.

Cultural fit has its merits. Industry gatekeepers prize cultural fit as a hiring imperative. Organizations use cultural fit for competitive advantage by relying on the idea that the best employees are like-minded with matched personalities, skills and values. Cultural fit supports the assessment that when people are different from the majority, and do not fit in group it becomes difficult to work with them and integrate them into the team. But there are serious limitations with the value of balancing fit with diversity and inclusion.

We’ve been deliberate to communicate the importance of workplace diversity yet overlook the concrete problems that are likely to emerge if homogeneity takes priority over genuine inclusion. Cultural fit, when misused in hiring for personal comfort, likeness, preference or chemistry, becomes one of the biggest threats to diversity in the PR workforce.

When done carelessly, the concept of fit becomes a dangerous catchall used to justify hiring people who are similar to decision makers and rejecting people who are not. Hiring for fit can keep demographic and cultural diversity low, force people into a given prototype and reinforce the myth that skill and talent is exclusive to a dominant group. This creates situations in which our organizations look diverse in appearance but are deceivingly homogenous. Sameness in profile, even with very different backgrounds, can breed the kind of culture that leads to uniformity and irrelevancy in the workforce, uninformed or overconfidence decisions among teams, and exclusion of high-performing candidates.

When done thoughtfully, the concept of fit becomes a progressive attempt to highlight contribution. Hiring for contribution can make our organizations more productive and profitable by redefining cultural fit to be closely aligned with business goals. This creates organizations where people with different perspectives, attitudes, and aspirations can work positively together. Achieving diversity through contribution is sign of future innovation. It signals that organizations committed to evolving to where they need to go are ready to trust high-level contributors to take them there.

To use cultural fit more effectively, we must decide that contribution has more value. Focusing on contribution in hiring shifts an existing organizational culture by taking the energy up a notch and setting the stage for creativity to flourish.

Instead of looking for someone who fits neatly your organization’s culture, seek to discover how this person will introduce something new and unique to your current culture. Instead of asking someone to match closely with your existing culture, seek to determine whether they are likely to energize your culture and nudge it in the right direction. As a result, your organization can become a home for big ideas and better growth.

Assess what your organization is doing well and what important measurable goals you can crush. Assess what is not going well and is a battle to achieve. Determine which aspects your organization’s culture directly affects how you reach those goals. Ask what qualities and differences are likely to influence the existing culture in a meaningful and positive way. In doing so, you reframe the concept of fit by developing a cultural profile based on contribution.

While there’s nothing wrong with asking the question, “Is he a culture fit,” it shouldn’t be completely synonymous with, “Do we like him?”

The beauty of diversity is having people come together to work on a common goal. We can’t lean on cultural fit to the degree that we become afraid of the perceived conflict in putting together different people or begin to treat diversity efforts like a chore that needs to be managed. The next time someone asks, “Are they a culture fit”, carefully consider what the answer might be. This approach could destroy all that we’ve what we have been striving for in championing diversity in our industry. When we rely on contribution, we create an opportunity to shift a culture with diversity and make inclusion a real concept.

What Makes a Great Mentor?

I will admit. I have some amazing mentors. They each come from different walks of life and parts of the country, have different areas of expertise and serve a different purpose in my life. Having a diverse group of people who pour into me regularly has made a major impact in my personal and professional development.

That’s why I make mentoring a priority and work really hard to help young professionals. As part of that desire to teach and groom others, I am happy to serve as an advisor for the diversity and inclusion committee with The Plank Center in Leadership for Public Relations. This group’s purpose is to be a catalyst for other professional organizations, to help identify and bridge gaps, and assist organizations seeking to adopt best-in-class practices in the area of diversity and inclusion.

We are devoting resources to diversity and inclusion research and we are launching an online research library designed to help students, educators and professionals locate public relations research on diversity and inclusion, leadership and mentorship.

We will celebrate our efforts and honor leaders in the industry this week at an annual Milestones in Mentoring Gala. The gala recognizes the dedication and impact of individuals who have fostered relationships with their organization, community and profession.

Though I am still early in my career in comparison to the majority of my industry’s leaders, I don’t think its ever too early to mentor. My mentors have been responsive, tough-loving, open-minded, free-hearted and innovative, and I try to model them in the way I mentor.

What about you? What things do you think make a great mentor?

Aerial Ellis plank center diversity inclusion

Where Are The Leaders?

Millennial Leaders

So many headlines seem to focus on the idea that millennials are not poised to lead. We are incompetent, shiftless and non-committal. We show up late. We act entitled. We demand more than we earn.

These generalizations don’t change that fact that millions of original millennials are employed and show up to work every single day ready to achieve. These assumptions don’t diminish the thousands of problems being solved by original millennials who revolutionizing the way business is done.

While we should expect to see an influx of millennials in leadership positions over the next few years, you’re probably asking “where are they?”

In my new book, The Original Millennial, you will discover that original millennials are valuable, loyal, high-performing leaders. You will learn lessons of leadership for your own life and career. You will take away inspiration and hope that future is in good hands with an original millennial at the helm.

As we countdown to the release in just a few weeks, you may pre-order my book today for only $8.99. This gets you access to exclusive interviews with millennial leaders before the book is officially released.

Share this post with a millennial!

What’s Life Like For Students of Color at a White College Campus?

Collaborative Conversations on Race

I attended an HBCU and was engulfed by the black experience in college. Not until I began teaching at a predominantly white university did I begin to examine the experiences of students of color who spend their college years as an racial minority.

I am happy to lead a discussion on Tuesday, September 20, 6 p.m. that allows our students of color at Lipscomb University to share what life is like on a majority white campus.

Join me for this candid chat!

Did you attend a predominantly white university? What was your experience as a person of color? As a white person, what opportunities did you have to experience life on campus through the lens of a student of color?

Participate in the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #culturalcomm

#blackstudents #latinostudents #diversity #inclusion #intercultural #communication #crosscultural #race #ethnicity

The event is free and open to the public.

To learn more about the Collaborative Conversations series at Lipscomb University, visit: http://www.lipscomb.edu/leadership/news-events

Sneak Peek from The Original Millennial Thought Leadership Series

Have you pre-ordered your copy of my new book, The Original Millennial?

Early adopters who pre-ordered the book have been receiving exclusive content from The Original Millennial thought leadership series. Here’s a sneak peek from the book featuring an amazing original millennial!

MEET BRANDON FRAME:

Brandon Frame, founder of The Black Man Can, has devoted his career to combating negative images and shaping perceptions of Black men and boys in more honest and multidimensional ways.

A Connecticut-native, Brandon founded the digital platform in 2010 to promote and advance positive, reinforcing images of Black males. Since then, The Black Man Can has grown into a full-fledged institute that provides motivation and mentorship to boys of color across the country. In addition to founding The Black Man Can, Frame is the Director of Business Partnerships and Program Development of Hartford’s High School, Inc. He has received numerous awards and honors including Top 40 Under 40 by The Hartford Business Journal and BET Honors Next In Class.

WATCH BRANDON’S INTERVIEW

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To begin receiving exclusive content PRE-ORDER a copy of the book for yourself or to share with millennials you know, love or mentor.

TWEET TO YOUR FOLLOWERS:

Calling all #millennials! Join The Original Millennial thought leaders series now for only $5.99 http://bit.ly/theOGmillennial @theOGmillennial

Your contribution to this project is an early investment that will empower leaders of the millennial generation years to come.

Pick My Panel for SXSW

I am so excited to have an opportunity to do a book talk at SXSW 2017 in Austin, TX for my upcoming release, The Original Millennial, but I need your help.

You have to vote for me! The proposals with the most votes will be considered to present at the conference next year. You may log-in and vote now through September 2. Will you vote for my proposal? Click below.

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After you vote, follow @theOGmillennial on Twitter and tweet this to your followers:

Pick this #SXSW panel: Leadership Lessons for The Millennial Generation
http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/61297
We are on COUNTDOWN for the official release of the book. PRE-ORDER today!
Your contribution to this project is an early investment that will empower millennial leaders for years to come.
Thanks!

It’s Complicated: Explaining The Role of Race in Police Brutality

*I originally published this in June 2015. In wake of more deaths approximately one year later, I am sharing this again…today.*

 

I’ve opened the past two semesters talking about police brutality on the first day of class in my Cross-Cultural Communication course at Lipscomb University. This is a required course for communication and journalism majors to grasp the challenges of communicating in today’s complex society so we go there and get pretty deep. Building communication strategies to address obstacles and opportunities within a client’s organizational culture is something I know very well but grappling with the thorny issues of our times with a room full of college students means I must dig deep and go all the way. There are a wealth of topics I could start the semester with instead but it just so happens the biggest story in the news at the time concerned violence, race and injustice – in fall we dealt with cases of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, and in spring, the cases of Eric Garner and Freddie Gray. It looks as if perhaps this coming fall in August I will unfortunately and again have new content on the same topic – now with the incident in Mckinney, Texas and who knows what else between now and then.

For all of these tragic instances, a firestorm of commentary and disagreement ensued across news media and social media, and protests arose all over the world. Some students wonder how this could happen in the United States. For others, unfortunately, police brutality and discrimination are all too familiar. Yet for a large majority of my students at our private, Christian, predominately white University, police brutality and the racial disparities that accompany the topic are foreign concepts. They are often confused but curious and compassionate in their attempt to make sense of tough issues that even us mature adults struggle to comprehend. Naturally, they are faced with anger, frustration, sadness, disbelief and lots of questions.

“The victim had to be doing something wrong, right Professor Ellis? Wouldn’t the news media tell us if something was done unfairly?”

“Professor Ellis, wasn’t this an issue during segregation? Why are we seeing so much about it today?”

“But Professor Ellis, does this mean most cops are racist or that we should fear them?”

“So Professor Ellis, how do we fix stuff like this?”

My answer to them: “Well, it’s complicated.”

 

I could share with you how I lecture on the basis of these questions but that’s a 2000-word essay, not a blog post. I tell my students we have many things to consider…

  • We’d need to consider how racism has always played a key role in our country and how it became embedded in our criminal justice system. We also need to talk about juries, how difficult it can be to find the truth and how media coverage and social media conversations impact the perceptions of what we believe is true. We’d need to consider the origins of racism and the repetitive narratives of injustice, violence and poverty in communities of color to examine the correlations.
  • We’d need to look at the public’s general perception about the problem of police brutality and its history in America from the civil rights movement of the 1960’s to the transition from community policing to military policing in the 1980’s. We’d need to examine data that shows if you are black you are far more likely to die at the hands of a police officer than you would if you are white, and how that knowledge has perpetuated a relationship of conflict between police officers and the black community. We’d need to talk about how the outrage makes people feel hopeless and inspired to react in protesting or even rioting.
  • We’d need to examine the disturbing trend in the news media where a person is often criminalized when they have been killed by a police officer rather than insisting they deserved to a chance to be charged, brought to trial and have remained among the living. We’d need to research at the trend of citizen journalism becoming a powerful catalyst for the narrative of injustice as a tool for breaking news. We’d need ask if we can discern by only looking at the mobile phone footage of a bystander how an unarmed citizen is to blame for the overcorrection, extra force or lack of control displayed by police officers.
  • We’d need to assess how police administrators are training officers and addressing criticism since police brutality has gotten so much national attention recently. We’d need to consider that what a police officer could despise more than anything is when their authority is challenged, regardless of your color, and that could get you thrown in jail or met with excessive force. We should acknowledge that there are officers and administrators who understand how this crisis is impacting public trust and are trying to handle the issue with care and concern because their profession requires that they put their lives on the line everyday.
  • We’d need to consider our role in calling out injustice as a social and moral responsibility when the dynamic of the unknown convicts us to acknowledge stereotypes and reveal blind spots. We’d need to be honest about the relative silence over unfair treatment when it doesn’t impact us directly. We should admit we are imperfect people who have a tendency to limit our perspective, opinions, beliefs and comfort zones to be in agreement with those who relate to us most. We need to remember that what affects one affects us all, or at least it should.

