B2 Communications co-founder and principal Missy Hurley, APR joined seasoned PR practitioner Marty Cohn on “PR Benefits,” a show produced by Brattleboro (Vermont) Community Television that explores the role of public relations in the era of COVID-19 with PR pros across the country.
During the show, Missy shared how she became interested in public relations and how her PR career progressed prior to starting B2 Communications with Kyle Parks in 2010. She also described a few of the many career highlights.
Missy talked with Marty about the changing role of public relations during the pandemic. For example, all PR pros became specialists in healthcare communications, as they translated the latest updates on the pandemic and relayed the steps that employers were taking to keep employees and customers safe. They also discussed the pros and cons of moving to a fully virtual workforce and how it’s changed the way that PR pros build relationships.
Missy also shared her view on communicators’ role in recognizing social injustices, identifying inequalities and leading companies in taking strides toward racial equity. PR practitioners often have ability to understand the social tone, take the external and internal temperature and act as the moral compass for a company. It’s a role that she hopes will continue to expand and elevate in importance over the coming years.
Watch the YouTube video:
Hi, I’m Marty Cohen and welcome to episode 28 of PR Benefits. A show that explores the role of public relations in the COVID-19 era. I’ve been a PR practitioner for over 45 years, helping a wide array of organizations successfully communicate their messages to targeted audiences. I mistakenly thought that 9/11 would be the watershed event in my lifetime. Communicating in the aftermath of that tragic event was challenging. Then came the global economic downturn of 2008 with more lessons and crisis communications. However, 12 years later, we have the coronavirus pandemic and new challenges and uncharted waters have emerged. My guest today is Missy Hurley, co-founder and principal of B2 Communications in St. Petersburg, Florida. Let me tell you a little bit about Missy.
Accredited in public relations. Missy co-founded B2 Communications in 2010, so a decade ago. Her work has received a number of significant industry awards from such prestigious organizations as the Public Relations Society of America, the Florida Public Relations Association, the American Ambulance Association, and the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International. Missy served as president of the Public Relations Society of America, Tampa Bay Chapter in 2011, and now participates in the counselor’s Academy Section of PRSA on a national level.
She’s also active in The Circle of Red, a women’s education initiative of the American Heart Association in Tampa Bay. She’s also been involved three years as a board member of the American Institute of Architects, Tampa Bay, volunteer roles with the FemFessionals Tampa Bay, Gracepoint Ambassadors, Tampa Bay History Center, University of Tampa’s Board of Counselors, and Florida Suncoast Affiliate of Susan G. Komen For the Cure. In 2007, Missy received PRSA’s Tampa Bay’s excellence and community relations award. She was recognized in the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s 2011 Up & Comers awards and received the University of Tampa, Alumni Associations Alumni Achievement Award for business achievements and community involvement. That’s a lot to put on a plaque in 2017. In 2018, Missy was highlighted in Tampa Bay’s Metro’s Inspiring Women in Business. Welcome, Missy.
Thank you so much for having me, happy to be here.
Well, I got to tell you, it’s so much fun with each guest. I Google them, not stalk, I just Google to kind of get a sense. So, one thing that I’m really curious about is, how did you get started in public relations?
Well, I started probably like a lot of people in PR. I actually wanted to be a journalist initially. I love storytelling. I liked writing, thought about being an author, but really loved the storytelling aspects of it and really felt drawn to the writing aspects. I didn’t love the fact that probably when I started as a cover reporter I was going to be covering crime and courts and all the bad news. I really wanted to tell good stories, which we don’t always get to do that, but that’s where my heart was at least initially. And I honestly didn’t know a whole lot about public relations. But my mom was a career counselor, I grew up in Cincinnati and Procter & Gamble is headquartered there. So through some connections she called in a favor and asked their community relations or corporate social responsibility department if I might be able to come in and job shadow for the day and they let me do some really cool things.
I sat in on a Tide pitch meeting where they were kicking around ideas for ads for Tide. I sat in on a call with Give Kids The World where they were giving them a $100,000 and asking them, “How do you anticipate spending this money?” And really going through ideas with that. And the more I talked to them, I figured out that that was part of the public relations department and that on top of being able to tell great stories and do a lot of writing in which is where I thought my heart was, I could help companies do some great things. I may not have a $100,000 to give to a nonprofit, but I could guide them, a company on what to do with it and how to make a positive impact on the world. So my eyes were opened to the public relations world and I started looking into that career a little bit more.
Well that’s really fantastic. I’m glad that you went from the dark side to our side, as I consider it, I’m glad that you became a PR person. So I’m going to take you back in time some more. I want you to think pre-COVID-19, so that’s at least eight, nine months ago. What are some of the highlights of your career pre-COVID-19?
