As many businesses weigh internal messages and regulations on COVID-19 vaccines, PR agencies are thinking about their work holistically.
What does it mean to be a true business partner? If, like MediaSource—a media relations firm in Columbus, Ohio—many of your clients are in health care, how does that affect your internal message?
Lisa Arledge Powell, president of MediaSource, explains how her work with health care clients influenced her decision to mandate vaccinations for her staff.
“In mid-August, I informed my team that they needed to be vaccinated or request an exception, which we would consider for religious or medical reasons,” Powell says. The news was shared in writing and via Zoom, with a special message for one employee who was out on vacation.
At the heart of Powell’s vaccine message was the “why.” In Powell’s words, it was to “keep the MediaSource team and our clients’ teams safe.”
“As a company with a core client base of health care organizations—including hospitals across the country—mandating vaccination was the responsible thing to do,” she emphasizes. “The MediaSource creative team is regularly on location at hospitals shooting videos with doctors and patients, while my public relations team regularly assists with media escorts at health care facilities.”
However, the message was tempered for those who had a valid medical or religious reason to not get vaccinated. “We allowed employees to request an exemption for religious or medical reasons.”
The response to MediaSource’s mandate has been overwhelmingly positive, and Powell says her firm is now at 95% vaccinated.
“Our staff was overwhelmingly supportive,” says Powell. “Many of our staff members were already vaccinated before I announced this mandate, so it was as simple as having them share proof of their vaccination status with HR.”
For Powell, the declaration of a mandate for her workers was important as a sign of being a good business partner to others in her network. “I know that this is the right thing to do to move forward from this pandemic and to continue being good business partners to our clients (and doctors and patients) and the media personnel that we interact with on a daily basis,” she says.
Powell also sees the mandate as an opportunity to show clients, such as hospitals that were announcing their own vaccine mandates, that they agency was a true business partner.
“Once I informed my team, the next communication was to our clients, which include hospitals and other health care brands across the country,” Powell says. “Regardless of which client we’re working with, it’s our responsibility to do everything we can to support them and meet their goals. And with many of our clients being health care providers, their goals are not just about publicity and content creation, but also the bigger picture of community health and safety.”
Advice for others
After implementing the mandate, Powell has some advice for other agencies and communicators looking to roll out a similar message about vaccines.
1. Leverage company values.
“Your company values can provide a guidepost when making decisions such as this one,” Powell says. “Use your organization’s values as a litmus test to help you come to a strategic resolution and keep emotions in check. Backing up your vaccine mandate decision with company values can help justify it when communicating it to others.”
2. Engage your internal team first.
“It’s important to share as much information as possible with your internal team before you begin sharing information externally,” Powell says. “Your employees are people. They are the heart of your organization. Have empathy for their emotions and potential fears when beginning the conversation.”
She adds the importance of two-way communication and encourages leaders to make it possible for employees to voice concerns without fear of reprisal.
3. Have thick skin.
“Understand that an issue like mandatory vaccination during a pandemic is a sensitive topic and you will likely receive criticism, especially if you step out in a public way,” Powell says. “Don’t let comments on social media make you second guess your decision.”
4. Heed your own advice.
It can be uncomfortable to be the one in need of messaging advice rather than doling it out, Powell admits. Her view: “Don’t forget to take your own communications advice — know your message and talking points, and stick to them.”
Is your company rolling out rules about vaccine requirements for employees or visitors? Share your thoughts in the comments, please.