I told you. It’s complicated.

I have the next generation of FOX news anchors, CNN producers, national radio hosts, online news editors, public information officers, non-profit leaders and crisis PR practitioners in my classroom. They will shape public opinion and determine how we consume messages through media. These students are studying to go into newsrooms to write stories and headlines about issues they’ve never witnessed personally, go into communities that may not look like the places they grew up in with cameras to capture the conflict of people who don’t look like them, go into companies to help generate awareness among a target audience whose lifestyles they can’t relate to, or go into organizations to help senior leaders to communicate about issues that might make them uncomfortable.

If I don’t get real with them, who will?

Now, I could be the kind of professor that ignores the cultural sensitivities that surface from answering these questions or I could be the kind that challenges students and myself to explore our self-identities and look at how fit they into the world. This is where we must consider our younger generations who are confused but curious about their role in improving our society in ways that enlighten and empower them. Violence, race and injustice – the anchors of the cultural discourse around police brutality – aren’t the easiest concepts to grasp and are no longer the kinds of one-time shallow conversations we can sweep under the rug. Ignoring the facts dehumanizes us. They have to be talked about on an ongoing basis every time a story comes out.

I challenge you, whether a professional, professor or parent, to start having open discussion about cultural issues with the young students in your communities. Address your personal biases internally, dig for more than what is reported through media, be okay with the discomfort of disagreement when a different opinion is expressed, search for a historical context connected to these issues we’ve increasingly seen in the news, seek meaningful conversations with people who’ve experienced the cultural struggles that you haven’t, and empower a young student to intelligently assess their role in doing something about the issues.

I’d like to hear from you.

How has your perspective of race and police brutality been impacted by recent events?

How has media coverage of the current events heightened your cultural sensitivity to racial issues and police discrimination?

How do you intend to help the next generation of leaders understand and address difficult issues like race, violence and injustice?

Grooming Millennials for Senior Management

I’m often met with shock when I tell people that I’ve owned two PR agencies.

Sure, I’m a millennial, but I started my PR career at a relatively young age. When I ran Urbane Imagery from 2004-2012 I hired two millennials in part-time senior roles, and when I was in charge at duGard Ellis Public Relations from 2012-2015 we had seven millennials on staff, two of whom had director titles.

Millennials understand how the biggest misconceptions surrounding our generation may annoy agency leaders. We’re portrayed as being overconfident, self-centered, self-entitled and preoccupied with our hand-held devices to the detriment of face-to-face contact.Unfortunately, the culture at many PR agencies is not conducive to cultivate millennial employees for senior roles.

However, underneath myriad labels, millennials posses key attributes that PR agency owners need in order to enhance the longevity of their agencies and embrace social media marketing.

As millennials move into the management ranks PR agency owners have an opportunity to leverage our energetic, ambitious and entrepreneurial spirits for the continued success of their firms.

With that in mind, here’s three tips for how to groom millennials for senior management:

1. Explain why. Millennials need to know “why.” We are curious problem-solvers. We need to know why precise operational procedures are in place. Why a distinct strategic solution is implemented for a particular client and why billing and accounting policies are structured in a certain fashion. Why do managers need to explain things frequently? Because providing clear explanations reveal the thought process behind your leadership decisions and creates knowledge-sharing opportunities. Rather than assigning repetitive tasks, take a moment to give millennials focused responses as to how their contributions fit into the bigger picture (and the bottom line). Explaining “why” lets millennials know that your agency has a business imperative to make their career growth a priority.

2. Learn how to coach failure. Millennials don’t fail well. We often have expectations to win at every turn. The desire to win comes naturally to us, so senior agency executives need to show us what to do when things don’t work out. “Get millennials to use their critical thinking skills by talking through what went wrong and how to improve the conversation for the next time. Make failure a teachable moment. Point out the hiccups and make recommendations for a fix,” said Jamal Hipps, chief creative officer at MPYER Marketing & Advertising.  This allows agency owners to assess potential leadership behaviors and attitudes among those millennials who are most willing to harness their strengths and openly address their weaknesses.

3. Provide for a sense of ownership. Millennials embrace ownership. We like to say, “I led that project” or “That’s my campaign.” We desire quick promotion, rapid progression and various interesting tasks and assignments. But, for owners and managers, it can be unnerving to relinquish control and critical decisions to millennials. Don’t fret. First, test responsibility by sharing all your projects and letting millennial employees choose which ones they want to tackle. Then, by providing needed resources and being available for questions, managers can offer millennial team members ownership of specific assignments/projects. Remember, millennials are the most ethnically and socially diverse generation to enter the workforce, not to mention the first generation weaned on social media and online communications. They don’t call us “digital natives” for nothing.

As the face of current agency leaders changes, millennials will need to step into the second tier. It is up to agency owners to transform us from swift and savvy technicians to strategic and visionary leaders. The above recommendations are your blueprint.

Let us know what you think we might be missing here.

 

**This post is an excerpt from my thought leadership series, The Original Millennial. Pre-order the book here.

How The Millennial Generation Has Redefined Diversity

A client came to me once and said, ‘Aerial, how do we get our millennials talking? They bring value to our organization and seem have a deep appreciation for diversity but we just don’t know how to engage them. Is there some kind of internal communication strategy we need to implement?”

I belong to the millennial generation so I understood the necessity behind their inquiry. An obsession with Generation Y, also know as millennials, has overtaken all aspects of culture. Millennials are likely the most studied generation to date. Brands and organizations have formed a fascination with how to relate and connect to millennials. Media and scholars have developed a 21st-century style of urgency to understand this demographic. Not since the baby boomers has a generation been the target of such fixation and the growing generational gap is redefining how we think about diversity and inclusion.

 

Millennials Leading a Cultural Shift

Not only are millennials the largest generation to date, we are the most traditionally diverse generation in history. A culture shift in the population shows that of the 80 million millennials and counting, 60% classifying as non-Hispanic white in comparison to 70% of the previous generation. That percentage is projected to continue a decline as ethnic minorities (blacks & hispanics) will account for 60% of the population by 2045. Of millennials in the US, 59% are white and 27% have immigrant backgrounds. The ethnic profile of the millennial is far more blended that than of previous generations. In addition, there are millennials who come from an increased percentage of single-parent homes, blended families, and families with same-sex parents than ever before (Broido, 2004).

Authors Neil Howe and William Strauss described the generation as an ethnically diverse generation who are team players, optimistic, confident, trusting of authority, rule-followers, achievers in school, and generally achievement-oriented in everything they undertake. Furthermore, millennials will make up an estimated 50% of the workforce by 2020 ultimately changing the face of organizational leadership.

Here at the 2016 NOW Diversity Workforce Diversity Breakfast Forum with panel of young professionals for The Millennial Report on Workforce Diversity – myself, Kinika Young (Bass, Berry & Sims), Marcus Johnson (Edward Jones) and Luke Marklin (Uber) and Q&A facilitator Jonquil Newland (News Channel 5) giving insight on how millennials are changing the workforce. (Photo Credit: NOWDiversity.org)

Millennials Needing Expression and Acceptance

For millennials, walking into an organization and seeing all types of people is a norm. Diversity of race and gender is a given and in some cases a must. While older generations likely consider demographics, equal opportunity, and representation as the frame for diversity, millennials are much more concerned about the diversity of thoughts, ideas and philosophies as we contain an unending curiosity to understand differences and explore opportunities for collaboration.

There is a growing segment of millennials who are refusing to check our identities at the door while many organizations are remaining unchanged in their response to our need for expression and acceptance. This need is not just an expectation we hope to receive for ourselves but one we want to see granted to other cultural groups as workplace demographics evolve. Our appreciation for share of voice is aligned with an appreciation for cognitive diversity.

This means organizations are forced to rethink and redefine their approach. Instead of using the phrase ‘diversity and inclusion’ to describe race, age and gender in a traditional fashion with no ties to business growth or evolution, the millennial generation has compelled organizations to consider a combination of unique traits to overcome challenges and achieve business goals as the diversity of experience and the inclusion of thought become increasingly more crucial to future innovation.

Millennials Commanding Inclusion and Innovation

As millennials move into leadership, a transformation in traditional diversity and inclusion models will challenge past approaches and break barriers that have hindered the progress.

Connectedness is part of our generational DNA and breeds the kinds of transformation organizations of the future will command. While there is much work to be done, the millennial generation is a likely catalyst to show how advocacy, learning, and leadership can collectively leverage opportunities to see greater inclusion and innovation.

If making a commitment to diversity and inclusion truly means allowing an individual to bring his/her true and whole self to work, organizations must ensure millennials, along with other culturally advanced cohorts, can work in a collaborative environment that openly values tangible participation from individuals who have different ideas and perspectives that can have positive impact on business outcomes.

This post is an excerpt from my thought leadership series, The Original Millennial.

Pre-order the book below.

The Original Millennial Aerial Ellis

What I’m Reading: Year of Yes

Before I decided to read this book, I started the year knowing that 2016 would be a year like none other. Now after four months in, I was obviously right. 2016 has been super amazing so far with many unexpected happenings and a number of important goals coming to fruition. So as I came across this title, it immediately caught my attention.

Year of Yes chronicles how Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder, committed to saying “YES” for one year and the serendipitous way it changed her life. In true Shonda Rhimes fashion, it is nothing less than a page turner. It gives a close-up view of her thoughts, experiences, insecurities, failures and victories. As someone who has changed the face of television, she openly shares a refreshing lesson on how to change your perspective through courage and vulnerabilty.

What a powerful impact the word “YES” can make!

Highly recommended.

Year of Yes Aerial Ellis review

 

Aerial Ellis Oscars Diversity Inclusion Communication

Is Diversity America’s Superpower?

With all the recent chatter about #OscarsSoWhite for the second straight year where no minorities were selected among the 20 acting nominees, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently announced the development of a change management plan to reposition its voting requirements, recruiting process and governing structure aimed at increasing the diversity of its membership and doubling the number of female and minority members by 2020.

Prior to this announcement, superstar Will Smith who many feel offered an Oscar-worthy performance in the film “Concussion” but did not receive a nod this year, did an exclusive Good Morning America interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts where he expressed his disappointment at the absence of minority nominees. Even more, Smith shared his thoughts on why those diverse roles are missing in Hollywood and should be all the more celebrated because “diversity is America’s superpower.”

Ocasrs Diversity Will Smith Nominations Aerial Ellis

Is diversity America’s superpower?

Yes and no. Not only is diversity a superpower for America, it is a global force that makes the world go around. Beyond our differences, there is an unparalled ability to exercise influence and project power across the globe. Power is the ability to control, circumstances and access such as financial, social, and cultural resources. It is complex, dynamic and omnipresent in all relationships. Power can restrict or restrain people through the control of resources such as money, knowledge, and social institutions.

