TalkING About Suicide: A PR Strategy for raising awareness of a difficult subject

The NH Coalition for Suicide Prevention, spearheaded by the Brain Injury Association of NH, was recently launched to raise awareness about the issue of suicide among members of vulnerable populations like people with brain injuries, people with disabilities, Veterans, first responders, police and the elderly.  Their work complements the efforts of other NH organizations focusing on suicide prevention, including the NH State Suicide Prevention Council, Headrest and AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, NH Chapter).

They launched an educational website during Suicide Prevention Awareness month (September of 2021) NH Coalition for Suicide Prevention (zerosuicidesnh.org), using a series of blogs that offer stories of hope and resilience “Play It Where It Lies”: KC Christensen and Life After Brain Injury — NH Coalition for Suicide Prevention (zerosuicidesnh.org), and resources Taking Care of Our NH Veterans:  Resources For Those Experiencing TBI, PTSD and Suicide Ideation — NH Coalition for Suicide Prevention (zerosuicidesnh.org)

These blog posts are used to generate traffic on the website, build interest in joining the coalition and they are frequently shared with NH opinion leaders who have an interest in the suicide issue.  The posts are strategically timed to sync up with a triggering event (e.g. the January 2022 release of the book “Unthinkable” by Rep. Jamie Raskin) or a specific time of year (e.g. holiday depression at Christmas, Veterans Day etc.)

Here is the actual blog:




Representative Jamie Raskin, in his new book “Unthinkable:  Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy,” finds catharsis in talking about the death of his son by suicide.  His son Tommy’s death came just days before the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 – making a dark time even darker. “I realized I could spend the rest of my life trying to figure out what had happened or I could try to record it as quickly as possible and have a conversation with my family, my friends and my constituents in the country about it.” 

Suicide is uncomfortable to talk about – whether we have lost someone who died by suicide or if we fear a friend or family member is considering suicide.  Most of us want to know – what do we say?  And what should we do?

Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin released his new book, Unthinkable:  Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy, on Jan. 4th of this year.  Raskin says writing about the loss of his son, who died by suicide a year ago, has helped him cope with the depths of his grief and enabled him to talk about it; which has enabled him to keep his son’s memory and spirit alive.  

Raskin says his son Tommy “had a very highly refined moral sensitivity at a young age – something we appreciated and were proud of.  But then it began to merge in with some depressive tendencies that showed up towards the end of college.”

While Raskin does not blame COVID-19 for his son’s suicide, he acknowledges this chapter in our history has been an enormously isolating and demoralizing period for young people across the country…and especially for those who already had a mental or emotional health struggle.  “I realized I could spend the rest of my life trying to figure out what had happened, or I could try to record it as quickly as possible and have a conversation with my family, my friends and my constituents in the country about it – so I chose the latter.”

His book shines a spotlight on the issue of suicide – which touches many generations, not just youth.  Older adults are about 12% of the population but make up about 18% of the suicides according to Jerry Reed, PhD, Sr. VP/Practice Leadership at the Education Development Center, an organization that runs suicide prevention programs nationwide.  One factor may be that this group has access to lethal means such as firearms and medication.

Most of us want to know how to approach the topic of suicide – which is, let’s face it, an uncomfortable topic to raise.  What can we say or do that will be constructive in suicide prevention?  Here are a few ideas to consider:

  1. Share stories of hope, resiliency and recovery.   There are many stories of people who have been helped by a program or service, or who have overcome an obstacle and chosen life over suicide.  The NH Coalition for Suicide Prevention website features blogs that tell some of these stories; for example, the story of Jim Scott, who overcame a brain injury and substance use disorder to become an author.  Like Raskin, he too found catharsis in telling his story and sharing the message of hope with others: https://zerosuicidesnh.org/blog/more-than-a-speed-bump-brain-injury-rehabilitation-and-recovery
  2. Describe available programs, services and other resources.  It’s important to realize that you don’t have to solve the problem yourself – but you can play an important role in getting someone help.   The “Resources” section of the NH Coalition for Suicide Prevention website offers contact information for many NH-based and national organizations that have the expertise to help.
  3. Point the person to a suicide hotline where they can get immediate help.  Right now in NH, the number to call is 1-800-273-TALK (8255) … however, in July of 2022, 988 will be the new 3-digit number used nationwide as the National Suicide Prevention & Mental Health Crisis Hotline. https://zerosuicidesnh.org/blog/why-do-i-have-to-dial-603-before-every-call-now-the-change-that-could-help-save-a-life
  4. Pay attention to potential signs of suicide.  Are you seeing an increased use of drugs or alcohol to escape depression?  Are you hearing references to self-harm in conversation?  Have you noticed behaviors like saying goodbyes, giving away prized possessions or making arrangements in the event of death?  For more information on recognizing signs and taking action that could save a life, visit: https://zerosuicidesnh.org/how-to-identify-and-help-a-person-considering-suicide
  5. Ask-Listen-Safeguard.  As difficult as it is to ask the question, “have you had thoughts of suicide?” It is a question that could save a life.  Practice saying it out loud in a way that’s comfortable before you have the conversation with the person you are concerned about.  Alternative: “Sometimes when people are struggling, they have thoughts of suicide.  Have you ever had thoughts of suicide?”  This opens the door for the next step:  Listen.  Your role here is to listen, not to solve their problems.  Show empathy and assure them they are loved.  Lastly, safeguard.  What are the steps that need to be taken right now to keep them safe?  Calling a hotline?  Removing lethal means (like firearms or medications) from the home?  Connecting them to a mental health counselor?

