It’s not unusual for companies to speak positively about the organizations they sponsor. At Porter Novelli, we choose carefully where and how we show up. We look at an alignment of values, mission and purpose. And, even then, we’re disappointed we can’t do everything.
As we approached ColorComm 2018, the conference for women of color in communications, there were justifiable reasons why some PR agencies opted out this year – the additional travel costs of attending a conference in Hawaii vs. stateside; fewer expected attendees as a result; and the optics of supporting a conference taking place in paradise after a tough year in the communications industry. ColorComm President and Founder Lauren Wesley Wilson shared during this year’s opening session she never expected the conference to make it to year number five – or two or three or four for that matter. Stepping out on faith, Wilson made a promise to herself: if the conference is around in 2018, they’d celebrate the milestone in Hawaii. It’s that combination of humility and boldness that has served the organization well. In fact, ColorComm isn’t just surviving — it’s thriving. Ask anyone: ColorComm is not like any other conference. Game-changing conversations and keynotes from Joy Reid to Bozoma Saint John and many others graced the conference with honesty and wisdom.
Last July, when the Porter Novelli team returned from ColorComm 2017, we were inspired to take on big challenges. We had experienced inclusion in a very real and special way. Our CEO Brad MacAfee had participated in a CXO panel. Moved by what he heard, he vowed to push for meaningful change. Because of allyship from the very top of our organization, there was never a moment when our annual plans and budgets did not include support for ColorComm. The issue of diversity and inclusion in our industry is just too important.
We began planning for ColorComm 2018 without thinking what we could get from ColorComm, but what we could give to it. Immediately, I knew I wanted to invite Dr. Gregory Ellison, Emory University professor and founder of Fearless Dialogues, as Porter Novelli’s guest and session facilitator. He practices “radical hospitality” to create safe spaces for intimate, truthful discussions about our identity, our gifts, and our purpose. Having participated in his workshops in the past, I knew he would lead us through a transformative experience. He did not disappoint. Each participant in our session was an active contributor in finding bedrock by being vulnerable, by listening deeply, by being open to change. I can’t do justice in describing the palpable energy we experienced that morning, but it led to a feeling of kinship across the conference.
Our Porter Novelli kin included representatives with diverse skill sets and perspectives. Incredible professionals and purposeful people, Courtney Chung, Dwayna Haley and Jess Schmidt each brought so much to our team. Courtney Chung, vice president, Integrated Marketing in Washington, DC, returned to her home state of Hawaii for ColorComm. Among other things, she gave us insight into post-colonialism challenges in the Aloha state’s majority minority population and her perspective through a biracial lens. Dwayna Haley, vice president, Corporate/Consumer Practice in Atlanta, serves on the PR Council’s NEXT Shadow Board. She owns her truth like few do. She shared what it was like to have a burning cross in her front yard put there by the Ku Klux Klan. Jess Schmidt, senior vice president, Corporate/Consumer Practice from Los Angeles, is an advocate for the LGBTQ community. I’ll never forget her response when I invited her to attend: “Before I accept, I want to make sure I’m not taking up space meant for a woman of color.” You see why she was recently honored during the L.A. King’s PRIDE Night. I was proud to co-facilitate Fearless Dialogues with these women.
After our Porter Novelli-sponsored session, I had many discussions with the participants, who, like me, felt something so special that I can only describe as a recognition for who we are—a sisterhood. Truth and reconciliation is something I pursue in every facet of my life including my role at Porter Novelli. As a believer in the power of dialogue, it’s something I try to create as part of the Porter Novelli Perspectives platform with the hope it will lead to transformation.
A dear friend said to me: “Soon Mee, I heard about your session and it’s so signature you. You are the Porter Novelli brand. You live the Porter Novelli brand.” While I don’t think that’s true of me alone, as we are all the brand, it was one of nicest compliments I could ever receive. So when I tell you Porter Novelli is a proud sponsor of ColorComm 2018, I mean it. We’re proud to have sponsored ColorComm with not only our financial commitment, but also a deep commitment to industry transformation for greater inclusion and for the benefit of all. We look forward to next year.
To follow our team experiences, check out #PNC2maui on social media and the conference-wide #C2maui.