Since the power of diversity has become an undeniable element of culture, industries are trying to catch up to create spaces of inclusion, especially in Hollywood. Leading figures Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith announced that they would not be attending the coveted Oscars ceremony and spoke out in protest for what is seen as the systemic exclusion of African-American, Latinos, women, and other minority groups from recognition by their peers. Actor/comedian Chris Rock, the host of this year’s Oscars, even wrote an essay nearly two years ago about Hollywood’s diversity problem. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, an African-American women in her second year as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also shared her disappointment in the statement, “While we celebrate their extraordinary achievements, I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion.”

The message says certain voices, no matter how valuable or respected, will have low or no access to the influence and access that comes from power.

Because of power, we often maintain and perpetuate patterns of privilege in culture unknowingly. Members of the mainstream society or dominant/majority group define what is normal and are rarely forced to see or think about the “other” identity, standpoint or plight, if at all. Meanwhile, those who feel left out or overlooked are consistently in the difficult position of trying to dwell in two worlds – they are often reminded of theiOscars Diversity Aerial Ellis #oscarssowhiter marginalized status, communicate from that perspective and feel forced to deal with forces that seem impossible to break. The Academy is a membership organization that directly reflects the demographic makeup of the industry it serves. Many in Hollywood from production to management feel a perpetual lack of opportunities or an imbalance that industry gatekeepers are unlikely to fix.

 

Within any industry, decision makers must be deliberate about creating a culture of inclusion.

Why? No industry can experience the strength of diversity and continue to be viable without the inclusion of the unique talents, voices and abilities. As people of color make up 39 percent of the U.S. population with upwards 3 billion in buying power predictions, changes in spending patterns and decision-making process will continue to reflect a constant shift. Industries must invest time and resources in aligning that shift with consumer demand, audience preference and organizational leadership.

So if diversity is America’s superpower, how should we use it to achieve greater inclusion? Here are a few things we cannot do.

  • We cannot be frustrated about the lack of recognition yet overlook the lack of influence and leadership.
  • We cannot allow those in power to openly insult those who contribute at a high-level by assuming that are not a “cultural fit.”
  • We cannot think that diversity means non-white – all people are part of diversity and have a role in advancing its power.
  • We cannot operate in our comfort zone by being satisfied with everyone at the table looking, speaking, and thinking in the same monolithic ways.
  • We cannot write plans and make statements about diversity tactics without clear and transparent goals of inclusion as well as metrics and timelines to measure the change process.
  • We cannot ignore the significance of marginalized groups who build efforts to celebrate their own cultural impact while welcoming others who acknowledge how that impact has made our society even better.

Superpowers are not a cure-all because developing cultures of inclusion can be a long complicated journey when often it doesn’t have to be.

If diversity is our superpower, we must allow the space for it flourish, witness its magnitude and let it make us greater.

 

 

 

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Inclusion Must Honor the MLK Legacy

As we return to work after observing the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, we must pause to honor his legacy and reflect on the impact of his work as it lingers throughout our communities.

If we consider the presence of that legacy being carried out in our organizations, we would immediately consider the practice of diversity and inclusion.

Sadly however, many organizations spend more time talking about how they can and should improve workplace diversity than taking any measurable action toward workplace inclusion.  Statements and declarations, committees and councils, trainings and assessments — all sound great. None of those things truly move the needle toward inclusion. When policies are not matched with strategic efforts, results will never come about.

In light of this much needed work, I was happy to create and coordinate the annual MLK Diversity Breakfast hosted by the Lipscomb University Department of Communication and Journalism and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on Friday, January 15, 2016 in partnership with the Council on Workforce Innovation and National Organization for Workforce Diversity.

This event is aimed at inspiring interactive conversation among local leaders who are champions for diversity and inclusion by sharing ideas, addressing issues and rethinking practices that affect our multicultural communities.

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(Aerial Ellis opening the 2016 MLK Diversity Breakfast at Lipscomb University.)

The MLK Diversity Breakfast is an opportunity for area professionals to gain a greater understanding of how to communicate about diversity and inclusion as a priority within their organizations and have access to a network of colleagues who collectively celebrate the cultural progression of the Nashville community. Our keynote speaker is a C-suite or civic leader connected to the practice of cross-cultural communication with a passion for the ways in which diversity and inclusion impacts business and community.

This year’s event featured Rose Jackson Flenorl, Manager, Global Citizenship, FedEx Corporation as keynote speaker. Flenorl directs and implements the company’s community outreach strategy in the areas of disaster relief, safety, environment, education, and diversity. She leads a team of professionals committed to representing the heart of the corporation by executing strategic programs and maintaining relationships with national and international non-profit organizations. Flenorl provided insight on the global corporation’s work in serving an evolving base of multicultural consumers, strengthening its pipeline to recruit, retain and advance diverse talent, and supporting minority business owners and community initiatives through citizenship engagement.

Last year, our inaugural event featured Anthony Carter, Chief Diversity Officer at Johnson & Johnson. Take a look at our 2015 highlights.

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(L-R: Rose Jackson Flenorl of FedEx – 2016 keynote speaker, Jacky Akbari of Now Diversity)

In addition to the breakfast, Rose Jackson Flenorl spent time talking with our communication and journalism students about the path to success in the industry. Discussions about diversity allow our students to better identify bias and stereotypes, discover advocacy with an objective lens, and communicate across global cultures as future journalists and public relations practitioners.

Though her visit, I believe all were able to consider diversity as a social action that challenges those norms, values, styles and patterns of thinking that can inspire more inclusive conversations.

If organizations strive to live up to the tenets of Dr. King’s vision, they must honor his legacy through actions that show real progress toward workplace inclusion. Initiatives must not only embrace employees for their individuality but also celebrate the differences that contribute to the success and innovation in the workplace regardless of gender, creed, color or sexual orientation.

Beyond commemorative events and celebrations, we have an obligation to act. Inclusion at any point should always be our goal. In this new year and moment of cultural reflection, I challenge you to thinker deeper about the ways Dr. King’s legacy can inspire and shape your organization’s practice of inclusion.

See a few highlights from the 2016 MLK Diversity Breakfast.

What I’m Reading: Improvise – Unconventional Career Advice from an Unlikely CEO

What I’m Reading: Improvise – Unconventional Career Advice from an Unlikely CEO

I spent the last five days in Atlanta at Public Relations Society of America International Conference where Golin CEO Fred Cook offered this book to share the inspiring story of how he followed an unusual yet fascinating path from young adulthood to the corner office.

As CEO of one of the top PR agencies in the world, Cook provides counsel to blue-chip companies like Nintendo, McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, BP, and Toyota, and has worked personally with Jeff Bezos, Michael Eisner, and Steve Jobs.

This book is great for motivating readers to create their path to leadership through the practicality life experiences by changing their perspectives and acknowledging unique life experiences as a means to an end.

Highly recommended.

Aerial Ellis Fred Cook Unlikely CEO

Aerial Ellis what I'm reading

What I’m Reading: Between the World and Me

What I’m reading: Between The World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates.

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

This is a profound work by an amazing author passionately attempting to explain the difficulties of race and American racism to his young Black son. This work offers a powerful framework for new and present understanding of our nation’s shameful and complicated history with race and the current conversation around the cultural crisis.

I will boldly say that this is required reading as quoted by the great Toni Morrison. The author is giving a new age Richard Wright, James McBride type literally excellence.

Very impressed and enlightened.

Highly recommended.Aerial Ellis what I'm reading

The Original Millennial

Introducing the Launch of The Original Millennial

Slackers, narcissists, entitled — the infamous cliché known of a generation born around 1980 or so. This special breed of individuals, debunking myths and assumptions, will lead a cultural shift to represent a full 75 percent of the U.S. workforce by the year 2025 and change the face of leadership.

They are creative, innovative, enterprising, influential, bold, unapologetic, and ready to solve the world’s problems.

They are called the original millennial.

Last month, I announced the launch of my newest project – The Original Millennial – during my keynote speech before 250 attendees at the Memphis Urban League Young Professionals Empowerment Conference.

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This is an eBook project that will begin funding a social venture to support startups run by women and minorities who own businesses in the public relations marketing, media and digital industries.

The Original Millennial, a thought leadership series featuring the stories and experiences of millennial entrepreneurs, is the first of many projects that will fund this social venture effort. For $5.99, you may pre-order the eBook with exclusive content including interviews and videos for early release later this year.

The millennial generation is bigger and more diverse than any other generation has ever been. Most of us original millennials born in the early 1980s went through college only to find ourselves dissatisfied with our jobs, hopping from job to job more frequently than our parents, grandparents and even older siblings, or employed in fields unrelated to our area of study. We became more likely to start our own businesses or entrepreneurial ventures and less likely to stay in an unfulfilling work environment than previous generations. We became invigorated by the ways that business can go well and do good at the same time. If we were unsatisfied with our jobs or communities, we became relentless in finding a better situation even if we had to create it ourselves.

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We are the generation that doesn’t stop at the question ‘why?’ We ask ‘why not?’

Contrary to what has said or perceived, the original millennial is not lazy and selfish lacking motivation and creativity. The original millennial is a servant, innovator, go-getter – a leader. We’ve become leaders of the social entrepreneurship sector which emerged around 2007 during the time when most of us graduated college or started our careers. Many millennials have been inspired by a cultural change to create organizations and movements that are neither businesses nor charities, but rather hybrid entities that generate revenue in pursuit of social goals. Now there are tens of thousands of social ventures and many are being led and utilized by millennials. The original millennial believes that solutions of the past won’t work for problems in the future, and we will be the generation leading the shift and bringing change to life. 

To support the release of The Original Millennial eBook series, visit theoriginalmillennial.com

Your contribution is an early investment that will empower millennial entrepreneurs in the year to come.

Pre-Order TOM

Aerial Ellis Black Twitter

Five Things PR Pros Can Learn From #BlackTwitter

If you hadn’t heard, the Los Angeles Times recently added a reporter to cover #BlackTwitter.

What is #BlackTwitter?… I’m glad you asked.

Over the past few years, Twitter has become a platform for breaking news, public discussion, trending topics and cultural concerns. On occasion, a hashtag will emerge among the chatter. The hashtag #BlackTwitter has grown as one of the most popular colloquialisms associated with African-Americans who use Twitter, many of whom are tastemakers, public figures and intellectuals collectively setting the tone for daily dialogue related to real-world issues that would have been seen as rather taboo or sensitive for mainstream media.

Conversations around the murder of Michael Brown or scenes from ABC’s hit TV show “Scandal” are examples of how the hashtag reflects the variety in which African-Americans are passionately tweeting among themselves to raise awareness, celebrate interests and disrupt the narratives of mainstream media. Searching the hashtag means you will find discussions about everything from the calling out of a celebrity for making a cultural offense to running jokes about stereotypes shared among African-Americans.

PR pros are increasingly seeking ways to drill closer to the lifestyles, behaviors and sentiments of ethnic communities with social media as the source. Though hashtags have risen in popularity, use for audience research can be selectively evaluated and subjectively filtered. This is a critical place to pause and caution PR pros to think deeply about strategies designed to tap into a diverse ethnic community through social media.

Black Twitter Aerial EllisHere are five things PR pros can learn from #BlackTwitter:

African-Americans use Twitter frequently…

There’s a hint of consumer insight to be gained from #BlackTwitter. African Americans use social media more than any other ethnic group and access Twitter by roughly 22 percent as compared with 16 percent of whites, according to a study from the Pew Research Center. The study also revealed that 73 percent of all African-Americans using the Internet are on Twitter. Brands and organizations can build and benefit from access to this population and the dynamics of engagement that await discovery.

