Season 2, Episode 1: Communicating With Empathy
Your hosts are back for another season of Outsmart! Listen in as Nicole and Rex sit down with Vanishaa Doshi, a Public Relations Account Director at TEAM LEWIS who specializes in ethical communications.
In this episode we dive into:
– The value of transparent communication in PR
– Understanding brand perception through the lens of your audience
– How to ensure inclusivity is woven into your communications
Nicole: Welcome back to a second season of Outsmart! Rex, we’ve been renewed!
Rex: You could say they thought they could get rid of us, but here we are.
Nicole: That is true. We made it through season one, and we’re excited to be here with you in season two. In case you haven’t had a chance to give season one a listen, we had a lot of our colleagues from around the TEAM LEWIS Globe join us to talk about different trends that we’re seeing in the marketing space. And we’ve got a lot of more new and exciting topics on deck for season two. Isn’t that right, Rex?
Rex: Yeah, we’re super excited to cover off things like AI and content marketing, tech and tools that you can use, the Metaverse, communicating with empathy and all the way to building your own personal brand and how that differs from our client brands or corporate brands. So really exciting topics ahead.
Nicole: And today we are very excited to welcome another one of our TEAM LEWIS colleagues, Vanishaa Doshi. Vanishaa is an Account Director based in San Diego, and she actually specializes in global communication strategies and ethical communications. So, we’re really excited to have her here today. Welcome to Outsmart, Vanishaa.
Vanishaa: Thanks, Nicole. Thanks, Rex, for having me. As Nicole called out, I’m an account director based in San Diego. A core part of my job is managing PR retainers for our global clients. So, whether it’s B2B tech, B2C, consumer clients, the whole spectrum. A bit of background on myself, I was born and raised in Singapore, which I believe has given me a unique lens. Which is also the reason why I decided to pursue global comms, because I am really excited about the big picture, looking at communications from an outside-in perspective.
Nicole: Vanishaa, I’m going to throw you a random personal question. Is it durian? Is that the fruit in Singapore that’s like a little bit on the stinky side?
Vanishaa: Yes, it is.
Nicole: Yes. Okay. Are you pro-durian or anti-durian?
Vanishaa: Absolutely not. I don’t know if this is something I diagnosed myself, but I feel like I have an allergy because it just does not sit well.
Nicole: That’s too funny. That’s too funny. I remember when I visited the Singapore office, and it was like there was like a season, right? Yeah. And everything just smells like durian. And I walked into an ice cream shop where they were serving durian flavored ice cream, and the whole place reeked, and I just could not, I couldn’t bring myself to try it. I wasn’t brave enough. Maybe next time.
Vanishaa: Well, great timing, because it’s actually durian season right now.
Nicole: Oh, good. Okay, so I’ll go to Singapore and give it a try.
Rex: Vanishaa, why we wanted to have a conversation with you today is because you wrote a very awesome blog post on the TEAM LEWIS website, all about ethical communications and for a lot of good reasons, that became very popular. There was a lot of searches around it. So, we thought, who better to have on than to have a conversation about ethical communication? And really, what does that mean and how do we approach that for our clients? So, give us your spiel about ethical communications and kind of lens that you take when you approach those conversations with clients.
Vanishaa: Right, well, I guess to take a step back, when we look at communications, we know it’s really an integral part of every company’s business strategy, right. Because number one, you want to cultivate relationships with your audience, the people that you’re trying to reach out to, but it’s also an avenue to reach out to your customers, people who are actually supporting and advocating for your brand. But what a lot of companies fail to do, or where they have a tendency to sort of put their priorities in a different perspective, a lot of them prioritize results. What they want to do is really drive demand for what they’re trying to sell, their products, or even just to create awareness of, okay, this is my company, this is my brand, this is what I do. But that’s kind of a different way of looking at it because what you want to do or what you should actually be doing is looking at transparency and honesty and being able to weave that into your communications. It’s a very delicate balance. You want to be effective in your communications, but you also want to be ethical. So that balance, like I called out, is really important for being a successful brand. I would say ethics should be at the core of all communications. It’s really something that brands need to keep in mind, and it’s not necessarily just when times are tough. Maybe there might be a global conflict, or your brand might be facing a scandal or that sort of thing, but it’s really just something that needs to be going on 24/7/365.
