Senior Pros: Managing PR in An Angry Age

How to Reclaim a Shared Space for Relationships & Engagement

PRSA NJ’s final Senior Pros “Shoot-the-Breeze” session of 2019 drew another lively group of PR pros with more than 15 years of experience to SCG Advertising & Public Relations in Parsippany on November 7.

Host Mike Cherenson, SCG Executive Vice President, welcomed the attendees, many of whom found much to say about the impact that misinformation, disinformation, and overall incivility has had on the public relations and communications business nationwide.

Host Mike Cherenson of SCG (center) welcomes Barbara Brown (Vector Strategies) and John Lonsdorf (R&J Strategic Communications) to the Senior Pros roundtable.

Mike agreed, noting “In this whole environment we’ve lost civility ….we’ve lost the ability to share a social space and disagree.”

Moderator Jon Goldberg of Reputation Architects reminded participants that the rash of confusing, contradictory messages posed a serious challenge to the fundamental goals of successful PR and communications: building relationships and building engagement. He asked the Senior Pros present to consider ways PR professionals can help redirect debate over current issues back to these basic principles.

The session began with a discussion exploring the state of communications between Boomer generation managers and their Millennial / Gen Z employees and customers. The recent “OK, Boomer” skirmishes with the rising generations only complicate relations across all workplaces, markets, clients, and consumers.

Ken Jacobs (Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching), Board Director and Chair of PRSA NJ’s Senior Professionals Group, summarized the younger workers’ perspective:

“Millennials are really angry that Boomers are hanging around and not retiring. Now, some of us can’t afford to retire – many of us don’t WANT to retire, but they’re feeling that’s creating a cap or ceiling and they can’t grow. That’s a real issue for them.

Remember, [managers] can’t lead anyone if they’re angry. So we have to find constructive ways of saying to ourselves, ‘They are different: different generation, different culturally, different values.’ And if part of leadership is leading others to success, we must understand their anger and say ‘What can I give’ to help them succeed.

Several Senior Pros expressed the view that the stereotypes of Boomers, Millennials and Gen Z don’t reflect the whole picture:

“Millennials are much more accepting of other people and their differences. They bring a lot of benefits to our society.”

“I’m not so sure we should be generalizing about whole generations. I have kids of that age; I see both sides.”

“The onus falls on me to show the Millennials or whoever that I’ve stayed ahead of the curve: I understand the new technology. I understand their mindset. At least we can work together….”

Every “Shoot the Breeze” session is packed with insights, information and frank opinions from New Jersey’s leading PR professionals.

Eric Wright (DS Simon) and others commented that the complex media environment itself makes it harder for people of all ages to understand one another, communicate and work cooperatively today – compared to people who grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s:

“Social Media has allowed for a lot of this to happen. People sit at a computer screen and type away without realizing the full implications of what they are saying. You may not have the same interaction that you would if you were talking face-to-face!”

“Even at those times of disruption, we always had a shared experience. We always watched the same TV shows at night. We always watched the same newscasts.

Now, we’ve all gone into our corners. Now, we only seek out what we want – and things have emotionally gotten worse. We all don’t have a shared experience. All of this presents challenges to professional communicators – and those who lead others.”

“Part of it is that we’ve all become publishers; we’ve all become editors. But what are the rules now for proper editing? And even if the author is shown evidence that their original post was wrong, where is the retraction? Where’s the responsibility?”

Moderator Jon Goldberg (Reputation Architects) makes a point!

By the end of the morning’s conversation, the PR professionals in the room focused in on the need to highlight the many areas of life and work where people of different ages and backgrounds can still find common ground:

“Gloria Steinem says we’re all 99.9% the same. Why do we always focus on the 0.1% that makes us different? What’s the commonality?

Right now, things have all talking in CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation points. It’s hard to break through when everyone is screaming….”

“One place to start is to go back and look at your pictures from high school and college. Remember how you were…how you thought back then. I think you’ll see that you were really not that different from the Millennials and other people. Take that first step outside yourself and look around – you’re not that different!”

Ken Jacobs concluded the wide-ranging discussion with the thought: “So much of our world and our reality is based on our perception. And if you can change your perception, you can create a different reality.”

PRSA NJ will post its 2020 Schedule of Senior Pros Events in the next few weeks.

Keep an eye on our website and updates!

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