But this isn’t a solely “black thing” – it’s simply the nature of online communities…

The great thing about social media is that it provides a space for conversations that have been long had offline to find a home online. The essence of conversations within an ethnic group that derived mostly from their unique experiences is now open to observation for all. As in any online community, members are more likely to bond around a core commonality, follow each other, develop their own terminology, and create consensus around commentary. The knowledge of values and complexity is unlimited with #BlackTwitter because conversations can change overnight. However, this dynamic allows diverse groups to dominate conversations with an authentic voice.

Because their influence motivates movements…

The presence of African-Americans on Twitter established a history for the #BlackTwitter hashtag and the subcultures it birthed. When African-Americans felt mainstream media overlooked or ignored issues that impacted their community, they took to Twitter. For instance, the hashtag #BoycottSororitySisters was created by VH1 viewers to express their disappointment and embarrassment with a new reality show that chronicled the lives of African-American sorority sisters focusing on stereotypes among the women instead of the sisterhood and service these organizations are known for. After the backlash, brands such Hallmark, Honda, Domino’s and State Farm used Twitter to announce that their advertisements would be pulled from show and VH1 later confirmed the show’s cancellation.

That’s why newsrooms are watching…

Whether for profit or production, media has shown an increased interest in ethnic communities. Although there remains a deficiency among people of color working in newsrooms, outlets are getting smarter about how the history of diverse groups is researched and how the issues of race, gender, and identity within a community are reported. Content creators have to be responsible enough not to surveillance tweets for subject matter or copy and paste screenshots but instead work with users to tell broader stories through interviews and leverage access to the relationships of users to build diverse connections. Content creators should also be keen on the differences between a trending topic and a story of substance.

And remember, anyone can use a hashtag.

Careful not to use #BlackTwitter as a window into this consumer base from the comfort of your laptop without a true historical context of the audience and the issues they tweet about. Ethnic groups are not monolithic. Trends among people of color especially can be hard to assess. One member’s voice cannot cover the complete sentiments of the whole. Acknowledge the patterns but recognize that perspectives, interests and needs of a group cannot be teased out of a hashtag.

It’s enlightening to see the cultural phenomenon of #BlackTwitter proving the power of people-centered platforms but it’s more important that PR pros explore the intersectional issues discussed by people of color via social media through the advancement of inclusive conversations.

A New Reality: Women of Color Meet at C2 Miami

As organizations adjust to cultural shifts within their businesses internally and search for ways to connect with multi-layered audiences externally, diversity becomes a major topic for senior leaders. A new reality for women of color in the communications industry leading the conversation around issues of diversity and inclusion is now before us.

I had the exhilarating experience of attending the ColorComm C2 Conference last week in Key Biscayne, Florida. Women of color in public relations, marketing, advertising, media, and digital gathered from all across the country to share experiences and learn from one another to enhance their personal and professional development.

The three-day event for women focuses on leadership training, executive positioning, business development, and expanding financial literacy. The event also attracts leaders in diversity and inclusion.

I asked some of the nation’s leading women in the communications industry their thoughts on diversity and inclusion, and they all agree on one thing: the practice must be a priority.

Hear what they had to say.

With a star lineup of speakers including women’s activist Gloria Steinem and CNN’s Lisa Ling, the women dived deep into discussions about diversifying the communications industry, remaining professionally competitive, navigating promotions and achieving work-life balance.

This event exchanged rich moments of wisdom, intellect and sisterhood. Click below to see the great rundown of highlights from social media with the #C2Miami hashtag.

Aerial Ellis

I’m definitely counting down to #C2Miami 2016!

Are you a women of color in communications? How do you think diversity impacts our new reality?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave your comment here and tweet me @aerialellis using the hashtag #PRdiversity.

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In a Crisis? What NOT To Do With Media

We’ve all been there – watched an embattled public figure makes an uncomfortable mistake that played out in the media. You may have turned the channel on the TV, flipped to the next page of the newspaper, or clicked over to the next story shaking you head and thinking how much worse could this situation get.

When media is involved, there are some things a brand faced with a crisis situation would be better off not doing. Communication in a crisis is the single most important action a brand must manage in order to instill a sense of control and contact. It also allows a brand to restore confidence among their audiences in a gradual way. Those facts we should always understand.

The real questions begin when we determine the things that damage or jeopardize a brand’s road of recovery.

The highest potential of getting through a crisis situation often times depends less on what you do and more on what don’t do. You can follow the crisis rule book to the letter but you can risk all that is right without knowledge of all this is wrong.

There’s only one thing that exposes the right and wrong to the public – the media.

Here are a few don’ts when interacting with media in the midst of crisis situation.

  • Do not take to social media without plan. Social media networks are wide open for anyone who will listen and there are no restrictions. Have a one to two sentence message or apology you want to communicate and walk away until the smoke clears. For example, “I remain committed to my family, my organization and my community. I apologize and hope to move beyond this situation.”
  • Do not hide from the media – at least not forever. The main thing that separates your true image from the image the public will believe is the perception is the media. Accommodate media because they have the power of influence to repair a damaged image. There’s no such thing as “off the record” when speaking to the media. In these tense and sensitive moments, any statement you make is likely to make the news. At the right time, you will have the opportunity to speak.
  • Don’t repeat negative words or phrases. It reinforces them. Instead, restate the question with more positive or neutral language. For instance, a reporter says, “Nothing seems to be working for you lately. What’s the problem?” and you respond, “It may seem that way but I am making progress.“
  • Don’t ever say “No Comment.” Whenever possible explain why you can’t give media the information. For instance, “I cannot speak about that at the moment due to legal reasons.” Be cooperative. Know what you will and won’t say.
  • Don’t let a reporter get away with the wrong information; correct inaccuracies before you answer any questions. For instance, “No, that’s incorrect. Before I get to your question, let me clear that up for you.” DON’T speculate, lie or talk about anything that’s not a known fact. It’s OK to say “I don’t know.”
  • Don’t keep talking as you’re walking away. Stop talking before you walk or walk away after your final comment. Walking while talking is often portrayed that you are running away or that media chasing you. The momentum in the heat of the moment will upset you and an argument can begin with reporters. Aim to look and sound calm and controlled.

Remember, the only thing that separates your true image from the image the public will perceive is the media.

 

Conversations about Race at Lipscomb University’s Summer Celebration

PSX_20150702_113200Ferguson, Baltimore and now Charleston – tangible and tragic moments in a much larger national dynamic that involves an increasingly diverse nation trying to understand and practice racial harmony.

This morning, I had the chance to talk issues of race and injustice around these events and the media coverage surrounding them in a class led by President Randy Lowry at Lipscomb University’s annual Summer Celebration. I was certainly happy to do it (see my photo?🙂

One of my fellow faculty members asked me at the end of the discussion in reference to my comments, “how do you talk to your students about race as a black woman in a majority white environment like Lipscomb?” and we had good dialogue around my answer.

I am always amazed when a community of faith comes together to talk about such a difficult topic as race in a spiritual context and encouraged by the honesty of those who admit their shortcomings when dealing with issues of race.

I have much more to say about these topics as we dwell deeper and deeper into an era of racial understanding so I plan to write a few pieces around the subject in the coming months.

Thankful to President Lowry for inviting me to be a part of the discussion today! ‪

Damage Control

Damage Control: Three Steps to Reputation Recovery

If you’re watching the news or following current events, you’ll notice a pattern. People are messing up a lot. Companies are experiencing major mishaps, politicians are spouting insensitive remarks, and public figures are stumbling over their own identities.

We are in interesting times. These times often call for quick and expedient damage control.

While many professionals work hard to maintain and reinforce their good reputations, they can do instant damage to their brands with merely one statement or action. Sometimes, all it takes is one slip up to lead you to the kind of crisis situation that puts a dent in your credibility. In this instance, your goal should be to minimize the negative perception caused by the crisis situation whether it happened as result of poor execution or planning, a half-baked judgment call or an unexpected event.

Here are my three keys to damage control for a personal brand facing reputation recovery.

Patience: This is an extremely key factor in your crisis because the public has the ability to negotiate your reputation on their terms. Fight the urge to make hasty decisions or react recklessly. One snap comment, untrue statement, bad move or rash decision can ruin your credibility, upset the media and make your closest supporters resent you. Face your issues in a methodical and graceful manner.

Honesty: Be honest with your PR and legal counsel at all times. They need to know the facts of any situation that could be brand damaging. Remember that most incidents involving the police, courts or emergency medical are public record. That means they can be readily accessed for fact-finding in media reports. If your family would be embarrassed or you’d be ashamed by your words or actions, then it’s probably not a wise move.

Prevention: Prevention is the key to avoiding humiliating disasters. To be prevention-oriented, one must value their character just as much as their talent. Remember, there is no 100% guarantee that a crisis can be prevented. There is constantly disruptive behavior ready to surround and attack you, especially if you are in the public eye.

This is the second post of three in a series about personal branding in a PR crisis. My third post will be about the do’s and don’ts while in a crisis situation. Stay tuned!

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Can You Recover From a Public Scandal?

I’ve had just about enough this Rachel Dolezal craziness, haven’t you?

When the news reached me last Thursday evening, I was extremely puzzled and will admit to giggling at the #AskRachel comedy on Twitter and Instagram (Sorry, I’m human..lol). By Friday morning, it had made the national news circuit and I started to receive a few calls and messages from colleagues at media outlets asking for some expert quotes on this scandal.

Questions like “what should she do?” “should she speak to media or make a statement at this point?” “how can she recover?” were the focus of their inquiries. I find major conflicts with the facts of the Dolezal crisis – mainly cultural conflicts that bother me personally. Meanwhile, though the professional conflicts are equally as offensive (I cringed at her response in an interview where a reporter asked what she thought of the things people were saying about her), we’re all too familiar with the central theme of this kind of public scandal and it all starts with one thing – a presumed lie.

A public scandal is tough to cope with and often times even tougher to recover from. Most times, scandals that surfaced from a cover-up or hidden truth are the worst to bounce back from. I have a lot of advice here so this blog post will be one of three in a series about personal brand management in the midst of a crisis situation.

Let’s start by defining a crisis:

Crisis PRA crisis is anything that has the potential to have lasting damage on the public’s perception of a brand.

Whether the news broke, leaked or spread, you are now exposed, ashamed and embarrassed.

What should you do?

Accept your wrongdoing.

The recovery period of a scandal is often the most sensitive because it’s a time of reflection where the consequences of the situation start to hit hard emotionally. The shame that lingers during the aftermath can be painful. You must admit that you were wrong in order to start the recovery process. Have you noticed how critical we’ve become of public figures nowadays? We’re probably a bit too critical of each other sometimes considering no one is perfect but we certainly don’t appreciate being lied to – we want honesty and we respect transparency. This is a time when you need to take a moment to heal in private so you can ultimately try to make a public effort to present yourself in a repented and reformed fashion.

Receive and accept the right guidance.

Many times, in a public scandal, you discover who has your best interest, loves you unconditionally and will give you the best advice they know how. On the other hand, you realize who may have never truly had your back, was only along for the ride when things were good or who want to be attached to your drama for selfish reasons. Stick close to professional supporters such as legal and PR counselors skilled and trained in helping you mop up the mess and to the loved ones who give sincere guidance. Avoid the ambulance chasers who only want to be affiliated with your failure because it gives them a chance at 15 minutes of fame or a potential payday.

Come back with credibility.

