State of Communications 2020: Leaders Report It’s Not Business as Usual

The Silicon Valley Public Relations Society of America Silicon Valley chapter held its Friday Forum today with a panel offering timely updates on the state of communications departments and agencies.

In-house and agency pundits commented on the benefits of PR consulting help that’s fully remote, lack of diversity in the communications c-suite, 2021 spending priorities and mental health challenges.

There were varied answers in response to, how has business changed in 2020?

Jocelyn Breeland, Stanford said there have been communications staff cuts and hiring freezes. She has lost administrative support. A+ for transparency, Ms. Breeland.

Scott Thornburg said a PR leader now wears many hats and many plans went on hold. Now it’s time to rebuild.

Shaun Fletcher, PhD summed it up nicely, “We can no longer move forward as business as usual.”

His main concern seemed to be the added mental health challenges of people of color. He asks, can we do a better job as communicators telling those particular challenges and stories?

2021 spending priorities 

Ms. Aarti Shah who has been reporting on the communications industry since 2007 for PRovoke, formerly The Holmes Report discussed survey results released in August about 2021 spending priorities. 

The top five spending areas communications leaders in house will focus on are first corporate reputation, followed by second place public relations. Social media, in particular organic, was third on the list. Content development ranked fourth followed by employee engagement/change management. 

Lack of c-suite diversity

Shah was clearly bothered by the lack of diversity and people of color in the communications c-suite. Others chimed in on that topic. Jazmin Eusebio said when she started at her current communication job, she was shocked to not find anyone who looked like herself: “There were a lot of white faces. But now we have made huge strides.”

Syreeta Mussante seemed the most frank about lack of management diversity. She said that in her experience San Francisco firms have done a better job at employing and promoting nonwhite males than San Jose companies. 

Mussante mentioned that some agency managers clearly frowned upon female workers having children. (I’m pretty sure she was talking about a previous job.)

A representative from Highwire PR mentioned that they were hiring more diverse candidates. 

On remote work

Curtis Sparrer who runs a PR firm that’s been remote from its inception said that right now publicists are more accessible than they ever have been. He added that the high touch fluff activities mostly have gone away: there is more time to focus and be attentive to clients. 

Sparrer seemed the most positive of the bunch maybe because he was already remote, which I can relate to. I’ve been a remote PR professional for well over a decade. When Covid hit, I thought, it’s almost business as usual for me.

Although I’ve been remote a while, I do miss the in-person networking. I fondly remember sipping wine with PR friends at Santana Row pre-Covid.

Besides Fletcher mentioning the special mental health challenges of people of color, most PRSA-SV panel participants did not dive deep into the topic.

To sign up for the next PRSA-SV panel, visit the group’s page on Eventbrite. Go here to join PRSA.

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This story is by Silicon Valley PR Consultant Michelle McIntyre. An IBM vet and Eagle Scout mom, Ms. McIntyre serves as the volunteer media relations lead for the Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council of Boy Scouts of America. @FromMichelle on Twitter

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