Nicole: And it’s interesting you mentioned brands looking at communications as kind of more of a numbers game, right, trying to ultimately drive demand for what they’re looking to sell. But in reality, today’s consumers, and specifically looking at Gen Z, I think it was a couple of years ago, McKinsey had that study that said that 70% of Gen Z are considered through their purchasing process were looking at only buying from brands that they consider to be ethical. So, when you look at it through that vein, the argument really is that ethical communications as a practice can in fact help to drive demand and have a positive impact on your bottom line.
Vanishaa: So, my analogy is imagine you’re going grocery shopping and you have a regular apple and an organic apple. Chances are if it’s the same price, you would pick your organic apple. But even if the price is a little higher, chances are a lot of people will choose the organic apple still because what they want to ensure is that they’re supporting brands that have shared values, that their core messages resonate with them and that they’re able to feel like they’re making a good conscious choice.
Rex: And the core values too, I think there’s always that balancing act like you can’t be making up your core values on the fly and like you said, responding to a moment in time of a global conflict or climate change, whatever it is. Brands need to adjust, obviously with their audiences and as we as human beings evolve over the years, but you can’t week to week, and understanding your core values as a brand is kind of paramount to having ethical communication. So where do you see, where do we counsel clients on, please first align and know what your core values are before you take the path of even communicating in the first place?
Vanishaa: Yeah, I would say the starting point is really understanding who you are as a brand or as a company, what do you actually stand for? And that is your core message. Your core values or it stems from your core values and what you want to do is ensure that you’re communicating that throughout every material that you put out, right? So, whether it’s on your website, it’s in a press release, an advertisement, any form of communication that comes out of your company needs to exude those messages. So really just understanding, maybe making it as simple as narrowing down three things that your brand wants to stand for and taking it from there.
Nicole: I feel like a lot of times when we work with clients, and we’ll come up with a campaign idea and there’s an ethical thread to it or we’re trying to tie it to sustainability or something like that. And a lot of times the folks that we’re working with, they’re not in control of the business as a whole. Right? And so, it’s just kind of that like balancing act between the message you want to put out there but where you know that your core business values and practices actually are and how do you kind of balance that? You know what I’m saying? So, you don’t get stuck in a situation where you are greenwashing or you’re making claims that your company can’t in fact uphold like H&M and Zara and a lot of those fast fashion companies that have sustainable outposts but in reality, fast fashion is actually contributing to like a huge amount of waste.
Vanishaa: Yeah, I mean I would say it’s really tricky, right, because a lot of companies want to be known for being green and sustainable because it’s sexy or it’s something that a lot of their competitors are doing so, they feel like they need to be compelled to do that. But fundamentally, if your business does not actually stand for sustainability, people are going to know because people understand the industry and I think people are getting a lot smarter and a lot more conscious about the choices that they make. Taking the fast fashion example, if someone could choose between a local homegrown brand versus Zara, yes, maybe price point might be different, but they ultimately know that, okay, the local brand is someone that I can trust. Maybe they use recycled materials. And that’s why I feel good about the choice that I’m making.
Rex: And I think Vanishaa, kind of what you were just alluding to. There is one of the key points that you elevated in your post around ethical communications, and one of those key pillars being understanding your audience. And if a brand understands that their core values align with a communication point of perception that they want their audience to take away from their communications, there’s a two-way street there. It’s also understanding, like, everything there is to know about your audience and what they’re responding to and having a true conversation. So, say a little bit about the four points of ethical communications, and specifically maybe starting from the point of understanding your audience.