Beyond COVID-19: Issue Anticipation For 2022

If we can force ourselves to peek beyond COVID and see what issues/crises might be coming in 2022, we may be able to prepare ahead of them. 

That was the topic of the panel presented prior to the Yankee Chapter of PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) annual meeting, moderated by Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA and Stacey Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA, partners at the behavioral public relations firm Jackson Jackson & Wagner (JJ&W). Panelists Vanessa Stafford, VP of Communications for the NH Hospital Association, Roz Whitaker-Heck, APR, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs for Champlain College and Jayme Simoes, President of Louis Karno & Co. provided perspectives from the healthcare, education, and nonprofit sectors.

JJ&W began by sharing this 3-step model for issues anticipation

First Step: Issue Identification.  Identify the top 5-10 issues that keep your organization’s leadership team up at night. Scan the media environment for industry issues; pick the brains of your fellow industry and PR professionals and create an “issues anticipation team” that monitors those issues and communicates regularly with each other.   Note:  put together a cross-section of volunteer employees from different departments; they will offer different perspectives (note: this has the added benefit of creating cross-departmental relationships).

  • HEALTHCARE, like others, is dealing with a severe staffing shortage – hospitals have had to transfer patients to other states because even if they have the beds, they don’t have enough staff to provide care. The hotly debated vaccine requirement adds insult to injury.
  • EDUCATION has been impacted on every level, from daycare at pre-schools to remote learning programs for colleges. COVID-19 has forced changes that were bound to occur, from re-imagining how educational content is delivered, acquired & taught to creating work-life balance for faculty & staff – all while facing new financial realities that include large deficits.
  • NON-PROFITS/TRAVEL’S new challenges include finding a way to stay relevant; COVID-19 has stimulated systemic change and “there is no going back – there is only finding a way to adapt to the new normal.”

Second Step: Issue Analysis.  Brainstorm issues that could impact your organization in a variety of categories, not just the obvious “hot” issues:

  • Latent:  back-burner issues that could becoming emerging or hot, with time
  • Emerging:  10% of the population is aware of and is dealing with this issue, but it’s not yet hot
  • Hot:  All-consuming issues you are dealing with at the moment
  • Fallout: Issues that result from or spin off from a hot issue
  • Association:  An issue that happened at another organization in your industry, but could happen at your outfit

Third Step: Issue Response Strategy

  1. Brainstorm realistic strategy options.  “What would happen if…”
  2. Write scenarios of possible futures, using a “decision tree” to predict the various twists & turns the issue could take
  3. Build templates that define:
    • Strategy considerations
    • Core messaging for each crisis, with generic holding statements
    • Members of the crisis team, with decisionmakers and approval process protocols identified
    • Target audiences & the best methods for communicating with them
    • Logistics planning

For more information on PRSA’s Yankee Chapter, visit www.yankeeprsa.org.  For more information about Jackson Jackson & Wagner, visit www.jjwpr.com or contact Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA at rschell@jjwpr.com or 603/770-3607.

Helping Others To Take Care of Our Veterans: Campaigns Encourage Sharing of Resources and Support While Building Teamwork and CSR

In the month of November, and on Veterans Day in particular, we focus on those who have served, or are currently serving our country, and we thank them for their serviceJJ&W

“Ask the Question” Listens Then Shares Resources

In its effort to listen and better serve the community, the NH Legislative Commission on PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) conducted a study on NH Veterans and identified these facts:

  • There are 100,000 Veterans living in NH – the 5th largest Veteran population per capita in the nation
  • Only 30,000 of those Veterans receive their healthcare at the VA Medical Center – not all Veterans are eligible for VA care, and some choose not to seek care there
  • Those Veterans seeking care outside the VA identified one of their challenges as “not feeling understood by the providers who serve them”

The data showed that the best way to provide the care and services Veterans need – starts with all medical personnel asking the question, “Have you or a family member ever served in the military?” 