Your image took a blow and you’re going to have to handle your comeback with care. The ultimate test of a full recovery shouldn’t be whether the public accepts you back as you once were. Even years after a scandal takes place, it can linger in the memory of the public if your comeback plan is not intact. The court of public opinion is tough but most people love a comeback and will often root for a fallen brand that is making a real attempt at earning the public’s trust again grounded by the truth. A successful reintroduction effort can make the scandal a vague memory. Don’t expect this overnight. Don’t even expect to be a loved as you once were. Just expect that slowly but surely, if you are true to your talents and consistently building toward the future, the public will grant you a measure of grace.

I will say more about the keys to damage control and the do’s and don’ts with any crisis situation in my next two posts. Stay tuned!

It’s Complicated: Explaining The Role of Race in Police Brutality

 

I’ve opened the past two semesters talking about police brutality on the first day of class in my Cross-Cultural Communication course at Lipscomb University. This is a required course for communication and journalism majors to grasp the challenges of communicating in today’s complex society so we go there and get pretty deep. Building communication strategies to address obstacles and opportunities within a client’s organizational culture is something I know very well but grappling with the thorny issues of our times with a room full of college students means I must dig deep and go all the way. There are a wealth of topics I could start the semester with instead but it just so happens the biggest story in the news at the time concerned violence, race and injustice – in fall we dealt with cases of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, and in spring, the cases of Eric Garner and Freddie Gray. It looks as if perhaps this coming fall in August I will unfortunately and again have new content on the same topic – now with the incident in Mckinney, Texas and who knows what else between now and then.

For all of these tragic instances, a firestorm of commentary and disagreement ensued across news media and social media, and protests arose all over the world. Some students wonder how this could happen in the United States. For others, unfortunately, police brutality and discrimination are all too familiar. Yet for a large majority of my students at our private, Christian, predominately white University, police brutality and the racial disparities that accompany the topic are foreign concepts. They are often confused but curious and compassionate in their attempt to make sense of tough issues that even us mature adults struggle to comprehend. Naturally, they are faced with anger, frustration, sadness, disbelief and lots of questions.

“The victim had to be doing something wrong, right Professor Ellis? Wouldn’t the news media tell us if something was done unfairly?”

“Professor Ellis, wasn’t this an issue during segregation? Why are we seeing so much about it today?”

“But Professor Ellis, does this mean most cops are racist or that we should fear them?”

“So Professor Ellis, how do we fix stuff like this?”

My answer to them: “Well, it’s complicated.”

I could share with you how I lecture on the basis of these questions but that’s a 2000-word essay, not a blog post. I tell my students we have many things to consider…

  • We’d need to consider how racism has always played a key role in our country and how it became embedded in our criminal justice system. We also need to talk about juries, how difficult it can be to find the truth and how media coverage and social media conversations impact the perceptions of what we believe is true. We’d need to consider the origins of racism and the repetitive narratives of injustice, violence and poverty in communities of color to examine the correlations.
  • We’d need to look at the public’s general perception about the problem of police brutality and its history in America from the civil rights movement of the 1960’s to the transition from community policing to military policing in the 1980’s. We’d need to examine data that shows if you are black you are far more likely to die at the hands of a police officer than you would if you are white, and how that knowledge has perpetuated a relationship of conflict between police officers and the black community. We’d need to talk about how the outrage makes people feel hopeless and inspired to react in protesting or even rioting.
  • We’d need to examine the disturbing trend in the news media where a person is often criminalized when they have been killed by a police officer rather than insisting they deserved to a chance to be charged, brought to trial and have remained among the living. We’d need to research at the trend of citizen journalism becoming a powerful catalyst for the narrative of injustice as a tool for breaking news. We’d need ask if we can discern by only looking at the mobile phone footage of a bystander how an unarmed citizen is to blame for the overcorrection, extra force or lack of control displayed by police officers.
  • We’d need to assess how police administrators are training officers and addressing criticism since police brutality has gotten so much national attention recently. We’d need to consider that what a police officer could despise more than anything is when their authority is challenged, regardless of your color, and that could get you thrown in jail or met with excessive force. We should acknowledge that there are officers and administrators who understand how this crisis is impacting public trust and are trying to handle the issue with care and concern because their profession requires that they put their lives on the line everyday.
  • We’d need to consider our role in calling out injustice as a social and moral responsibility when the dynamic of the unknown convicts us to acknowledge stereotypes and reveal blind spots. We’d need to be honest about the relative silence over unfair treatment when it doesn’t impact us directly. We should admit we are imperfect people who have a tendency to limit our perspective, opinions, beliefs and comfort zones to be in agreement with those who relate to us most. We need to remember that what affects one affects us all, or at least it should.

I told you. It’s complicated.

I have the next generation of FOX news anchors, CNN producers, national radio hosts, online news editors, public information officers, non-profit leaders and crisis PR practitioners in my classroom. They will shape public opinion and determine how we consume messages through media. These students are studying to go into newsrooms to write stories and headlines about issues they’ve never witnessed personally, go into communities that may not look like the places they grew up in with cameras to capture the conflict of people who don’t look like them, go into companies to help generate awareness among a target audience whose lifestyles they can’t relate to, or go into organizations to help senior leaders to communicate about issues that might make them uncomfortable.

If I don’t get real with them, who will?

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune)

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Now, I could be the kind of professor that ignores the cultural sensitivities that surface from answering these questions or I could be the kind that challenges students and myself to explore our self-identities and look at how fit they into the world. This is where we must consider our younger generations who are confused but curious about their role in improving our society in ways that enlighten and empower them. Violence, race and injustice – the anchors of the cultural discourse around police brutality – aren’t the easiest concepts to grasp and are no longer the kinds of one-time shallow conversations we can sweep under the rug. Ignoring the facts dehumanizes us. They have to be talked about on an ongoing basis every time a story comes out.

I challenge you, whether a professional, professor or parent, to start having open discussion about cultural issues with the young students in your communities. Address your personal biases internally, dig for more than what is reported through media, be okay with the discomfort of disagreement when a different opinion is expressed, search for a historical context connected to these issues we’ve increasingly seen in the news, seek meaningful conversations with people who’ve experienced the cultural struggles that you haven’t, and empower a young student to intelligently assess their role in doing something about the issues.

I’d like to hear from you.

How has your perspective of race and police brutality been impacted by recent events?

How has media coverage of the current events heightened your cultural sensitivity to racial issues and police discrimination?

How do you intend to help the next generation of leaders understand and address difficult issues like race, violence and injustice?

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Straight Talk: Communicating Gender Transition in the Workplace

If I worked with Bruce Jenner on the job for a few years, I would have gotten to know quite a bit about him. I’d know he was married to a woman, how many children he had, how to spot him in a crowd at a company event, and that he typically wear khakis on casual Fridays.

I must admit that I’d be confused and cautious if he showed up all of a sudden with a new face, name, hairdo and outfit. Bruce has become Caitlyn. The same man I’ve gotten to know, respect and work closely with is now living life as woman and no one told me what to do or expect.

While many organizations put time and effort into developing a culture that supports gay and lesbian employees they often ignore the culture shift that takes place when an employee chooses to become transgender. A transgender employee is defined as someone whose gender identity, expression or assignment differs from the gender assumptions made about him or her at birth. There are workplace barriers and challenges facing transgender employees. Some transgender employees will undergo gender transition while within an organization – a process that may take months or even years. Others will have completed the transition before they were hired or have a history of a transition in their younger years.

How should organizations prepare to communicate this shift in ways that support transgender employees while sustaining the culture of the workplace environment?

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Organizations should have a transition plan in place to set guidelines for safe and healthy development of transgender employees and to assist other employees in their adjustment to the shift. A gender transition plan should feature three parts: the organizational policy, a training component and a communication strategy. The communication strategy within the plan is critical and should be carefully thought out and executed. The strategy should also be supported by the organization’s non-discrimination policy used to manage a gender transition.

When tackling communication about the transition of a transgender employee, messages should be strategically scheduled and segmented. Start with gathering the employee’s immediate work team/group for an intimate meeting with discussion and training to ensure clarity and confidentiality. The employee can opt to make a statement at the meeting or prepare a personal letter to be distributed. From there, the messages must be gradually integrated with HR policies and directed from senior leadership to co-workers and key constituents who are in frequent workplace contact with the employee. Allowing the voice of a senior leader to set the tone of the announcement with supportive communication for the employee creates expectations for co-workers going forward. While the announcement may lessen the likelihood of confusion and lay a foundation for acceptance (relearning names, matching pronouns, etc.), an organization should allow the employee the liberty to choose when the announcement should be made, if/she wants to help craft the announcement and a chance to cancel or delay the announcement if needed.

A key point in the messaging about the use of restrooms should state that the transgender employee would use the restroom of the gender he/she presents for practical reasons. The safety of the employee should also be considered. Direct communication with the organization’s security team should occur specifically to be on alert about any harassment or bullying.

Enlist a senior leader, a licensed counselor, an employee who has undergone a gender transition, an HR professional and the employee’s supervisor to assemble a transition team. Identify a senior leader who can sponsor the employee as a supporter who is engaged throughout the process. The sponsor can be charged with helping a transgender employee manage his/her transition in the workplace and also help advise the transition team on inclusive messaging. This helps to minimize any disruption in the workplace and convey the message that everything is business as usual. Additionally, developing a resource group for LGBT employees creates a sense of community for the transgender employee as they transition.

gender-reassignment-surgeryWhen communicating with the transgender employee, inform him/her what to expect from the transition team and senior leadership in facilitating the transition. Have an open yet reassuring discussion with him/her about potential hostility or perceived discomfort with certain co-workers and that the organization is prepared to help them with transition as well. Explain the process of how the transition will be announced and steadily implement the tactics of the communication strategy soon after the employee notifies HR of the transition process. Explain what the procedure is for implementing any workplace and personnel changes such as name changes, business cards, and security badges. Work with HR to monitor the adjustment of the employee and his/her relationship with co-workers through a follow-up after the transition to be aware of gossip, mistreatment and offensive communication that can impact the overall workplace culture.

An employee’s gender transition can be a major shift for an organization but embracing a workplace culture where diversity and inclusion thrives can happen at any time. Combating potential issues and preventing misinformation can be addressed through educational diversity training specific to sexual orientation or gender identity issues. Without a communication strategy, the doors swing open for confusion, tension, miscommunication or even grievances and lawsuits.

While each employee is entitled to his or her own opinions and beliefs, no one should take the personal privilege to judge or dictate the rights of other employees within the workplace. When a gender transition is communicated properly and succinctly, the transgender employee can be met with a level of inclusiveness that translates how well your organization values diversity within the workplace culture.

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What Univision’s Acquisition of The Root Signals for Communities of Color

When I saw the news break on Twitter about Univision, the premier media company for Latinos in the U.S., acquiring The Root, an African American oriented news and culture website, I retweeted it immediately.  I retweeted the news because it instantly signaled to me the evidence of hope that someone somewhere had a major conversation revealing the power of collaboration between communities of color. It signals that someone understood that cultural inclusion breeds change and innovation.

In other words, this shift in perspective is more than just a money move or a PR plot – it’s a game-changing moment. As I retweeted in rejoice, others retweeted in reluctancy with a few questions in mind, “Didn’t Essence Magazine partner with Latina Magazine 10 years ago?” “What does this mean for the future of African American news sites?” “Isn’t this blended acquisition of an African American platform by a Hispanic-driven brand is no-brainer?” Yes, it depends, and not so much.

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(mediamoves.com)

Since 2008, The Root has become a leading website for African American readers and boasts an audience of 5 million unique users a month. Univision says The Root will “retain its editorial voice and mission but will now have access to greater resources, including Univision’s digital production facilities and publishing infrastructure.”

