April 25 would have been Wayne State University’s PRSSA District Conference. However, due to COVID-19, the Chapter pivoted to host a free, virtual panel of industry-leading professionals discussing the future of communications during these unprecedented times. The session “Future of Communications in a Changed World” was moderated by Ray Day, Wayne State alum and vice chair of The Stagwell Group. Panelists included:
- Bonin Bough, chief growth officer, Bonin Ventures
- Craig Buchholz, chief communications officer, General Motors
- Jano Cabrera, chief communications officer, General Mills
- Tara Carraro, chief corporate affairs officer, Nestle Waters
- Michael Sneed, chief communications officer, Johnson & Johnson
The Zoom panel had an audience of over 200 from Detroit to San Francisco, and as far as Ghana. This event was truly global. During these uncertain times, communication students and professionals looked together at these industry leaders for clues into the next chapter of communications, PR and integrated marketing.
For many students and professionals, the next steps may look foggy. From a cancelled internship to adjusting to working from home, our professional lives will be changed for the foreseeable future. During the uncertainty, Carraro recommended staying proactive, whether that be reaching out to your colleagues first or volunteering your communication services to a local nonprofit.
While we’ve been increasing digital communication dramatically over the recent years, the current pandemic will only expedite that process. Buchholz predicts a further integration of traditional marketing and communications skill sets will be needed to keep up with advancements of the market. With people moving the majority of their lives online, communication techniques need to be even more adaptive.
Consumer behaviors and priorities will be changed for the foreseeable future so it’s important that we as communicators respond to these changes appropriately. As noted by Cabrera, business will be moving faster than ever because the economy was interrupted in a way not yet seen, and it will be crucial for communicators to be able to communicate effectively in the business they work for. This means not just being a communication expert but being an expert in the business you represent.
Understanding the value of the human-to-human relationships is also imperative in communications during this crisis, and now is not the time to forget all communication is built on a two-sided conversation. People are looking at organizations for support and guidance, and those who show up will be remembered noted Sneed.
Bough concluded with at the end of the day, we’re all in the exact same and incredibly unique situation, and that the best way to approach communication during this time is with empathy.
With GM building ventilators, Johnson & Johnson working towards a COVID-19 vaccine, Nestle Waters allocating resources to the public, General Mills distributing food, and Bonin Ventures investing time and resources into businesses on the front lines, all the panelists recognize the importance of giving back to their communities.
Unique times call for unique responses and while it may be scary moving forward into such undetermined futures, communication has never been more important. I feel reassured that despite my many unanswered questions as a current college student there is a hopeful future in communications.
Hailey Cloutier is a Public Relations student at Wayne State University and VP of Fundraising for the WSU PRSSA Chapter.