Enter, the “Ask the Question” campaign and website, funded by the NH Department of Health and Human Services. This website provides tools and information to encourage agencies and organizations from a variety of provider sectors (healthcare, social services, education & others) to 1) Ask patients if they or a family member have ever served in the military and 2) follow guidelines on how to best help this Veteran population. 

The site offers specific information to help those Veterans who are 65 and older (48% of NH’s Veterans are in this category); Veterans with families who may need support systems for children when a parent is deployed; Veterans seeking career guidance after their military career and Veterans who could benefit from the support and services offered by NH’s faith-based community.  For more information, check out the “Ask The Question” website at https://www.askthequestion.nh.gov/

Warrior Care Network: CSR for Medical Centers

Another important program for Veterans comes via a partnership between the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) and 4 world-renowned academic medical centers – Emory Healthcare Veterans Program in Atlanta; Mass General Hospital’s Home Base Program (Boston); Rush University Medical Center’s Road Home Program (Chicago) and UCLA’s Health-Operation Mend Program (Los Angeles).

The program, called the Warrior Care Network, offers treatment, support and mental health care for Veterans who are living with PTSD, TBI, and Military Sexual Trauma.  Those warriors who complete the Warrior Care Network program have seen significant improvement in PTSD and depression symptoms.  Programs range from intensive outpatient programs that are 2 to 3 weeks long to treatments that include individual and group therapy; stress management; family support and education; and alternative therapies including yoga, art, and Tai Chi.

https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/programs/warrior-care-network?item=1701

The TRACTS Program Breaks Down Silos While Serving Veterans with TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury)

The Translational Research Center for TBI and Stress Disorders, or TRACTS, is a RR&D National Center for TBI Research. TRACTS staff come from all parts of the hospital (from mental health, neuropsychology, neuroscience, and medicine) and their only focus is the OEF/OIF Veteran population and their unique characteristics and experiences.  Many returning Veterans report feeling more “understood” by the TRACTS research team because of their deep understanding of the Veteran population. 

The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) reported nearly 414,000 TBIs among U.S. service members worldwide between 2000 and late 2019. More than 185,000 Veterans who use VA for their health care have been diagnosed with at least one TBI. TBI and its associated co-morbidities are also a significant cause of disability outside of military settings.

For more information about TRACTS, click on the link below:

The Translational Research Center for TBI and Stress Disorders (TRACTS) – VA Boston Healthcare System

Veterans Crisis Line: Outreach to Overcome Psychological and Structural Barriers

Many veterans are too proud to reach out to traditional services providers. Enter the Veterans Crisis Line, a way for them to easily connect from anywhere at anytime.  It is a free, confidential resource that’s available 24/7 for Veterans/Service members and their families – even if they are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care. The responders at the Veterans Crisis Line are with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and many are Veterans themselves.  There are options to call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1; or to text 838255.  There is also an online chat capability offered.  Responders are specially trained to help Veterans of all ages and can help the person calling through the crisis, and direct them to the services they need.

Veterans Crisis Line: Suicide Prevention Hotline, Text & Chat

For more information on identifying signs of suicide ideation (e.g. behaviors exhibited by those who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts), visit the NH Coalition for Suicide Prevention website at: NH Coalition for Suicide Prevention (zerosuicidesnh.org).

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Senior Counsel and Partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm on the Seacoast of NH.  Contact Robin at 603/770-3607 or rschell@jjwpr.com.

How to Change Behavior around the Dangerous Behavior of Drink Spiking

True story.  Just two weeks ago, two 25-year old women walked into a local, popular Boston bar, accompanied by a young man who is a friend. It is 10 p.m.

It was their first and only stop of the evening.  After dinner and a few drinks prior at home, they ordered one round of drinks and brought them to their table – but the women eventually went the dance floor, leaving their drinks behind.  The young man walked away to talk to a friend.  Twenty minutes later, the girls could barely stand and at 11 p.m. the young man was asked to take the girls out of the bar.  The three of them hop in an Uber; one of the women becomes violently ill.  The Uber kicks them all out and leaves them on the side of the road.  The girls cannot function and have no memory of what happened; one hits her head on the sidewalk and gets concussed.  Finally, the police arrive: though they don’t see the group back home to safety, they do allow the young man to charge his phone in their car.  They manage to get another Uber and get home 2 ½ hours later.  The next day, the second woman gets violently ill.  By Monday morning, neither one can work – they get labs done and one reveals the presence of an opiate in her system.  This confirmed what all 3 suspected: someone spiked the girls’ drinks with drugs, likely while they were on the dance floor away from their drinks.  In this case, they were fortunate to be in the presence of a young man whose drink had not been spiked – but far worse things could have happened, had they been alone.

A Google search will reveal this is not an isolated incident:  there are stories of women across the country, of all ages, who have fallen victim to this crime – one woman reported it happened to her while she was out with her husband.  Women are typically the targets of drink spiking; and it can happen anywhere, from nightclubs and pubs to parties in private homes.