That’s great to know but the most promising advantage of this acquisition is the increased likelihood of intersectionality in three ways.

Brands/organizations that have a need to target both the African American and Hispanic communities now have an option to dig into both then drill down to the message specifics without fighting over which of the two audiences prove to be more valuable to their marketing/advertising budgets.

The lens of Hispanic/Latino culture alone is a rich case study of intersectionality both racially and culturally. Consider the experiences of Black Hispanics, a population who not are African Americans but speak Spanish. Consider the outlook of African Americans who have been heavily exposed to the influence of Hispanic/Latino communities over their lifetime though their extended families or neighborhoods. Each have authentic stories that relate and distinct identities that complement one another. Collectively, the acquisition makes both groups see their own relevance through the validation of multicultural stories with less content and images based on the divide of class, economics and geography.

Lastly (and what seems like the most important point to me), here’s an opportunity for audiences to challenge media outlets to provide us with more cross-cultural content. If diverse audiences are collaborating to greater impact conditions in our communities, why shouldn’t we see more companies find synergy to improve communication for people working within an international or multicultural environment or witness more media organizations merging and developing platforms that give depth of voice and length of distribution to stories that empower and entertain vital groups who are culturally common?

No The Root or Univision are not minority-owned but their organizations are clearly committed to determining what they can accomplish together for the good of their audiences. Perhaps this will even encourage folks of color to seek higher positions in media management or inspire collaborations that establish support for media ownership.

Since communication is the one most fundamental aspect people must get right when attempting achieve and understand how cross-cultural collaboration breeds innovation, it’s imperative that media take the lead in creating and displaying the intersections of cultural conversation in powerful and progressive ways.

Where Innovation and Funding Meet – Buzz from the 2015 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit

The Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit is always a great place for networking and an important moment to invigorate as an entrepreneur. This year’s event held in Atlanta was buzzing with topics, tips and tools for small business owners new and seasoned.

Here are a few highlights on my Storify story. http://sfy.co/f0bvK

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22 Tips to My 22 Year-Old Self

I was excited last week to see LinkedIn presenting a series with professionals sharing stories about what they wish they knew at 22 so I joined in on the fun. 11 years today, I graduated from college and I’d just turned 22 years old a month or so prior to crossing the stage.

#IfIWere22, I’d give myself these 22 wise pieces of advice.

  1. Entrepreneurship can put you in a personal deficit. You often give more than you get. Do not forget to take care of yourself.
  2. A relationship/marriage is a partnership. Choose a man who is loyal, spiritually grounded and focused on building a future that includes you.
  3. Passion leads to purpose. What you are passionate about today can change tomorrow. Search for your God-given purpose instead.
  4. Wake up early enough to pray, meditate and have some quiet thinking time before the day gets started.
  5. The countless happy hours, late nights and industry parties can add bags to your eyes and pounds to your thighs. Be easy.
  6. There will be many things in the world that will make you sad, angry and confused. Instead of letting them discourage you, find the courage to advocate for them.
  7. Not everything needs to be announced. Thanks, social media. Let folks see what you did, not what you’re doing.
  8. The right people and right situations always occur in your life at the right time. Respect and cherish them. Don’t force anything, chase anyone or mourn over lost time or missed opportunities. Whoever/whatever is meant to be, will be.
  9. Write yourself a reality check, boo – money does not grow on trees! Appreciate what you have. Eat at home. Shop less. Save something. Make a budget and stick to it.
  10. You are enough. You don’t need anyone to co-sign for you.
  11. Careful welcoming people into your space who make you question yourself or second-guess your ability. Many people will come into your life, push their own insecurities onto you, then walk away leaving you to heal in places where you were never broken.
  12. Make a to-do list everyday. Cross off as much as you can by the end of the day. If anything is left, no worries. Put it on tomorrow’s list.
  13. Those quirky things about you are totally fine. You’re weird sometimes and that’s okay.
  14. Women sometimes get the short end of the stick, especially black women. Don’t let that fact hinder your progress.
  15. No matter how sweet or humble or smart you are, people will be intimidated by your strength and your confidence. That’s not your fault. They’ll just have to get over it. Do you.
  16. Time is money. You’re either moving toward making it or getting closer to losing it. Period.
  17. A failure is often a set-up for a win. You will drop the ball sometimes and that’s okay. Pick it up and keep it moving.
  18. Your “hustle” or your “grind” is not badge of honor. In fact, it can be your own worst enemy. Focus on the quality of the outcomes instead of the amount of hours you clocked. Your success is not on deadline.
  19. You shouldn’t always be the smartest person at the table. You should have people around who are sharper than you. Keep them close and let them rub off. Iron sharpens iron. Your network is your net worth.
  20. Forget about work-life balance. You’ll never master it. Attempt to achieve balance from within.
  21. You are not a slave your phone or email. Stop sending and responding to work messages or calls past bedtime. The perception conveys that you have no boundaries and no life. Refresh, power off, unplug.
  22. Chill. God is in control and life is good so enjoy it.

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Photo: College graduation day, May 2004, Age 22. My mom giving me a diamond tennis bracelet as a graduation gift. I sold it a month later to invest in the launch my first company. #IfIWere22 today, I would probably do it again.

What I’m Reading: The Culture Map by Erin Meyer

What I’m reading: I finished out May and started June with this read – The Culture Map: Breaking Through The Invisible Boundaries of Global Business by Erin Meyer. This is a great study on the globalization of corporate culture and how to effectively lead collaboration with cultural sensitivity. Highly recommended for global leaders, diversity advocates and professional communicators!


The Culture Map Review Aerial Ellis  Cultural Communication

#BizChats: Excel as an Entrepreneur

I had fun participating in #Bizchats hosted by Mashable Business on yesterday. In observation of National Small Business Week, Mashable and several experts participated in a Twitter chat to discuss what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, I can tell you there’s no one path to success so I certainly enjoyed contributing to the chat and seeing what wisdom other entrepreneurs shared about their experiences.

Click below to hear the full discussion via Storify. I’m sure you’ll see my two cents in the mix!

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Ministry in the Age of Social Media

We’ve all seen the power of social media for good and bad. For those who of us who work in ministry and faith-based institutions, we naturally understand ways to communicate messages of redemption and empowerment through any and all means available.

But not everyone will seize this opportunity to use social media to proclaim faith or maximize the power of the online platforms to impact the masses. In fact, some churches will minimize or dismiss the influence of social media. Many leaders have been unwilling to adapt to strategic methods of sharing and reluctantly create a few touch points in order to simply have a presence – a tweet here, a Facebook post there. Others will be a bit overzealous and position themselves with proud images or preachy tones of self-promotion – a stigma that has been perpetuated through perceptions of church culture for decades.

Yesterday, I contributed to a conversation aimed at exploring ministry in the age of social media. Divine Dialogue, is a podcast dedicated to discussing social and religious issues affecting the African-American community hosted by writer and educator Candice Benbow. Along with two other guest experts, Candice invited us to look at what it means to be a responsible steward of social media as a member of a faith community.

Aerial Ellis Candice BenbowWe explored ways in which relationships and conversations can begin every day through social media as well as how connecting with leaders of churches through online platforms allows for deepening relationships, knowledge of pressing needs and prayer requests, and even encouragement throughout the week. We also tackled the concept of personal branding for ministry leaders and the difficulty that often comes with balancing a proactive yet humble approach.

Push play and join the convo below. How do you think social media impacts the work of ministry?

Aerial Ellis Twitter

Don’t Be Surprised By Imposters

They say imitation is the best form of flattery. Yeah, uhh…no it isn’t. It’s actually the best form of personal brand impersonation.

Last week, I met with a fellow public relations educator exploring research opportunities to collaboratively write about issues in communication related to diversity, leadership and innovation. We’d never met before so he did what any decent, well-meaning, respectable person would do in today’s age – he Googled me. From there, he found my Twitter profile then let me know he followed me. I went to Twitter to find him and noticed his profile was not listed among my followers. That gave me a hunch to search for my Twitter profile. I found my profile (@aerialellis) then scrolled down the search page and discovered @ellisrpb, a profile with my name, photo, bio and location that does not belong to me.

I was surprised and I shouldn’t have been. Recently, Twitter revamped their policies on how online abuse is reported due to the increases in reports of impersonation, imposters, offensive tweets and harassment. (source: Washington Post)

Bad Twitter

In my case, the imposter had tweets and retweets from and to my followers but the content didn’t reflect my authentic voice. Now, I’m no celebrity or politician among the highly targeted victims of imposter accounts but I am a business owner and an educator. I can’t afford to have my voice mistaken.

I’ve used Google Alerts from the moment the feature was launched and this false page never made it to my inbox. I’ve sent nearly 30,000 tweets since joining in 2008 but have never received a DM or tweet from a follower asking “is this really you?” I’ve monitored client accounts and moderated Twitter chats but never noticed someone else portraying me.

I immediately went to Twitter’s support page for reporting phony accounts. The process was very easy and the fake Aerial was removed in less than 24 hours.

A few things to note to avoid personal brand impersonation via social media:

Take action immediately. Why wait? Find out how to remove the fraudulent page and follow the necessary steps. You may have to wait on a response while they investigate everything but don’t give up. Stay on the case.

Monitor your name. Be on the lookout for online mentions of your name. Set up an alert through Google or other free services that will notify you when you name appears online. Though I can’t recall a time the fake Aerial appeared in my alerts, they are a safeguard for knowing what’s out there. Periodically, you should do a manual online search for your name to see if anything malicious pops up. This is how I found the fake Aerial.

Keep security tight. When you switch phones and computers, clear out your passwords. When you create passwords, make them strong with a mix of letters, numbers and symbols. Completely log off social media sites instead of only closing the browser.

Don’t be surprised by an imposter account. It happens. Your reputation can be negatively impacted by an imposter but don’t make it easy for them.

No Apologies Needed

We must be in a season of bad judgments. Something is in the air. Is Mercury in Retrograde again?

From educators to celebrities and politicians to news anchors, the slip of insensitivity has forced our attention to address the cultural nuisances that are often hidden by societal attempts to get along and diversify.

Lest we forget, we no longer live in a world where thoughts and beliefs are private thanks to the internet. We are expressive. We are bold. We are challenged. Yet, we are insensitive and often care less about who we hurt or how we do it.

But then, you have leaders like University of Oklahoma President David Boren who had members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity kicked off the campus following the release of a video reportedly showing fraternity members singing a racist chant and then issued a bold statement on behalf of the university. I am not familiar with this Oklahoma community but I do know a great deal about communities of higher education.

From KOCO.com

From KOCO.com

Within higher education, the creation and cultivation of an environment of inclusion on college campuses is about strategic intentionality. It starts with the administration, faculty, alumni and professional mentors practicing and communication the integrity of inclusive excellence. Students must see that kind of leadership through transparency, and when they do, they will follow and then lead their peers to cultural collaboration and sincere acceptance with no apologies needed.

This kind of inclusive excellence was displayed perfectly in President Boren’s message. He did not issue an apology. He didn’t have to. He stood firmly and sincerely on what was intolerable and took immediate action.

He released this statement Monday morning:

To those who have misused their free speech in such a reprehensible way, I have a message for you. You are disgraceful. You have violated all that we stand for. You should not have the privilege of calling yourselves “Sooners.” Real Sooners are not racist. Real Sooners are not bigots. Real Sooners believe in equal opportunity. Real Sooners treat all people with respect. Real Sooners love each other and take care of each other like family members.

