“The most pivotal moments in my career were raising my hand and taking jobs that no one wanted,” Gina Laughlin told the hundreds of PRSSA members that filled the room at the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center.
Laughlin is the vice president of global employee communications at Delta Airlines, and she was the keynote speaker at ICON on Oct. 15, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn..
As a student attending Syracuse University studying public relations and political science, Laughlin served as the PRSSA national president, and before joining Delta she worked for Lois Paul & Partners and Atlantic Southeast Airlines. She has been with Delta since August 2005 and started there as a Senior Manager of Corporate Communications.
Laughlin’s presentation focused on internal communications, something she said often doesn’t get the credit or attention it deserves. She also shared some perspectives on what has happened within the PR career field in the last 20 years.
“First and foremost, there is so much communication in our world, right?” Laughlin said. “We, as consumers of information in this world, are barraged with any number of ads, messaging, email, name your channel. You’re getting it from brands that you interact with, probably from brands who you don’t interact with; everywhere you go, someone is trying to send you a message. And there is a whole lot of noise.”
The world of communication has changed since Laughlin started her career. Communication is much more fast-paced today, especially with social media. Because of this Laughlin says we need to find better and more effective ways to reach our audience, this includes meeting our audiences where they are with information they’re going to care about.
Laughlin shared that one important part of internal communications is building a brand and having the company’s employees help build that brand. This can be done by establishing a strong “brand affinity,” using employees as brand advocates and emotionally connecting the employees to the brand.
“Celebrate employees and really connect them to a purpose,” Laughlin said.
She also highlighted that a big part of the PR profession is business management.
“At Syracuse, freshman year, we had to memorize the definition of PR. It was a paragraph. And I don’t remember it. But here’s what I do remember, it started with the words ‘PR is a management function.’ We are just a strategic management function. We are here to help guide business outcomes. And no, you’re not going to do that in your first year. But that is what this profession is. That is what this craft is about,” Laughlin said.
Laughlin shared videos and examples of messages that have been shared with her company’s employees and stories her team has told highlighting employees around the company.
She said it is important to be intentional about how you present your stories and be mindful of who your target audience is, even within the same company. Everyone has their own background, experiences and goals that affect how they consume information, this includes different groups and teams within one larger organization.
Especially in internal communications, it is important to meet employees where they are.
One tool she said they use at Delta is segmented communication, making sure that relevant information makes it to the right people. Making sure you know all the information that is out there allows you to communicate the right information to groups of people.
One thing Laughlin repeatedly emphasized throughout her presentation was how important it is not just to see deep into one group or issue but to be able to see across many different groups, organizations and issues.
“If you want to be successful, work hard on developing that strategic brain, those critical thinking skills, make sure you know who you’re talking to all the time,” Laughlin said. “Connect the dots. We are meant to see across as much as we see deep, and we’ve got to be those dot connectors and tell really good stories through good solid writing.”
Laughlin also said that often PR professionals are doing a combination of many different things in their jobs such as employee communications, media relations and journalism. “As PR people we are nothing if not flexible.”
It is important to keep pivoting and changing what you’re doing so you can learn as much as you can. Learning as much as you can about your craft also includes taking feedback whenever you can, even constantly.
Throughout the whole of her presentation, Laughlin kept coming back to the idea of how important it is in the world of PR to be able to write and articulate your message well.
“You should take every opportunity you have to write everything and get as good as you possibly can,” Laughlin said. “And connect yourself with strong journalists and editors who can really help you strengthen that craft, because you can be excellent at every other part of our profession but if you struggle to write which also means you struggle to really articulate the essence of what it is we’re trying to communicate.”
The end of Laughlin’s presentation included a Q&A session where students asked questions about holding town hall sessions, retaining connections with employees after highlighting them and being a communications professional in the aviation industry, among other topics.
She ended her remarks with a few final pieces of advice to the students and upcoming PR professionals in the room.
“No matter what you decide to do, make sure that you are hungry,” Laughlin said. “You are curious, you are scrappy, dig deeper, raise your hand, take those jobs that no one is going to take, just get a ton of experience, agility, flexibility. Trust is our currency. It always has been, it always will be those relationships that matter. Develop them early, follow up, build that great network, and get out of your comfort zone.”
Caitlin Keith is a senior at Utah State University studying journalism with an emphasis in print journalism and minors in organizational communications and German. She currently serves as USU’s PRSSA chapter’s vice president and as news editor for USU’s student newspaper The Utah Statesman. To contact Caitlin you can reach out on LinkedIn.