It takes only 15-20 minutes for these drugs to essentially erase one’s mind.  Drink spiking can be linked to crimes including sexual assault and robbery.  It is illegal to spike a drink with a drug or extra alcohol.  It’s serious stuff.  Yet, many victims don’t file a police report – for starters, it requires going into the police station in person, and some are embarrassed to do it.  However, without a police report, there is no investigation, and the bad guys can continue this illegal behavior.

The Public Relations body of knowledge recommends 4 types of campaigns that can be taken to change these behaviors and others: 

  1. Coalition Campaigns: target audience feels everyone who counts is trying to persuade them and it is the obvious thing to do socially (information based)
  2. Enforcement: where rules or laws mandate/outlaw the behavior
  3. Engineering:  enacting structural changes to work around the situation
  4. Social Reinforcement:  pushing social norming and rewards to help support the job of enforcing the new behaviors

How can these be applied to this challenge – on the part of patrons, drinking establishments, Uber/Lyft services and law enforcement?  Here are some initial thoughts:

Coalition Campaign for Patrons encouraging the following behaviors:

  1. Never leave your drink.  As the bar owner of the establishment told me, “once you leave your drink, it is no longer yours.”
  2. Don’t accept a drink from a stranger.  Buy your own drinks and watch the bartender pour them.
  3. Order drinks in cans and bottles – not foolproof, but harder to spike than an open cocktail.
  4. See something, say something.  If you observe someone putting something in someone’s drink, report it immediately.  In 2016, 3 women witnessed a drink-spiking at the FIG/Fairmont Miramar Hotel, warned the woman that her date had slipped something in her drink and reported it to the bar management.  They were able to find evidence on videotape and apprehend the man.
  5. Remain aware.  Don’t have so much to drink that you forget to protect yourself.
  6. Raise awareness.  Remind everyone this could happen to them.  Those who have had this happen have used social media platforms like Facebook and TikTok to warn others and offer protection tips.
  7. File a police report.  Without that, police and detectives cannot investigate the situation further.

Engineering for Drinking Establishments and Professional Associations

  1. Training your bartenders, managers and staff to look for drink-spiking activity.  Management at this bar were very cooperative when this incident was reported and has already arranged for an outside security company to come in and do further training for their staff members. 
  2. Security cameras.  Owners can view videotape to reconstruct what happened and hopefully catch the perpetrator in the act.
  3. Signage that indicates the safety measures in place and what will happen to anyone who attempts to spike drinks; both to comfort patrons and scare off the bad guys.
  4. Offer protective products for sale at the establishment.  Since researching this issue, I have learned there are products out there that range from Drink Safe coasters, nail polish that can detect date rape drugs (e.g. Undercover Colors); cups and Smart Straws (developed by a company called DrinkSavvy that was sold to Chemeleon in 2019) and cup covers like MyCupCondom  My Cup Condom™.

Engineering Behaviors for Uber & Lyft Drivers

Train drivers not to leave patrons roadside.  When I Googled, “what happens if someone vomits in an Uber?”, a list of charges came up that ranged from $80 for a “moderate interior mess” to $150 for a “major bodily fluid mess”.  Uber drivers are allowed to kick someone out of a vehicle “if there is a good reason – for example, a rider who is unruly, drunk and/or violent.  However, the safety of the passenger is important as well.”  One can understand the frustration of the Uber and Lyft drivers in this scenario – and yet, passenger safety needs to be considered. 

Enforcement by the Law

  1. Encourage victims of drink spiking to take the extra step of filing a police report.  Circle back with those who file the report to let them know what was found.  Even if the perpetrator is not caught this time, the offense is on record and could be helpful in future cases.
  2. Strengthen laws and strengthen law enforcement sensitivities  Drugging someone is considered an assault, even if no sexual or other contact occurs.  Make the consequences public.  This action is considered to be a Class B felony and can be punishable by imprisonment up to 10 years.  Officers should be trained to take these events seriously and watch for potential impairment – not victimize victims.

What are your ideas for changing behaviors and addressing the problem of drink spiking? Email rschell@jjwpr.com.

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is Senior Counsel and Partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm on the NH Seacoast.

Life Is Good: How To Live With Purpose & Enjoy The Ride!

The authors of the Life Is Good book (and founders of the Life Is Good company), Bert and John Jacobs, grew up in my hometown of Needham.  They lived across the street from the Cricket Playground where we spent summers playing kickball, singing silly songs, and playing games in the field house on rainy days.  While I didn’t know the whole family, I knew Bert, who was close to my age – and I knew they had a big family and came from rather humble beginnings.