Vanishaa: Yeah, I mean, that’s a great first step because you really cannot do much without first understanding your audience. And it also works both ways, right? So, you need to understand your audience, but you also need to make sure that your audience understands you. So as a PR/communications professional, whenever it’s coming up with content or counseling clients, two questions I always ask myself, number one, who is going to read this? And number two, how much background knowledge do they have? Maybe it’s someone who works in the industry and might understand a little bit more than the traditional layperson, but my advice is always to skip industry jargon, because, number one, it doesn’t add value. And if it doesn’t make sense to a layperson, it’s not going to make sense to your general audience. And while your edit also factor in any possible language barriers. We work and we live in a world that is increasingly globalized. We shouldn’t assume that everyone has the same level of proficiency in a certain language, be in English or whatever else that we’re communicating in. And in some instances, words may even translate poorly. An example that I always think about when it comes to this translation specific thing is really when General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America a couple of years ago, the company just pushed it out because they thought, this is the name that we’re going to use around the entire world. But one thing they did not factor in is that in Spanish, nova actually means it won’t go, which is ironic and definitely not ideal for a car brand. So really making sure that you take into account language issues, anything around specific terminology, I think the legal industry and finance industry is definitely a huge culprit when it comes to this. A lot of times they use really over complicated words, and it just overwhelms your audience sometimes, and that might put them off, and they might not want to listen to you anymore. I think it’s very important that you communicate in a way that you’re able to relate to your audience and sort of speak on that level as well.
Rex: Yeah, there’s like the fine line of making sure that the audience knows that you know what you’re talking about without using unnecessary words to maybe cover up for the fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about or using just a glossary of industry terms. And you’re like, well, did a marketing person write this or did a subject matter expert write this? Who’s actually behind this thought? And then it just glosses over, and you’ve lost an audience. They’re thinking about your word choice more so than the message that you’re trying to convey.
Vanishaa: Exactly. Sometimes people say, oh, if you speak louder, people will think that you know what you’re talking about. Or if you use big words, people will assume that you’re smart. But that’s not the case. I think consumers are getting way more clever about the brands that they choose to interact with, the brands that they choose to support. So, making sure that you build a relationship with them is really important and the key first step is really to understand them.
Nicole: You mentioned something to Vanessa that really sort of caught my ear in that not only understanding your audience, but also understanding how they perceive your brand. And I think that’s a really important piece too, especially when we consider your brand may have certain core values, but is the audience even aware of those? So, I think that that’s something that the step that often goes overlooked and making sure that those conversations with customers or those surveys or focus groups or whatever the research mechanism may be, are actually being conducted and that brands are taking the time to really put in the work to better understand what their initial perception is so that you can also kind of measure the success over the lifetime of a campaign or a message around a more ethical point as well.
Vanishaa: 100%. And this goes back to what we talked about earlier when it comes to sort of prioritizing results. I think if you want to look at results, this is a great way to measure, look at how your audience perceives you before and after a campaign, for instance. And even just looking at it from a qualitative perspective, making sure that you have regular check ins with your audience through surveys. But what you also want to do is make sure that you’re able to be honest and transparent with them, making sure that they understand what your brand stands for and also just make sure that you’re consistent with those messages. I think with PR, it often gets a bad rep. People think that all we do is spin stories and come up with random things that we want people to think are all rainbows and butterflies, but that’s not the case. I think we have a responsibility to due diligence and make sure that everything that we’re communicating is factual and it’s accurate and we’re disclosing every detail that’s important to the customer and a core part of that is also our brand values and what we stand for.
Rex: Vanishaa, so well said and so well put. So, thank you so much for taking the time with Nicole and me today to discuss ethical communications. I hope that everybody out there learned a little bit about the work that needs to go into every piece of communication that you’re putting out there and the consideration for your brand, for your audience. So, thank you so much. It was a pleasure to talk to you today.
Vanishaa: Thank you both for having me.