What I Know for Sure: PR and Social Change

I’ve taken lots of advice from Oprah Winfrey over the years. Metaphorically of course. Reading Oprah’s content about “what she knows for sure” at the back of her magazine always inspired me to take stock of my own life — personal and professional. What choices am I making; what am I learning; how am I showing up for people; am I living with purpose?

This month, after being selected as a 2023 PRWeek Women of Distinction honoree, it feels like the right time to follow Oprah’s lead and share what I’ve learned in my PR journey.

I hope hearing my story through this recognition inspires others to use what they know for sure to advocate for things that really matter to them. For me, this means championing the issues affecting underrepresented and under-resourced communities, as well as amplifying the voices of the individuals who make up those communities to promote social change.

Here is what I know for sure about how public relations can advance social change.

  1. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) matters. We can’t be effective communicators without having as many perspectives as possible represented in how we do our work. I’m thrilled to see that now more than ever, PR and communications professionals are educating themselves about DEI and prioritizing the application of a DEI communications framework.
  1. Live the mantra “nothing about us without us.” When advocating for policies that affect the lives of a group of individuals, that audience should be included every step of the way. Being aware of or educated about a community’s issues is not the same as walking in their shoes. To be effective, we must invite members of an audience to have a prominent seat at the table where decisions are being made.
  1. A people-first approach is the only way to go. To me, this means we put our clients, their audiences, our coworkers and our partners at the center of all our decisions. You need a team that trusts each other and that is working from the same playbook. Taking care of your staff, being respectful of your clients and their circumstances, and living your values is the best way to cultivate long-lasting relationships.
  1. Be a partner, not a vendor. To advance social change, we have to be in this together. For a PR firm, that starts with listening more than we talk. It also includes telling our clients what we really think and making their priorities our priorities.
  1. Provide opportunity. Whether someone has been at Vanguard a year or a decade, I believe it’s healthy that we always look to where we can grow. It can be a class, a training or certification, an industry membership, a new role at the company — all of these things help us be more complete communicators, and more often than not, people are hungry for that chance.
  1. Absorb everything. I am a voracious reader of the PR trade magazines, a loyal podcast listener and an enthusiastic networker. Through these activities I’ve met incredible people, kept up with conversations in the industry, and been exposed to new communications tools on the horizon. Collectively, these things have helped me steer our firm in positive directions.
  1. Take chances. While any business owner wants to succeed, we learn the most when we fail. Absent a crystal ball, we can’t know when certain pursuits are going to pan out or fall flat, but I challenge myself and our team to demonstrate courage instead of fear and accept risk as part of our work.