We all know what a great company Life Is Good (LIG) became, and many of us (myself included) own Life Is Good hats, t-shirts or other products sporting the image of “Jake” with his infectious orange-slice smile.  What a treat it was for me to read this book and learn the details behind the story of 2 college grads who sold t-shirts out of their van (named “The Enterprise”) and grew LIG into a $100 million company!

Viewing this story through my professional lens, I am impressed by the mission of Life Is Good — “to spread the power of optimism.”  What a refreshing change from all the negativity in the world right now.  I was also struck how these brothers remained true to their values through the ups and downs of growing a business and created a corporate culture that many organizations would love to have.

Reading this blog is no substitute for reading the book, but let me whet your appetite with an overview of their sage advice, linked to their “10 superpowers”:

  1.  Openness.  Be open to new ideas and experiences; changing up your routine and your physical surroundings will open your mind to fresh perspectives.  Adopt the rule of “yes, and…” used by improv comedians.  In short:  when you are brainstorming and collaborating, accept and build on each other’s ideas rather than “brainstomping” with the word “no.”
  2. Courage.  Challenges and adversity, self-doubt, skeptics – those barriers will always be there.  Don’t be afraid to fail forward, then adjust and move on.  Have the courage to try new things.  Heed hockey great Wayne Gretzky’s advice:  “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”
  3. Simplicity Say “yes” to the things that really matter and “no” to the rest.  Unplug.  Hit the “reset button” with yoga, meditation, fresh air, laughter and time with friends.  When these two brothers found they were becoming slaves to email, they made the bold move of dropping their email accounts and letting their team at Life Is Good prioritize and summarize the most important communication for them.  The result? Increased productivity and the freedom to focus on what is really important.
  4. HumorHumor is the great equalizer, according to Bert and John, and they have all the right instincts when it comes to creating a fun, productive work environment at LIG.  “When management is willing to let their guard down and laugh openly, especially at themselves, it invites others to do the same,” they said.  Humor leads to more unity and productivity in the workplace…and it is healthy to laugh!  Bert and John tell a great story of landing the Galyan’s account (later acquired by Dick’s Sporting Goods) before they had money to “wine and dine” – so they invited the Galyan executives to their small Boston apartment for a Ragu and pasta dinner.  In the end, it was the laughter around that dinner table that led to the long-term business relationship – and helped take the LIG brand national.
  5. GratitudeSee the glass as half-full, not half-empty.  Being grateful is a mindset:  change your mindset from “I have to” to “I get to.”  It’s no surprise that Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday of the Jacobs brothers, because it showcases the superpowers of simplicity, love, humor and gratitude – but their advice is, “don’t limit gratitude to just one day.  Take time every day to express your gratitude to others.”
  6. Fun.  Bert and John point to Dr. Seuss as a great example of someone who brought the power of fun to the task of reading – and changed the lives of teachers, parents and students as a result. “Fun is not a dessert reserved for special occasions; it’s a healthy party of the main course.”  The company commitment to fun resulted in the birth of their Life Is Good Festivals; their “Backyard Athlete” competition at Fenway Park (featuring games ranging from seed-spitting to Wiffle ball home run derby); and their partnership with Camp Sunshine, an organization that offers vacation retreats and other forms of support for sick children and their families.  In 2006 on the Boston Common, LIG teamed up with Camp Sunshine to gather 30,128 pumpkins in one place – breaking a world record and raising over $500,000 for Camp Sunshine.
  7. Compassion. Kids are the ultimate optimists and the inspiration for the LIG brand, so they are a natural fit for LIG’s charitable giving – thus, the decision was made to donate 10% of the company’s annual profits to helping kids in need.  When friend Steve Gross started the nonprofit Project Joy, focusing on the social and emotional health of Boston’s most vulnerable children, Bert and John were “in.”  Eventually Project Joy pivoted to “helping the helpers” by providing training and care for frontline caregivers.  The partnership grew tighter and eventually, the Life Is Good Kids Foundation absorbed Project Joy, renaming it The Playmakers and placing their offices in the center of LIG’s headquarters in Boston.  Two takeaways relative to compassion:  1) compassion begins with kindness to yourself.  2) Adopt a “just like me” mindset to help break down barriers and find common ground and resolution. 
  8. Creativity.  According to Albert Einstein, “creativity is intelligence having fun.”  Decorate your home or work space with colors that lift your mood and inventiveness (a favorite quote from the book: “Who wouldn’t cancel a full day with beige to go to a meeting with green or a party with yellow?”.  Physically explore your world to find inspiration – “exploreate”.  Choose any subject you love – read about it, listen to information about it and do something related to that subject.  Lastly, don’t keep creativity to yourself – invite others to join you.  Connect, collaborate and create.
  9. Authenticity“Be yourself; everyone else is taken” (Oscar Wilde).  Bert and John’s definition of branding?  “Know who you are and act like it.”  Understand that customers build your brand. “It’s not rocket science; we listen and try to deliver what people want.”  When you screw up, admit it – people appreciate honesty.  Don’t be afraid to take a stand, or to make a decision based on what feels authentic to you.  Tell your “heritage story” by sharing what’s different and special about your company and your products; people appreciate companies, and individuals, that are real.
  10.  Love.  Bert and John compel us to “spread love like peanut butter.”  The more you share your love, the more you connect with the people you love and the richer your life will be.  Think about the strength of love during the Boston Marathon bombings.  As a direct reaction to that horrific act of hate in 2013, millions of people performed acts of love; and this inspired LIG to create their “BOSTON:  Nothing Is Stronger Than Love” t-shirt.  The Boston LOVE shirt became their best seller, generating over a half of a million dollars in profit (and in their own act of love, the company donated every penny to The One Fund, established to help the victims and their families). 

