Emily Graham and Dr. Natalie Tindall are co-directors of the IPR Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. 

As 2021 begins, the work of the communicator remains front and center. Brands should be prepared to point to the specific actions taken to address systemic racism and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, with a focus on increased attention and progress since spring 2020. The push for accountability, meaningful action, and investment will only grow in the days and months ahead.

The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol recently laid bare the complexity of issues surrounding the topic of social and racial injustice. What seemed to be an incident related to the U.S. Presidential Election outcome increasingly showed more insidious issues at play.

Communicators found themselves in the crosshairs of a familiar decision-making process – to say something or not – and when, and what tone? It’s a sad déjà vu of June 2020 after George Floyd’s murder.

And while many of us haphazardly found our footing last year reacting to unexpected, dual pandemics – one that has a vaccine and one that has no immediate remedy – we’ve found that both pandemics – COVID-19 and social injustice – will be unfortunate mainstays in 2021.

What’s different this time is our knowledge of what’s ahead and our stance on handling what is coming at us. Communicators have been knee-deep at high intensity for 10 unrelenting months. We’ve worked to clearly and consciously engage with audiences on COVID-19 while triaging with C-suite leaders on how the racial reckoning after George Floyd’s murder impacted business and communications strategy. And then, there’s the balance of cyber schooling, caring for loved ones, and attempting to care for oneself. It’s a wonder we’re still standing.

But, it’s not completely surprising. Communicators show up. We put out fires, we foster inspiration, and we fuel progress. And now, with social and racial injustice staring us down, we must keep showing up.

As communicators, we play many roles: strategist, integrator, and keeper of the brand – but it’s the change agent and catalyst roles that are mission-critical right now.
The demand for social and racial injustice was loud and unsatisfied last year. That fever pitch will only mount as we approach June 2021. Stakeholders are expectant and critical of companies, and they don’t want to be messaged – they want action.

How can communicators use their role to pursue progress and achieve alignment on internal and external strategies and messages?

To answer this question, we have outlined some guidance that communicators should follow.

5 Ways Communicators Are Essential to Navigating Social & Racial Injustice 

1.) Recognize that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are more than “the right things to do” or “good for business.” The world has moved that platitude – it’s now an expectation.

2.) Have a command of the issues and know it’s OK to bring in help. Every person can not be knowledgeable about every social justice concern permeating through society. One can be engaged and aware of those who are working, leading, and researching in these spaces. You can and should invite and pay people for their DE&I consulting and strategic multicultural communication advice.

3.) Use the scale of thinking and resources to enact meaningful and substantial change. Every organization must rise to the occasion in a way that aligns with its goals, people, and pocketbook.

4.) Be consistent in your messaging and actions. Performative works will not cut it in this time of change. Your tweets and email statements must be aligned with your actions. For example, posting a Martin Luther King quotation calling for justice will ring hollow if your brand did and said little during the past 10 months.

5.) Understand how the issues are applicable to your company/institution/client and take a position. Be visible and accountable in your DE&I efforts. Consumers and clients are expecting and demanding immediate, substantive changes, and companies no longer have the luxury of vague puffery and timid tactics. Show your efforts and monitor your efforts in a public-facing way.

Emily K. Graham is Chief Equity and Impact Officer and SVP of Diversity and Inclusion Communications at Omnicom Group. She is an IPR Trustee and the Co-Director of the IPR Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. 

Natalie T. J. Tindall, Ph.D., APR, is Department Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and Media at Lamar University. She is an IPR Trustee and the Co-Director of the IPR Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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