Apr 30, 2024 - Axios Events

Axios Event: Comms leaders talk partnerships, politics and AI at WHCD weekend reception

UPS’ Deisha Barnett on stage in conversation with Axios’ Eleanor Hawkins. Credit: Hector Emanuel for Axios.

UPS' Deisha Barnett on stage in conversation with Axios' Eleanor Hawkins. Credit: Hector Emanuel for Axios.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Comms leaders from the private sector joined Axios at a reception event for conversations about how they are navigating AI and engaging in politicized cultural issues in a high-stakes election year.

Why it matters: Corporate communicators are the first to respond to political, economic and cultural crises on behalf of a company, and the stakes of doing so have never been higher in a contentious election year that will be defined by the rise of AI.

This event was sponsored by Salesforce, WE Communications and ROKK Solutions.

What they're saying: Instacart chief corporate affairs officer Dani Dudeck spoke about deciding to partner with the White House on food access through the Instacart Health initiative despite the potential pushback from customers on the basis of politics.

Partnerships can be apolitical if both parties are aligned on the message and the mission, Dudeck said.

  • "Our mission is to create a world where everyone has access to the food they love and more time to enjoy it together, so it sort of doesn't matter who you are. If you have the scale and can match our scale and you want to move fast, and you have access as an anchor, we want to partner, and that's an apolitical message really," Dudeck said.

Planning for potential scenarios before they happened helped UPS to communicate effectively through labor strikes, said president for global communications Deisha Barnett.

  • "I think for us as we went through the labor negotiations we had a rallying cry … and it was 'stay ready, so we don't have to get ready', and I think communications people can appreciate that," Barnett said.

When it comes to integrating AI, UPS has been encouraging employees and teams to use AI to "dabble, test, and play around" in AI for the last year. "We have an AI Playground that our internal IT team has created for us," she shared.

Content from sponsored segment below:

In a View From the Top conversation, Salesforce president and chief legal officer Sabastian V. Niles and ROKK Solutions co-founder and partner Ron Bonjean drilled down on the importance of deliberate engagement on social issues.

  • "When a social issue hits, you really need to think about, does this pertain to my business? And if it doesn't stay away from it. For example, if you're Bagel Bites, you should be talking about food security, and maybe climate impact on crops, as opposed to Roe v. Wade," Bonjean said.
  • "It remains the fundamental situation that there's always risk in all contexts. Staying completely silent on areas is a risk, staying silent on issues can itself send a powerful message," Niles shared.
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