Here’s a question:  what superpowers do you have and which ones do you want to work on?  For further inspiration, learn more about this innovative company and its founders at www.lifeisgood.com.  And for heaven’s sake, read the book!

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is Senior Counsel and Partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral PR and management consulting firm based in the Seacoast. For more information about JJ&W, visit www.jjwpr.com or contact Robin at rschell@jjwpr.com.

How To Say “No” Effectively to Leadership

Such a joy to be back IN PERSON for a presentation at the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) annual seminar last week.  It reinforces how important face-to-face communication is in building relationships and cementing our learning.

My colleague John Lyday, APR, Fellow PRSA and I presented on the challenges and strategies needed to say “no” when leadership is heading in the wrong direction.  Some “takeaways” (both from us and our participants) included:

  1. Remember leaders are human too (and that includes our School Board members).  They have egos, and they do not want to appear wrong or be depicted as bullies; they want to please others, etc.  They also have past experiences that influence their decisionmaking.  The key is to really get to know your leadership what makes them tick and motivates them.
  2. Five strategies for saying “no
    • Education – being the expert before the issue arises, teaching leadership about effective communication practices and behavioral/communication theories, strategies
    • Having data – doing research on stakeholders to know them well; also having ability to do dipstick research overnight to help inform any decisionmaking
    • Offering options rather than solutions (caveat: never offer an option that is not good – it is the one they will pick)
    • Create scenarios on what is likely to happen with or without action, with options (including their suggestions).  Be sure to include pros and cons.
    • Know who influences leadership, where they stand on most subjects; and how to most effectively use their influence to help guide leadership when needed
  3. Critical strategies/theories to utilize, educate leadership about:
    • PR Behavioral Model (Jackson/Grunig) 
    • Behavioral Messaging (Grunig)
    • (email either one of us for copies!)
  4. Regularly conduct issue anticipation brainstorming to identify issues that might break and build strategies.  Group into “latent”, “emerging”, “hot” and “fallout” issues to manage discussions.  Here are some issues that were identified by session participants:
    • COVID-19 and its continuing impact on school communications
    • Critical race theory conspiracies that appear to be happening independently but are reportedly being fueled by organized conservative groups
    • Violence being directed at Asian-American families and students
    • Organized opposition to school district efforts to make LGBTQ students feel welcome and safe in school
    • Cyber-security in light of recent malware and ransomware attacks on other sectors
    • … and, of course, those that were old which may become new again, e.g. gun safety, sex education, etc.

For more on these subjects and more, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone or email us. We would love to hear from you!

Stacey Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA, Senior Counsel & Partner, JJ&W, ssmith@jjwpr.com/603.205.6302

John Lyday, APR, Fellow PRSA, jlydaycommunications.com/309.201.3669 www.lydaycommunications.com

Pearls of Wisdom from pr Road Warriors

Last week I had the pleasure of moderating a panel at the PRSA Northeast District Conference called, “Pearls of Wisdom From PR’s Road Warriors.”  One of the things I value most about my membership in the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is the willingness of our members to share their experiences (as well as their networks) with each other.  A few “pearls” from this session with Gail Winslow, APR (Director of Corporate Marketing, LexaGene); Clark Dumont, APR (Dumont Communications) and Gail Rymer, APR, Fellow PRSA (Gail Rymer Strategic Communications):

