Wakeman Agency founder and CEO Vanessa Wakeman talks about how brands can most effectively engage with social issues and non-profit organizations on the latest “PR’s Top Pros Talk” video interview with Doug Simon.

Wakeman’s first piece of advice? Listen. “We saw last year a lot of organizations sort of jump in without being fully up to speed on some of the issues that were brought to the forefront. And so, taking the moment, not feeling like you need to be part of the cool kids group or the popular kids and sort of doing what everyone else does, but really thinking about what are the values of the organization and what issues do we want to align ourselves with.”

To be truly authentic, Wakeman tells Simon, brands also need to have a clear sense of their own identity, which takes “really thinking about what an organization stands for, who do you want to be.”

She says that keeping the lines of communications open with internal stakeholders is a central part of any effort. “I think that what's important is to get in conversation with the employees,” she adds. "Because you really want the entire organization to be behind whatever it is."

It’s also essential to think of the non-profit organizations that a brand works with as partners. Wakeman says it is important to support organizations or causes “in a way where you're not coming in with the assumption that you know better because you're the bigger, stronger, more influential sort of player in the room, but sort of giving the opportunity for your circle of influence to be yielded in a way that provides power to the organizations that you're trying to help.”

She tells Simon about her agency’s initiative to make non-profit groups led by people of color more visible to potential supporters. “We created something called ‘Louder Than Words.’ It is a directory that has a listing of non-profits that are led by people of color, and the goal is for corporations to use the resource to identify organizations that they'd like to align themselves with.”

The language that communicators uses when addressing social issues is another key concern that Wakeman discusses. She says that her agency is trying to shift away from terms like “impoverished,” “the poorest communities” and “marginalized people,” and is looking to place the focus on opportunities and possibilities.

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Interested in taking part? Contact Doug Simon at [email protected]

D S Simon Media helps clients get their stories on television through satellite media tours and by producing and distributing content to the media. The company also produces live social media events.