MG executive vice president Kiernan Doherty was featured in a blog interview series published by the Public Relations Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC/PRD).
In it, Kiernan shares tips and learnings that she feels are important lessons for emerging PR professionals, while showcasing the thoughtfulness and strategic mindset that she is known to bring to her work.
Here is the post in its entirety:
#PRProfs, would you like a short break from revising your AEJMC conference papers? If so, read on.
Kiernan Doherty serves as executive vice president of Metropolitan Group, a full-service social change agency that crafts and integrates strategic and creative services. She leads Metropolitan Group’s Portland, Ore., office, and specializes in branding, message development, social marketing, media relations, technical assistance, and multicultural engagement. Kiernan has a particular passion for work at the intersection of strategic communication and organizational development.
Kiernan has graciously shared some expert insights and advice, particular for truly connecting with diverse communities. Enjoy!
-Dave Remund and Diana Sisson, social media team
What are the biggest strengths and weaknesses you see in today’s young professionals?
We are seeing young PR professionals who understand that the worlds of “traditional” and “untraditional” PR are no longer separate. They understand that PR professionals must know how to work with bloggers and other online journalists—as well as share information and news through photos, videos, infographics, social content and other formats—in order to be relevant and effective.
With all the attention paid to the ever-changing worlds of social and digital, some young professionals need more coaching in client relations. Helping clients understand the benefit of PR and their role in making it successful is paramount. We must help them understand what makes for compelling content and what does not, and that means we must have our clients’ trust in order to have a seat at the table when initial strategy is being set. We must help clients understand what it means to be a true resource for journalists, and not just when it benefits them, by being an authentic spokesperson and responsive to requests.
If you were teaching public relations, what kind of lesson or assignment do you feel would have the most meaningful impact for students?
One of the most important lessons for PR students is to be sure not to reinforce negative stereotypes when pitching and placing stories in the media, or writing messages in general. Often when firms are working with clients that serve diverse communities, there is a tendency to want to tell a story using facts and figures about how a certain issue disproportionately affects one community of people over another. What we’ve learned at Metropolitan Group is that those messages are ineffective at best and harmful to communities at worst.
For example, when we worked on a campaign to increase colorectal cancer screening rates in Oregon, we were tempted to lead with messaging in our African American and Native American outreach about the higher rates of diagnosis and mortality in these communities. We learned that hearing these messages had the inverse impact we intended. They made many people in these communities avoid getting screened for colorectal cancer because they believed there was no hope for treatment if cancer was found and they would rather remain “blissfully unaware.”
When only given the current negative state (“group X is more likely to die of a certain cancer”), our minds immediately begin to fill in the blanks of the story: Whose fault is this? What did they do wrong? What could (should) they have done to prevent it? It puts blame on the individual and leaves them feeling helpless and others believing they don’t have a role to play. We know that real impact comes from motivating behavior change WHILE ALSO simultaneously shifting systems, policies and social expectations to support and make those new behaviors possible. So students need to be sure to include the broader cultural context of the issue, and create the thinking support for audiences to consider the complex and large-scale causes of the issue or disparity. And they must also demonstrate the opportunity to reverse trends in these communities by providing actionable solutions versus just reinforcing the existence of an inequity.
Consider having students select a public health, environmental justice, etc. issue that is disproportionately impacting certain people in their communities. Ask them to review existing literature and conduct their own qualitative research to develop a message architecture that effectively frames the issue in a way that advances behavior AND social change.
See Metropolitan Group’s poster on Building More Effective Messaging to Reduce Health Disparities.