  •  Prepare Yourself With More Than Communications & Writing Courses.  Though the ability to communicate succinctly is important, it is not the only skill required in public relations.  An understanding of how to motivate behavior (psychology, sociology); how the organization you’re counseling operates (business); corporate culture (organization development) and research (statistics, analysis) are all essential.  “Knowing that PR is being called upon to provide metrics on outcomes and how PR contributes to ROI (return on investment), I wish I’d been less afraid of statistics back in the day,” said Winslow.  (References:  PRSA’s Barcelona Principles and 9 Ways PR Impacts The Bottom Line by Patrick Jackson). The good news:  we are never done learning in this field, and there are many opportunities for professional development, via courses offered from professional associations like PRSA, going back for a Master’s Degree or developing specialized skills through certificate programs.
  • Take Advantage of Networking & Mentoring Opportunities.  Whether you are attending a PRSA International Conference, representing your organization in a Rotary or Chamber organization or volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about, there are countless ways to build your network.  “Say yes to every cup of coffee” — because you never know where it might lead.  It’s never too early to seek advice and counsel; surround yourself with people who can serve as mentors throughout your career as you build your “personal Board of Directors.”  Reference:  www.prsa.org for information on Mentor Connect. The good news:  every time you invest time in mentoring someone, there is a good chance “reverse mentoring” will occur and you’ll learn something new yourself.
  • Building Authentic Relationships Requires Transparency And Good Listening Skills.  Gail Rymer, who had a long and successful career in Environmental Communications with Lockheed Martin and Tennessee Valley Authority, faced many “angry publics” in her career.  “There is no replacement for face-to-face communication — but it takes time and effort.  Only by listening to the issues, finding common ground and providing honest answers (even if they aren’t popular answers) will you earn trust.”  Identify those who are influential “opinion leaders” who can serve as credible 3rd party ambassadors.
  • Use Core Values To Guide Your Decisionmaking.  Clark Dumont shared wisdom gleaned from a culture transformation effort he led while working for MGM.  “When you’re disrupting people’s lives, it becomes personal.  Start with the ‘why’ – providing the rationale for change is key.”  Using values as their guide, MGM established themselves as a leader in DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion).
  • Trust Your Gut And Have Confidence In Yourself.  Confidence comes from a combination of experience and education, but even highly-skilled practitioners can suffer from “imposter syndrome.”  Have open conversations with organizational leadership; talk their language but stand by your own principles.  Explained one panelist: “I was told by leadership that I didn’t have the pedigree – meaning I didn’t have a degree from Harvard – to continue advancing in that organization.  During COVID-19 I took an executive leadership course at Cornell University that helped me build the confidence in myself to walk away from that job and find a better fit for my skills, talents and career path.”

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is Senior Counsel and Partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm based in the Seacoast of NH.  For more information, visit www.jjwpr.com or contact rschell@jjwpr.com.

Using the Triggering Event of COVID to Impact Culture Change

Triggering events, whether created for us or by us, can create a fissure in the current behaviors and beliefs of stakeholders. These fissures, if smartly managed, can help transform an organization’s culture.

Even before the trauma of the last year, healthcare was reeling from a bevy of changes and pressures. Nursing shortages, changing business models, cut-throat competition, systemic racism, the disappearance of small, rural hospitals, and more had an already shaky system on the edge.
Staff were dissatisfied and demoralized. This was no longer a profession respected and supported or so it felt.

The upheaval of an event like COVID19, for all its negative outcomes, can be a catalyst if harnessed, to re-imagine and re-create an internal culture that can thrive going forward.

Five COORR steps to take:

1. Catharsis
2. Opportunity
3. Ownership
4. Repair
5. Repeat

Catharsis: Allows employees to express their feelings, pain, ideas. This is the time for leadership to listen, empathize, comfort and express humanness. It is accessed through meaningful and thoughtful listening by way of qualitative and quantitative research.
Opportunity: Opportunities and problems are identified in Catharsis and with an environmental scan to see what in the future may become pressing. These are verified with employees, prioritized.
Ownership: Responsibility for seeing that change happens is assigned at all levels, not just leadership. By spreading responsibility throughout the organization and levels, silos can be torn down and healing can begin.
Repair: Measurable goals and objectives are established, strategies determined, and action is taken. Ongoing measurement tracks successes and need for tweaking actions.
Repeat: Change is not a “one and done” process. Different groups are ready to move at different times. Some need others to take the lead, to make sure change is not dangerous. Sometimes alternative strategies need to be adopted to move those who linger.

As vaccines ramp up (a triggering event of its own), and COVID winds down (hopefully), the window for change is ending from this triggering event. Make use of professionals with communication and organization behavior expertise to be most effective in this effort. Act now and make a difference for your organization.