So some highlights, oh gosh, that’s a tough question because I feel like I’ve been so fortunate to have so many different highlights. I’ve had mentors and bosses who are really incredible about just saying, “Try it. Let’s see what happens. Go for it.” So starting my business 10 years ago, definitely a big highlight. But before that, coming out of college I was doing some fun things with wine and spirits. I was working with a wine and spirits importer from all over the world. They were based in D.C., we were based in Tampa and really learning a lot about the wine and spirits industry and how that works from both the trade relations side of things. How to get your products on shelves at liquor stores or in bars or restaurants, and then how that progresses, six months later after it stocked, being able to tell the consumers about it and really learned a lot about kind of sequencing through that. As a 21-year-old, that was an awful lot of fun too. So that was one of my highlights.
Also working with Moffitt Cancer Center. It’s a nationally recognized cancer institute based here in Tampa and working with them on top tier media. Working with Wall Street Journal, Woman’s Day, talking with cancer researchers who are doing really, really cool things and helping them translate their work on a daily basis into how it might help cancer patients or people who love people with cancer was really rewarding and fulfilling.
And since we started B2 10 years ago, I think some of my favorite things to work on have been some things like working with historic Ybor City, which is a part of Tampa where it’s a historic landmark district and working with them on both ends of the equation, from trying to get visitors to come there. Working with the tourism departments to make sure that it’s highlighted as they’re doing their work across the country and across the world, but growing an affinity among locals. So it had a bit of a perception issue when we first started working with them, and getting people to come and see it for the cultural aspects, participate in family festivals. To see a different side of it, which then turned into, “how do we get more businesses down here?” Really balancing out that live, work, play. You hear that a lot in economic development and really putting that into practice and seeing this historic district thrive was really, really awesome to see.
We’ve also done some things like working with Navy Week, working with the U.S. Navy and some of their contractors. They go different places across the country every year. And I think it was three years ago they were here in Tampa and we got to do some really fun things with the city of Tampa. Like they were opening a new park on the waterfront of downtown during the same week that Navy Week was in town, the Tampa Bay Lightning, we’re also in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
We were able to find some really different opportunities that were sort of by the seat of our pants. You know, you can’t always plan for those things. You don’t know when someone’s going to be in the Stanley Cup Finals, but being able to work our connections and be creative to get them on the ice. We actually had them on the ice as The Star-Spangled Banner was playing. They were highlighting Navy Week, so that was really rewarding. And then we had the Navy Week paratroopers actually jump into the park opening, as the sun was coming down for the first day that this park was open for the city of Tampa after a $30 million investment in that park. Being able to work collaboratively and do some really fun things.
We like to have a “yes and…” mentality when we’re brainstorming. Instead of thinking, is that possible? Is that feasible? We like to wildcard it. If we could do this and we could do that and what else could we do? Because you can always rein it back in. You can always make sure it’s on brand when you’re going to execute, but you don’t know what’s possible if you’re not asking for it. So that’s kind of the mentality we bring, too.
As we’re working with businesses, we’ve shifted a little bit more toward business-to-business communication, but we haven’t lost that creativity and those aspects to it. As we’re working with businesses to really hone in on who are they, who are they trying to reach? What are they trying to tell them? And what are the ways that we can do that together?
Wow, that’s really good stuff, some good highlights. So, now I just want to bring you a little bit more current. What are you doing for your clients during COVID-19?
During COVID-19, kind of in the very beginning, it was almost acting as our client’s therapist at times of, what’s coming next? And being their trust in counsel, being able to have conversations on what are their biggest fears and what are they concerned about and what are they, on the flip side, what are they excited or energized by? And both what are the challenges, but what are the opportunities? And really being able to talk with senior leadership, CEOs one-on-one and really talk through what are they concerned about and what do they hope their either employees are walking away with, or customers or clients, what should they expect? Helping them communicate those things authentically and with empathy. We were doing a lot of both internal communications. What should employees expect if they’re being sent home to work remotely, or sites are being shut down, or if operations are changing, what can they expect from their company?
And certainly not having all the answers. There was a lot of anxiety around that and wanting to make sure that during COVID we’re trying to allay fears, we’re not adding to fears, as much as we can in a time that’s really, really uncertain with a lot of information swirling. So I think that was for us a lot of the early stages of the pandemic. I think moving into the summer, and currently we’ve been really helping clients understand their owned and shared channels. Companies that have previously relied on earned media. The news media to tell their story as a primary channel to get in front of target audiences, that those opportunities were few and far between if any, for companies that weren’t doing something pandemic relief related. So helping them revamp websites, we’ve been working with a lot of companies this summer who realized their website wasn’t supporting where they were going next. Whether it wasn’t agile enough to support employee messages, or they didn’t have the right access to it, to be able to post updates on operating hours or what was happening or what’s expected if you’re coming onsite.
Helping them, I guess, regain the keys to their kingdom on digital platforms. It was really hard to see some clients that maybe had trusted partners with logins and access, or maybe had lost them through a couple of different leadership transitions. And being able to follow that breadcrumb trail to find access when they needed it.