Effective immediately, all ties and affiliations between this University and the local SAE chapter are hereby severed. I direct that the house be closed and that members will remove their personal belongings from the house by midnight tomorrow. Those needing to make special arrangements for positions shall contact the Dean of Students.

All of us will redouble our efforts to create the strongest sense of family and community. We vow that we will be an example to the entire country of how to deal with this issue. There must be zero tolerance for racism everywhere in our nation.

David L. Boren
President
University of Oklahoma

When your organization faces public scrutiny at the cultural immaturity and insensitivity of its members, an apology may feel like a slap in the face to the public’s intelligence and to the character of those who were harmed. In these tense times, the public won’t easily accept an apology. Proud expressions of blatant bigotry cannot be matched suddenly with empathy for those toward which the hate is directed, especially when the evidence is not felt or perceived but it is visual and viral. The public will believe and internalize the initial expression to which they were exposed. This could happen to any organization, university, brand or individual. Boren took the high road – the only acceptable road in this case – and held his people accountable for their actions. Though his statement did not address whether the behavior of the students on the videotape is reflective of some deeply rooted, perpetually overlooked cultural issues on their campus, that too will soon be exposed to the public if it exists and has been allowed to live under his leadership.

More than a PR crisis, this kind of act represents a human crisis. What is most needed at the moment is the declaration of community, a recommitment to cultural acceptance, a call to social responsibility and a swift kick in the conscious.

No apologies needed.

What I’m Reading: How to Get People to Do Stuff

We all want people to do stuff.

I know I do.

That’s why I picked up How to Get People to Do Stuff by Dr. Susan Weinschenk.

As a communicator, one of the first things you’re taught is how to master the art of persuasion. Well, this book combines the art and the science of persuasion to reveal the psychology behind motivating people to do the stuff you want them to do. It’s quick read and well worth the time.

Aerial Ellis How to Get People to do Stuff

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What I’m Reading: Give and Take by Adam Grant

One of my goals for 2015 was to read one book each month…and well, I’m behind. I’m going to take next few weeks to catch up and finish what I started so I can share my good reads with you.

First up is “Give and Take” by Adam Grant.

This book explains how highly successful people need the ability to connect with others. It talks about the misconceptions we have about takers, why we underestimate the success of givers, and exclaims that when matchers aim to give and get equally we all can succeed (1 of 12).

Thanks to Dr. Craig Carroll for the recommendation! More about the author and the book: http://www.giveandtake.com/

#goodbooks #highlyrecommended #readtolead

giveandtake-cover

Teradata/Randall Nelson

One Size Doesn’t Fit All: The Truth About Channel Planning

27 million pieces of content are shared everyday making it tough to cut through the noise (Meltwater). At duGard Ellis PR, we place heavy emphasis on channel planning to help clients cut through that noise and make their messages top of mind. We write content. We write a lot and we write well. In fact, quality writing is at the top of the list for our team. The reason we spend so much time on content engagement and channel planning is because client results hinge on our ability to get the word out in the most effective and efficient methods.

Teradata/Randall Nelson

Teradata/Randall Nelson

While in my fellowship at Johnson & Johnson, I worked with corporate communication director Patricia Jones. We talked about how content is re-purposed to reach specific audiences across J&J. I had the opportunity to assist with a great story about J&J’s CFO Dominic Caruso visiting the White House for an initiative that improves supplier diversity for small businesses. The content was placed within internal and external channels and re-purposed for additional messaging. I also worked with Patricia Crowley, senior manager in J&J’s Portal Center of Excellence who is responsible for an internal communication channel where a version of the story was placed.

When talking about content, the question of “where?” always comes up. Clients ask, “So do we need to be on Instagram? Should we put a blog on our external website or our intranet? What about YouTube? Pinterest? What should we post? Will the same messages fit on each profile?”

Planning where to place content means diversifying the channels and testing often for the right mix;

Here’s a quick step-by-step guide to fitting content into the right channels:

Size up your brand
Since the goal of content engagement is to communicate messages and tell stories that convey the value of your brand, you should ask what happens to be one of my favorite questions – “Why should they care?” Answering this question helps you affirm the value audiences place on your brand and the messages you communicate about it. Although your answer should be a no-brainer, it always helps to ask yourself that question to avoid communicating empty, redundant messages that audiences could potentially overlook or delete.

Size up your audience
Identify the target audience you are aiming for. Consider their location, age, level of influence, and areas of expertise or interest. This is important to know so that you may understand what information they look for and where they go to find it. Pull your current analytics to see which channels are already driving engagement for your specific target. Based on the demographics of your target, determine what channels they are attuned. If you’re drawn to Facebook but discovered your target is on Twitter, you may want seriously consider revisiting Facebook a little later and letting your strategy lead off with Twitter.

Size up the channels
Decide what the ideal channels for communicating content would be. Is your content more visual and interactive or is it informative and viral? You may find a great existing channel or you might even find the need to create your own online community. Your potential audience has to find a wow factor on a new channel intriguing and be instantly ready to join. Perhaps there’s an undiscovered appeal you can leverage using the current content channels. Consider how you will use the ideal channel. For example, are there ways this channel can provide more features than what you’re currently utilizing? Are there other features on one channel that another channel cannot provide? Can we distribute content across multiple channels for different reasons?

Size up the content structure
Now onto the fun stuff – building a structure for the content. Within the structure, you will focus on who the channel should speak to. Though it doesn’t have to be every member of your target audience, you should make sure the channel is appropriate for at least one targeted group in the audience – for instance, an internal channel might appeal to senior-level influencers but not as much to executive-level decision makers.

Pull all the ideas you have in mind to ensure you can create the type of content that is expected in this channel. Can we be consistent in producing videos if we go with YouTube? Are we able to manage and release daily original articles if we create new internal online community? How frequently will we add new content to Google+? Will subject matter experts contribute to content to any of our channels? How often will we respond to audience feedback? (I will post later about how to re-purpose content.)

These questions help when trying to prioritize which channels to invest your resources, and even with abundant resources you should not attempt to invest in every channel conceived. You certainly don’t want to start on a channel only to abandon it later. You have to know how the channel itself communicates value.
editorial calendar example
Size up the distribution
There’s one last step. Now that you have created your content structure, it’s time to try on the content for size to see how it fits your channels. Draft the plan and distribute it to your team. You will always overlook something and need other sets of eyes. Get their buy-in because many of them will help drive content to the channels. You don’t want to select and create great channels and have nothing to put in them. Good content engagement results are gained when the messages distributed are consistently strong and regularly updated. Make sure your watching the ways in which your audiences is engaging with the content you distribute so that you get the most of the channels utilized.

One piece of content doesn’t fit all channels. It can’t. It’s unfair to your brand and your audiences to think the “one size fits all” strategy will do the trick. In fact, the technology of the channels we use today won’t even allow us to try. They each come with varying features, functions and purposes. That’s we why use them and like them. If you are already sized up in content engagement, tightening up on channel planning will help you improve the use of old channels and explore new emerging channels.

Content vs. Channels

Growing up, my mother used to tell me, “It’scontent vs channels not what you say, it’s how you say it.” She was right. The “how” she was referring to is the tone of the message and the way it’s delivered to and perceived by the receiver. When you want to tell the world your story, you need to have a strategy to engage audiences and a plan to distribute your message in ways that get the response you desire.

During my educator fellowship at Johnson & Johnson, I discovered multiple internal communication channels with highly valuable content perfectly crafted for specific audiences. I had the chance to learn about how J&J places content into certain channels from long-time J&J employee and corporate communication director Melody Meade, who is responsible for developing creative and strategic messages for IT. We had a great conversation about leveraging content to get the best engagement from an audience. Companies large and small are facing an influx of messages to share and the decision of which channels to utilize that will make messages resonate and keep the interest of audiences.

What’s the best way to keep audiences engaged? Should we re-evaluate our content strategies or should we create new or improved channels? The answer is yes to both.

The best content engagement strategies are those that fully consider what and how, along with who, where, when, and why. The key to gaining greater engagement is to re-evaluate content regularly and assess the opportunity to create new channels that fit the uses of audiences. The perceived short attention span of our society is tempered by interesting content. If the content is great and meets the audience through a channel they value, your organization is poised to win.

 Here’s a short list of questions to ask when trying to plan or assess your content engagement strategy:

  •  What would we like audiences to know?
  • How should we tell them? What channels should we consider?
  • Who should we tell? Who are our target audiences for this specific message?
  • Where should we send the message to reach them best? How valuable is this method to our audiences? Does it allow them to share the message?
  • When should we tell them? How frequently?
  • Why should they care? How will we track and measure their responses/feedback?

Your content strategy defines your channel strategy. Many organizations craft content and place it in different channels without taking a real assessment of the type of content living in them. When content engagement drops or flattens, it’s time to rethink your channel strategy and determine what channels (web, social, email, etc.) are being used for distribution in order to re- purpose the content you have and set a new standard for what success looks like. (I will speak more about channel planning in a later post.

Content and channels shouldn’t be at war against themselves. In brand messaging, the content sits as king, while the channel is queen. They reign together and can’t be successful in the battle alone. Content makes magic in channels when planned and placed strategically. Crafting worthwhile content and keeping channel distribution diverse go hand-in-hand.

The more we evaluate our strategies, the more we discover that the best content sparks dialogue and strengthens relationships between organizations and their audiences.

(This post is part of a series written during a four-week project in corporate communication at Johnson & Johnson through the Plank Center Fellowship program.)

PR Pros Should Do Good & Be Well

Last month, I worked with a personal trainer. I knew my upcoming four-week stay at Johnson & Johnson was going to come with a slight adjustment to my regular exercise routine back home in Nashville. I know how travel can cause major setbacks for healthy dieting and exercising. More than anything, I know that having a balanced life is a major ingredient for handling the stress that comes with a career in public relations. Exercise is one of the necessary must-haves for me as I fight daily fires and face complicated dilemmas.

To prepare mentally and physically for the work ahead, I did strength training with heavy weights at low reps for 3-5 sets, 15-30 minutes of high-intensity interval (HIIT) cardio and timed full-body circuits three days a week at 7 a.m. for an hour. The other four days of the week, I was instructed to do 30 minutes of HIIT cardio for two days and take the other two for rest.

Once I arrived at J&J, I learned about the “Do Good, Be Well” program and the communication strategy created to support it. The initiative links like-minded fitness enthusiasts to volunteer and participate in charitable activities that make a difference in the community such as biking, running, swimming, hiking, walking and playing team sports. The employee platform is an internal initiative that connects to an online community to recruit team members for events, post goals and share success stories. As a component of “Do Good, Be Well,” 500 Johnson & Johnson employees recently teamed up at the TriRock Philadelphia Triathlon to raise more than $250,000 for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It’s the perfect reminder to stay active and commit to giving.

So often, working in public relations can take you away from living a happy and healthy personal life and inspiring others to do so.

Our stresses often come with second guessing deliverables, asking “is this what the client wants?” and ending up with mismatched results and mismanaged expectations. We find ourselves over-committing or overcompensating to frantically find a solution.

Our stresses can derive from budget problems. Internal mismanagement, nonexistent ranges on accounts, and lack of access can cause frustration with client relations or interruption in account services.

Our stresses are many times the result of mounting or overlapping deadlines. The pressures of delivering a quality product at a moment’s notice, responding to a crisis or pulling multiple all-nighters add up and may impact our ability to function properly.