#MASKUPMA: APPLYING THE BEHAVIOR CHANGE MODEL TO COVID-19

Here in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker has launched the #MaskUpMA campaign to raise awareness and stimulate behaviors that will reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our state in the coming months.  His collective efforts to guide the public’s behavior during the pandemic follow the 4-Step Public Behavior Change Model, based on the work of leading public relations behaviorists Jim Grunig, Harold Mendelsohn, Max McCombs & others:

  1.  Coalition Campaign:  This phase focuses on 3 steps: Problem Recognition:  Good news – the vaccines are here!  Bad news: implementation is slower than projected.  Therefore, it is critical to follow COVID-19 protocols to slow the spread as we patiently wait for the phase-by-phase vaccinations to protect us. Problem Personalization:  To date, there have been over 12,000 deaths and 420,000 cases of COVID19 reported in the state of Mass.  A visit to mass.gov will give you access to updated statistics by age, town or city and other demographics – in your preferred language. Constraint Removal:  The #MaskUpMA campaign, which reiterates the simple message “wear a mask to protect yourself and others against the spread of COVID19” includes video testimonials by everyone from Governor Baker to Red Sox mascot Wally the Green Monster, PSAs and a dedicated section of the Mass.Gov website Mask Up MA! | Mass.gov
  2. Enforcement:  Since Baker declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts on March 10, a series of executive orders have been signed which range from limits on indoor (10-person) and outdoor (25-person) gatherings to required face coverings in public places to a “stay at home advisory” between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.  Public establishments violating mask-wearing and social distance protocols have faced hefty fines.
  3. Engineering:  Structural changes have been put into place to discourage behaviors that might lead to spreading COVID19.  These include closing restaurants at 9:30 p.m. to discourage large late-night gatherings, limiting the number of people per table (6) and setting up tables to comply with social-distancing guidelines.  Another example of structural changes: the requirement of temperature checks of patrons when entering certain gyms, dental offices and other places of business.
  4. Social Reinforcement:  11 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, wearing masks and social distancing have become as familiar as recycling.  One could argue that social reinforcement has almost gone overboard as people engage in “mask shaming” – even when people are walking and riding bikes outdoors and observing social distance protocols.

This model makes sense when applied to just about any issue (see JJ&W blog from July 2017 on “Changing Behaviors on Concussion Treatment Through Chalk Talk) and will undoubtedly serve as the foundation for vaccination, COVID-testing and other behavior-change campaigns.

Social Responsibility: How Organizations Are Leveraging Their U.S.P. (Unique Selling Proposition) In Times of Need

There are four basic ways organizations can offer their social responsibility talents in times of need:

Philanthropy:  Donations of money and in-kind services.  If you’re Bob Kraft of the New England Patriots, you can send your private plane to China to pick up PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) in the form of N95 masks for healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID19 battle.  If you are fashion designer Ralph Lauren, you can make marks, isolation gowns and throw in an additional $10 million in response to the global pandemic. On a smaller scale, Ocean State Job Lots asks for 2% on every purchase to add to their $2/hr increase for employees who are essential workers.   

Advocacy: The American Bar Association advocates for the rights of special education students in this piece, which provides instruction on everything from advocating for needed services to documenting the decline in learning progress during COVID19:  https://www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/childrens-rights/practice/2020/advocating-for-special-education-services-during-covid19/

Volunteer Hours:  Companies like Timberland have years of experience providing the opportunity for their employees to give back.  Since 1992, Timberland has offered employees up to 40 paid hours each year to serve in their communities through their Path of Service program.  In 2019, Timberland employees served over 72,000 hours. 

For those organizations who are looking for ways to contribute during COVID-19, there are volunteer-finding platforms such as Idealist (www.idealist.org) and VolunteerMatch (www.volunteermatch.org) to help find the right cause for your organization and employee base – both have options for filtering remote-only and coronavirus-specific opportunities.  For example, I plugged in my city name and found opportunities that ranged from transporting fresh and prepared food from businesses to local human service organizations (through the nonprofit Rescuing Leftover Cuisine) to Table Wisdom, a video chat service that allows you to reach out to specific partners for regular chats on a range of topics during social distancing.  Love for the Elderly (www.lovefortheelderly.org) is an organization with volunteers from 56 countries looking for those who would like to send hand-written letters to the elderly living in care facilities who need an emotional lift.  And if languages are your thing … consider volunteering for Translators Without Borders (www.translatorswithoutborders.org) to help translate documents that will convey important information about COVID19 and how to prevent its spread to people around the world.

New Products & Services:  How can an airline help during these unprecedented times?  Delta Air Lines is partnering with the U.S. Air Force, UTS Systems and Highland Engineering Teams to deliver up to 76 rapidly deployable pods to help military troops infected with COVID-19 return home. Delta’s Technical Operations division and wholly owned subsidiary Delta Flight Products combined their advanced manufacturing capabilities to begin converting dozens of single-use, 40-foot shipping containers into rapidly deployable, reusable hospital care pods.  Each pod is designed to attach inside military transport aircraft.

In many ways, COVID19 has been a major triggering event for us to start thinking, planning, and acting differently.  Is there a way your organization can make a difference, using your unique talents and resources, during these trying times?

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is Senior Counsel and Partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm based in the Seacoast area of NH.  For more information about the firm, visit www.jjwpr.com or email her directly at rschell@jjwpr.com.

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