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.

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.

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.

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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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.
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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.)

A Commitment to the Credo

The work of building strong brands and profitable companies begins from within.aerialellis -johnsonandjohnson -plankcenterfellowship Walking into the world headquarters of Johnson & Johnson to begin a month-long project in communication, diversity and innovation, I instantly sensed a spirit of integrity. The globally recognized brand has a set of beliefs called “Our Credo.” These beliefs are embedded in the J&J workforce. I read and researched the Credo in preparation for my stay there. Upon my arrival, I couldn’t help but notice the Credo printed, mounted and framed in variations along the walls and halls of the building. More importantly, I found evidence of the Credo in the conversations and interactions with J&J employees. It soon became apparent that the Credo is more than words – it’s a living definition of the J&J culture.

More than 70 years ago, J&J Founder Robert Wood Johnson formalized consumers, employees, communities and stockholders alike.

A sign of effective communication is when a strategic message is adopted within an organization to establish the foundation for a healthy internal environment and then translates externally through work performance and relationships. These original mantras help employees make inspired and informed key decisions and actions. They also present values that provide direction and guidance for ethical practices.

imgres-3 As the company culture evolved, Johnson & Johnson acknowledged the role of the individual and the organization in balancing work/family responsibilities. They took another look at the beloved Credo, framed it in the context of today’s business world and reaffirmed its relevance in an ever-changing environment. Last year, J&J created a website to share the Credo through stories, videos and photos across its global community of approximately 128,700 employees in more than 60 countries.

 

This multi-platform strategy allowed employees to have an open dialogue about the Credo with leaders of the organization. Leaders conducted sessions for their team members with the help of a full toolkit to prepare, facilitate and guide the conversations, along with activities for interaction and reflection that included case studies, sample messages and decision-making resources. Employees were given opportunities to share personal stories of the Credo in action, explore conflicts and dilemmas that may arise and the responses needed to resolve them, and reflect on how the Credo influences and impacts communication. Each employee of J&J signed the Credo as a symbol of their personal commitment to the company’s guiding principles and in demonstration of the values in daily action.

This form of communication, with its supporting tactics, creates employees who become unbeatable brand ambassadors – both on and off the clock. It greatly influences a company’s culture, which then plays a role in a company’s brand reputation. The public often develops their perceptions of a company from more than tweets, press releases and advertisements. Its employees are the face of the brand and often impact how the public hears, sees and perceives an organization.

The Credo is an effective communication tool because it proves that J&J recognizes and supports the need to evolve and provide context to big picture messaging that gives meaning to day-to-day exchanges and experiences. It shows communication through deliberate messages, actions and policies in a proactive interpretation of the core values. Together, J&J and its Credo create a communication climate that inevitably reflects a positive organizational culture.

 

(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.

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.