By Keera Hart
Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of speaking at the CPRS National Conference in Whistler, B.C. It was such an honour to speak at – and attend – such a wonderful event, and to discuss the trends impacting the public relations industry with my peers.
I gained so much knowledge through the presentations and workshops I was able to attend, with some of my favourites focusing on writing with clarity and the use of AI in public relations.
Speaking at this landmark conference was a milestone in my career, and I was so proud to speak alongside Dr. Alexander Heber on a topic that has always been near and dear to me: mental health.
More specifically, we spoke on helping those who helped us during the pandemic. That can mean a lot of things, so let me first explain a bit about the wonderful programs that Dr. Heber is helping build. CIPHER is a Knowledge Hub funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada through a partnership with the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT). It is committed to sharing mental health research and resources for Canadian healthcare workers, first responders and other public safety personnel, their families and caregivers, all of whom were deeply affected by COVID-19.
CIPHER’s resources are structured so tailored support can be provided to these individuals through specialized mental health education, online and app-based peer support, and therapist-led internet-delivered cognitive behaviour therapy. There are many reasons why tailoring mental health resources is critical, but the idea of social identity is one that stood out during Dr. Heber’s portion of our presentation. Having a specific social identity (“we firefighters”) provides us with a positive framework for interpreting our experiences – including traumatic ones.
Being part of a team with positive shared identity decreases the ‘stress reaction’ during traumatic incidents. This is why it is so important to foster positive social identity within first responder communities, and mental health resources play an integral role in doing that.
This is one of the many reasons the K&P team quickly became passionate about communicating these resources when we were first engaged by CIPHER last year. We felt an obligation to ensure as many first responder communities across Canada heard about this Knowledge Hub and felt empowered to take advantage of specialized support available to them.
With that in mind, we conducted in-depth research to understand not just who our audiences might be, but how we can meet them where they are. We thought deeply about where first responder communities both consume industry news and spend their down time and concluded that we might be able to catch them:
- Scrolling their social media
- Following influencers with similar careers or interests
- Where communities consume industry news, including newsletters and/or websites specific to their occupation
- Attending industry events
With this in mind, we developed an integrated strategy that included everything from events and media relations to sponsored content, influencers and social media, ensuring the accessibility of CIPHER’s critical resources consistently caught our audience across as many relevant channels as possible.
This approach led to a very successful ongoing mandate that also served as a wonderful learning experience for me and the team.
For example, we found that identifying the right influencers for a campaign of this nature is game changing. We were able to work with firefighters and their partners, parental influencers who are married to police officers and paramedics operating across the country.
Each one of them cared so deeply about properly communicating these resources and how to access them because they had personal connections to the mental health challenges CIPHER helps navigate. This was evident in their videos and posts, and comments poured in from across Canada from individuals sharing their own stories and the relief they felt seeing that others had similar experiences. It was truly beautiful to see and directly supported CIPHER’s focus on fostering positive social identities.
The same sentiment could be shared for both media relations and sponsored content. We found that the more targeted we could get, the better. Whether it was a newsletter for a trade publication that targets police officers, or a podcast focused on first responders, the audience was much more engaged when it was specialized.
All of the above solidified the most important thing I learned from this experience: mandates this specific and important require more than just an understanding of your audience. These mandates need to focus on meeting audiences “where they live.”
One of the final key takeaways I shared in my presentation was how public relations can play an important role in continuing to advance mental health. These include, but are not limited to:
- Encouraging engaged leadership practices
- Normalizing discussions around mental health through information and resource-sharing
- Broadening awareness of resources by reaching new audiences through a variety of media, influencers and other avenues
- Humanizing mental health struggles by sharing relatable, true stories
I am so thankful I got to share all of the above insights with other public relations professionals at the CPRS National Conference. We are truly so lucky to work in an industry where every new client or mandate is an opportunity to learn and grow both professionally and personally.