Nearly a hundred years ago, Frederick Banting and Charles Best discovered insulin. While they were tirelessly working for a diabetes solution in the lab, a young Edward Bernays, the commonly acknowledged father of public relations, had just set up shop in New York City. Their work never intersected, as best I know, but that time has finally come.
Next year, together with eighteen of the world’s finest physicians, scientists, academics and business leaders in the diabetes field, I will have the opportunity to represent PR in the fight against diabetes, one of the worst public health problems of our time that affects more than 30 million Americans and hundreds of millions globally.
Being named chair of the board of directors for the American Diabetes Association is a career defining honor for me. As one of the world’s largest and most esteemed voluntary health associations, with nearly 500 employees, 15,000 professional members, and a budget exceeding $150 million, the American Diabetes Association funds research, advocates for people with diabetes, and educates and supports professionals, caregivers, families and people with diabetes.
I view the appointment as part of a broader mission moment for our industry – a recognition of the critical role marketing and communications plays in addressing societal challenges. From education and behavioral change to funding and policy success, winning hearts and minds is a foundational element to strategy.
It’s also further evidence of the ascendance of the PR business leader. People like John Iwata at IBM, Beth Comstock at GE, and Paul Gennaro at Voya Financial have all shown that a PR pedigree is a strong foundation for influence across the enterprise and beyond.
The elusive seat at the table we sought for decades in C-Suites and on boards is increasingly a reality. Once there, we are not merely being called upon as communications experts, but as full partners in leading the strategic, fiscal, policy and governance matters of the organization. We view this, of course, through a long-term reputation lens whose import has never been greater.
On major issues like health care and climate change, we are essential to progress if we view our roles as more than hired guns advocating a narrow viewpoint or as "enabling strategists" alongside finance, HR and operations.
When we apply our leadership expansively to build trust and human engagement, we elevate our expertise to core strategy.
While the diabetes challenge is daunting, growing and humbling, I wouldn’t want to be watching from the sidelines. My hope, as the new year begins, is that our industry’s seasoned leaders and talented young professionals continue to seize our powerful mission moment.
David Herrick is incoming chair of the Board of Directors for the American Diabetes Association. He is managing principal of EthicOne, a consultancy that helps companies place trust at the heart of their cultures and brands, and a partner of Hudson Cutler & Co., a technology-driven creative communications agency.