Nov 7, 2022 - Axios Events

Axios Communicators: Chicago

Attendees sitting around a square table eating breakfast.

Attendees enjoyed a seated breakfast during the discussion. Credit: Chris Dilts

On Thursday, November 3, Axios hosted an Expert Voices roundtable discussion in Chicago, Illinois featuring local experts in communication and strategic messaging. Guests shared their perspectives on the opportunities and challenges of leading a company during this unique time, from developing effective leadership and communication to building and maintaining trust among multiple stakeholders. Axios communications strategist and writer Eleanor Hawkins and Axios Local Chicago reporter Monica Eng led the conversation.

On the importance of having trusted messengers to disseminate information

Attendees shared their thoughts on the important role that local, community-based leaders and organizations have to play in building public trust in today’s information environment.

Dr. Allison Arwady wearing a teal sweater speaking to fellow attendees.
Dr. Allison Arwady speaking to fellow attendees. Credit: Chris Dilts
  • Kiana DiStasi, Chicago Loop Alliance chief marketing & communications officer: “That’s the biggest challenge, is we do want to show the beautiful parts, but it’s really where you put that lens. And this is why local media and news and journalism is so important, if I wanted to show you the worst things in any community I could paint this picture that it’s this dangerous, awful place to be. Or I can show you the most beautiful parts, and what is the balance of that? How are we shifting when less people are coming downtown all the time, because they used to experience it themselves when they were downtown, but now if less folks are downtown every day, they don’t have that lived experience so they can only trust what they’re seeing on the news when less folks are actually experiencing it personally.”
  • Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago Department of Health Commissioner: “I think that transparency, it can cut both ways, but I think it’s good for building trust. And that I feel like is the currency that we most need to be successful as an organization and then to hopefully have Chicago decide to take actions that are in the best interest of the public health. But we’ve learned a whole lot about how to do this…it’s about can we create messages that you can all bring to your employees, that the churches can bring to their congregations, that the community-based organizations can bring to the people who trust them. And that indirect trust is the thing that we most try to grow.”
  • Kayce Ataiyero, chief external affairs officer at The Joyce Foundation: “The idea is that the more that we can plug local news holes so that people have reliable trusted messengers that they can go to, people in their community that they see that they know, that they know know their community, and to have them engage beyond the division, it’s a lot easier to demonize people you don’t know.”

On organizational messaging strategies

During the discussion, several participants highlighted their strategies for disseminating information to large groups of people, from combating misinformation to prioritizing internal communications.

Rodrigo Sierra wearing a brown jacket having a conversation at the roundtable.
Rodrigo Sierra in conversation at the roundtable. Credit: Chris Dilts
  • Rodrigo Sierra, American Medical Association chief communications officer & SVP: “The AMA really early on made a decision to step up and lead too, because we saw an attack on science, and an attack on science is an attack on health care and medicine, and it meant life or death for people and we knew that, so we decided to step up and really try to lead in that and try to speak for the belief in science, the belief in data, the belief in facts.”
  • Tim Granholm, managing director of Shallot Communications: “I think the value of that is as we are in this diverse media ecosystem, people can get information from everywhere and anywhere they want, and so you’re really incentivized to tell people first, to tell them the information that’s going to affect the company and your employees before other people set the framework of that narrative.”
  • Kevin Cook, Edelman Chicago Office president: “While business is the most trusted institution in the U.S., in the Midwest, it’s the least, only 51%, so just 1 in 2, trust business…while government and media are the least trusted institutions in the U.S., the lowest score for government is here in the Midwest, at 40%, it’s the lowest score of any institution of any region…people in the Midwest have very high expectations that business will lead, about 90% of the people we surveyed said business must lead, but they don't have any faith that they actually will. So the expectations are high, but the expectation of the follow through is very low.”

Thank you Edelman for sponsoring this event.

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