And guide them on how do you walk that line of giving enough information, but not giving too much information and helping it be really easy to understand with what could someone learn, and then what can they take away? What is the takeaway for the end user and how do you break that down into really bite-size easily understandable tidbits.
We’ve also been seeing a lot of companies that maybe didn’t have an emphasis on their CRM or their email database, really trying to get their arms around that without having a news media as one way to get to their customers, seeing a renewed focus on what contact information do I have.
And if I don’t have any, how do I start getting this so that in the future I may be not as beholden to that, or I have an additional opportunity to get direct to our customers. We started some email newsletters for clients, which four or five years ago may have felt a little old school. But in this type of environment we’re really seeing that as a way to effectively get in front of folks, especially as social media algorithms are changing too. Things that you may have been able to post on social media a year ago and get some good feedback on or get some good viability, just isn’t happening the same way.
I look at it as giving a little bit of control back to our clients of having them use those own channels and those shared channels really effectively. And hopefully they’ll be taking those forward as earned media starts to come back.
I won’t say that earned media completely went away for our clients. It was harder. I think almost every PR practitioner would tell you it was a little bit harder to get attention on things. But if you’re drawing that correlation back to what is an organization doing to respond to COVID, to rebuild the community, to address maybe cracks or challenges that are made more visible through the pandemic. I know here in the Tampa Bay area, we work with the Tampa Bay Community Foundation and they were doing quite a bit of research around food insecurity and housing. And as this pandemic has continued and mental health and domestic violence. There are things that every community struggles with.
I think through this pandemic it’s been harder to ignore and that there’s more enthusiasm for addressing social issues that are going to be affecting our community in the future. And we get to play a small role in that. Our role with the Community Foundation has been highlighting what they created with the nonprofits needs list, where any nonprofit in the Tampa Bay area could go in and update on what they were seeing as a great need. And they could either apply for funding through the Community Foundation, or anyone can go that list and decide where they want to put their funding. You know, whether that’s $5, $500, $5,000, there was a need for basically any interest. It was really amazing to see them in only the first two months reach about $3 million in donations and funds distributed back out to the community. To really to be able to mobilize quickly, tell those stories, and do something that can shape our community for years to come, has been really rewarding for us.
Wow. That is just fantastic work. But so let’s be optimistic that we’re going to come out of this. What do you think is going to be the role of public relations when we come out of COVID-19?
Well, I’m hopeful that some of the things that we have had the opportunity to be a big part of through the pandemic, like almost every PR practitioner and communicator has become a healthcare communicator. We’ve been entrenched with internal communications where that’s maybe not always been the circumstance in the past to be really entrenched with the culture and the values of a company, and especially through the social unrest and push for equity this year.
I think PR practitioners have realized that they can and should play a really important role on taking the tone and temperature of how people feel about an organization, both internally and externally. And how to act as a compass for inclusion, for diversity, for equity, and for the companies that have a passion for social responsibility.
I think there has been more realization from both PR practitioners and business leaders on the role that PR can play for that. I think sometimes in the past PR is looked at as media relations or kind of one aspect of, “We’ll figure out the program, then we tell the PR department and they’ll help us communicate it.”
Through this pandemic, more PR practitioners were brought into those top leadership discussions with the, what do we do, and really had a say in a way of shaping it, that was authentic to that company and to really show how PR can and should be integrated into every aspect of an organization or business. Which is how we look at it.
It’s not measuring PR alone. With the PR measurement doesn’t matter if it’s not tied back to the overall business strategy. And for us to be able to impact the overall business strategy, we have to be a part of those conversations.
That’s where I’m hopeful that PR can go is that we continue to have a strong voice and that we can be almost a moral compass for companies as we go forward. And to be that person who’s advocating for change in the right ways and advocating for change, but also having the opportunity to communicate it. Not just being, I would say relegated to the opportunity to communicate. As much as I love it, I’m much more passionate about it when we’re able to have those bigger, more in-depth conversations, very candid conversations about business strategy and societal value as well.
Wow, Missy, that was fantastic. I think you have encapsulated things that I’ve been thinking about. And I hope the listeners, but you know, not only businesses, but young PR students and professors who were teaching PR hear what you’re saying. Because I think the role of PR, I’ve always felt it was at the top of the communications pinnacle. And I think you’ve just talked about how it’s going to, how it could stay there. So thank you, Missy Hurley, co-founder and principal of B2 Communications in St. Petersburg, Florida for being on the show.
Thanks for having me. I enjoyed it.
Great. Well, I also want to thank Rich Melanson at BCTV for helping to edit the show. Rachel Cohn, my daughter, who’s also a professor of art at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana for technical assistance on the podcast, and also Twin Musicom for the music, Hat the Jazz that you hear at the beginning and end of the show. I think it really sets the tone. I’m Marty Cohn in Vermont, stay healthy.