Our stresses can develop from the perfection myth that exists in the PR industry. If media doesn’t cover a story, an event starts five minutes behind schedule or – God forbid – a typo is found in a campaign piece (gasp), the entire effort can feel worthless.

These things and more are issues PR pros cannot always control but we can control our response. We can manage our time in ways that allow us the freedom to make room for things that give us balance.

After an intense workout during week two of my stay at J&J

After an intense workout during week two of my stay at J&J

Instead of sitting at the computer all day or working through free time, ‘do good’ by volunteering at your favorite local charity’s big event or enlisting your company to sponsor a community health fair; ‘be well’ by adding a quick 30-minute workout to your calendar two to three days a week or walking in an upcoming 5k hosted by an organization you support.

As PR pros, we are brand advocates. Organizations depend on our expertise and knowledge. If we are to be champions for their cause, we must make our own health and well-being a priority.

 

(This post is part of a series written during a four-week project in corporate communication at Johnson & Johnson through the Plank Center Fellowship program.)

PR+ 2014 – Our First Conference

Lipscomb University hosted its very first public relations conference, PR+ 2014, on April 22. The successful event took place in the Ezell Center and included breakfast, two panel discussions, lunch, and a keynote speaker. Coordinated by dGE PR’s Aerial Ellis, the event had a turnout of 85 attendees made of professionals and students from all over the region. The day was filled with learning about how PR is used across different fields as well as great networking.

 The first panel discussion revolved around the topic of evolution strategies for some of Nashville’s most iconic brands featuring rockstar panelists were Bob Higgins, CEO of Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon; Michelle Lacewell, PR/Marketing director of Nashville Chamber of Commerce; Andrea Lindsey, senior VP at DVL PR & Advertising and David Reuter, VP of corporate communication at Nissan. dGE PR’s Perri duGard Owens was the moderator for the discussion and posed some great points for the guests to delve into. Each one had priceless input about gaining momentum for new brands and re-establishing relevance for existing brands.

 The next panel was focused on the future generation of PR. The young, vibrant, and distinguished speakers discussed ideas about the positive effects of cross-brand collaboration and what is next for the public relations industry in Nashville. The group was moderated by Meagan Rhodes from 12th and Broad and consisted of Jamal Hipps, CEO of MPYER Marketing & Advertising; Nicholas Holland, CEO of Populr.me; Marcia Masulla, co-creator of Nashville Fashion Week and senior marketing manager at Yelp Nashville; and Ryan Witherell, partner at Seigenthaler PR.

Lastly, the keynote speaker was stand-out Steve Buchanan who took the stage to talk about his hit TV show Nashville and how the PR industry related to his work with the Opry Entertainment group. The entire conference was highly interactive and received positive feedback from those who attended. Students from Kennesaw State, Austin Peay, and Belmont all mentioned how they enjoyed how the panelists were so accomplished, yet relatable. PR+ 2014 would not have been successful without the support of its sponsors PRSA, DVL, BWSC, Seigenthaler Public Relations, duGard Ellis Public Relations and Nissan along with its media sponsors Yelp and Google.

ncaa 2014 womens final four nashville

Vision + Voice + Brand: NCAA Women’s Final Four Leadership Academy

NCAA Womens Final Four Nashville“Vision + Voice + Brand = CEO of Me” is the title of the workshop I had the honor of facilitating for Music City Girls Lead! – a leadership academy produced by Lipscomb University  in cooperation with the Champions4Women Committee of  the Nashville Local Organizing Committee, proud host of the 2014 NCAA Women’s Final Four.

The Academy was a series of classes and experiences for high school girls in grades 9, 10, and 11 in the Middle Tennessee area aimed at strengthening girls in their pursuit of excellence through classroom and online learning, community experience and direct mentoring.

Engaging the students were a few of Nashville’s deep bench of local leaders and mentors, as well as experts on leadership development.  The Academy curriculum covered six different areas: developing as a leader, becoming an ethical leader in multicultural society, developing vision and voice, learning to use technology in leadership roles, promoting wellness and health, and transforming vision into results. Each academy culminated with a graduation ceremony and served as a lasting legacy of the 2014 NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Aerial Ellis presented NCAA Women's Final Four Personal Branding for GirlsI spoke to the young women about creating a personal brand using entrepreneurship and technology. I started by having them write a vision statement. A vision statement is your declaration of what you want out of life. It is your opportunity to answer the question:

“When I get to the end of my life, I will be the most disappointed if I never accomplished ___________.”

We talked about female visionaries such as Michelle Obama and Taylor Swift. We also looked at young girls who had the vision to become successful entrepreneurs at an early age.

Next, we defined voice. Your voice is inherent to who you are. You have to find it. We did an exercise that allows the girls see the various ways we can find out voice through writing daily. That allows your content to be your voice and for your story to inspire someone. It proves that what you have to say has value.

Then we defined a brand. I explained they each have their own brand and that it will always follow you throughout life. When you hold true to your brand personality, opportunities come to you.

We did an exercise that allowed the girls to write their favorite brand on a name tag and introduce themselves to the group as that brand as a parallel to who they are personally. We then discussed online protection and privacy, the best tools to use for distributing your voice across social media and how to find your passion through these activities. I also gave the girls a worksheet as brand map to take home and chart their future success.

This was a great opportunity to teach and inspire. Girls rock!

 

 

PowerShift Panel for Leadership Nashville

Leadership Nashville Panel Aerial Ellis Today I participated in the PowerShift panel today for the 2014 class of Leadership Nashville – a great group of highly influential executives and community leaders. We gathered at the First Amendment Center to talk about the move from influencing to creating a community of influencers and being in the conversation real time all the time.

Leadership Nashville provides a three-dimensional view of the city and becomes a bridge connecting people and the issues facing this community. The nine-month program is designed to assist local community leaders in their roles as decision-makers. The course, which begins in September, focuses on issues related to government, media, education, business, labor, diversity, quality of life, human services, health, arts, entertainment, and crime and criminal justice.

Our conversation was an important one, especially when we consider the relationship between government and media which was a topic of focus. My fellow panelists Alexia Poe from the TN Governor’s Office, Kasar Abdullah from Valor Collegiate Academy and Colby Sledge from McNeely, Piggott & Fox. Ronald Roberts, president and chief executive officer of DVL Public Relations & Advertising, served as moderator.

 

What Women in PR Need: Money, Power & Respect

Perri duGard Owens Aerial Ellis at Women In PR SummittThat’s right, we said it!  Perri and I presented a workshop at the 3rd annual WOMEN IN PR Summit, a conference designed to empower, educate and encourage women in the public relations industry  September 26-29, 2013, in Houston, TX at the Doubletree Galleria Hotel.

 

Our presentation, “Money, Power & Respect: What Women in PR Want” covered:

*Expanding Your Client Base for Greater Revenue (Money)
*Handling the Bravado: How to Maintain Gender Dynamics with Clients (Power)  
*How Partnerships Help Women in PR Overcoming Barriers Together (Respect)
There were nearly 100 women in attendance over the weekend. We were so pleased to share our knowledge with young women who are aspiring or making entry into the PR industry.

Be Your Own Boss: Young Professional’s Guide to Entreprene​urship – Memphis Urban League

Leadership Memphis Aerial Ellis Entreprenuership PanelI love working in my hometown of Memphis!

It was a special opportunity for me to serve as a panelist at the April General Body Meeting for the Memphis Urban League Young Professionals (MULYP)

We talked about how to start a business, how prime yourself for entrepreneurship, challenges in being a young business owner, and a variety of other topics. Other panelists included Phillip Rix, Jacque BoNey, Edward Bogard and Nikki Smith-Brown.

Memphis Urban League Young Professionals

Chapter President Cynthia Daniels has done an excellent job growing the chapter. It is one of the city’s largest networks of young leaders; it is recognized throughout the community for their member’s accomplishments.
MULYP is working to fill a void in the Memphis community by attracting, assisting and supporting the next generation of Memphis leadership to create positive change. The YP’s are a collection of Memphis area professionals that believe in improving the lives of others. Our members are doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, students, public administrators, financiers, entrepreneurs and more!
As a native of Memphis, I am so pleased to see this spark of energy spreading throughout city among young professionals in the African American community.  


Personal Brands I Like: Gwyneth Paltrow

She’s not a red carpet ham or an attention hog. Gwyneth keeps it simple, classy, and real. Her well-rounded world view make2012+Vanity+Fair+Oscar+Party+Hosted+Graydon+wJ85Zj-nDWPls her very appealing. Long before captivating moviegoers across the globe with her award-winning acting skills, Gwyneth Paltrow was front and center of a pivotal cultural shift.

While growing up in Santa Monica, California, her father Bruce Paltrow created and wrote for the late ’70s CBS drama “The White Shadow,” which examined racial stereotypes in America and exposed the actress to many seminal television “Tanning” moments. As she explains to marketing executive Steve Stoute,author of the book, The Tanning of America, Paltrow witnessed her father’s impact at the time on American society.

Having an unbiased viewpoint on multicultural relationships is also a trait that the “Shakespeare in Love” star has shared with her two children. In fact, the 39-year-old admitted that the shift of beauty in America is “long overdue.”

“I don’t want to bemoan the fact that it should’ve happened 50 years ago, because it’s here now,” she added. “And it’s like the way I see it is that I have two little kids who are understanding the world in a time when Rihanna is on the cover of Vogue, and we have a black president. So their eyes are being as if they’re experiencing the world for the first time. All of this stuff is just root — it’s normal stuff for them. And that to me is what’s so incredible.”

“When my daughter understood what a president was, it was a black man. It’s not like me, where I grew up with all of these old white guys one after another … Their perspective on race and everything is completely open and completely different to how it was when I was a kid.”

Check out parts one, two and three of her interview with Steve here. I found it very interesting.

Also, check out an excerpt from Steve’s book here.

For The Record

The recent scandal that led U.S. Rep. Chris Lee to his sudden resignation is a tale of online reputation. Here you have a 46-year-old married member of Congress who answered a Craigslist singles ad as a 39-year-old divorced lobbyist. And, for the sake of eye candy, he included a picture of himself standing half-naked in front of a mirror flexing his muscles. Lucky for him, the woman whose ad he answered, was a 34 year-old single mom searching online for a date who decided to check his story on Facebook. Once she realized he was a married politician, she forwarded his goodies to gossip site Gawker and the exposure set his resignation in motion.

For the record, a public figure (or anyone really) should beware sharing anything online that is meant to be a private matter. Some say the single woman is the bad guy for sending the shirtless pics of the Craigslist Congressman and sharing her flirtatious convo with Gawker – Lee had never even met or been involved with her. I say – when you play with fire online, you might get burned in public.

No one is safe.

Here’s the story (ABC News):

For The Record

The second chance story of Ted Williams, a homeless man whose golden voice went viral, undoubtedly shows the power of social media. He became an overnight success drawing national attention and a wealth of job offers after The Columbus Dispatch uploaded a video of the former panhandler holding a cardboard sign and showcasing his incredible talent on an Ohio roadside. Yet, after a week-long run of being everyone’s favorite comeback kid, an altercation with his daughter at a Hollywood hotel recently led to the arrest of Williams who is also a convicted criminal and recovering addict.

The immediate highs and lows of this story show how media attention can impact a person without a support system. Publicity and sudden prosperity cannot treat real underlying life issues. If anything, attention from media will fully expose the exact personal problems that may have indirectly led someone to a point of notoriety. For the record: In news, a rise is never faster than a fall. I hope Williams gets the support he needs – not just for his career but for his life.

Here’s a great perspective from The Washington Post.

Credit: Kramer/NBC