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Communications and Civility in our Democracy

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The time to influence change is the 2019 Greenlee Summit

The inaugural Greenlee Summit in 2018 focused on trending strategies for journalism, advertising and public relations. Its theme resonated with more than 200 professionals who wanted to connect with and keep the attention of audiences, embrace digital evolution, and better understand what channels play a dominant role in reaching our targets.

The original vision for the Greenlee Summit was to be on the cutting edge of industry trends and topics. This year’s initial major sponsor – the Kerry and Linda Killinger Foundation – focuses on civil discourse. In light of that and with next February’s Iowa Caucuses, the 2019 Greenlee Summit theme became Communications and Civility in our Democracy.

Few disagree there is a global need for civil discourse and more civility in general. Specific to the Greenlee Summit, our logic is this: As journalism, advertising and public relations professionals, we are the greatest stewards of daily communication in this country. It is our responsibility to foster civil discourse and help people understand we are a more informed and productive society when we are committed to civility. It is a worldwide issue, but we can most immediately affect what happens here in our cities, states and country. And the need is now.

Lack of civility can erode our democracy and make people question our communication freedoms, namely free speech and expression, and a free press. All of this is necessary for a democracy to thrive, and frankly, all our professions depend upon it – journalism, advertising and public relations. When audiences lose trust in channels and sources, nothing we deliver has credibility. And, as professional communicators, we may eventually lose the connection to audiences overall, as they tune out because of distrust or disgust (or both). We are in positions to do something because we manage many of the channels and in many cases, are the conveyors of messaging that can be civil or uncivil. This is a summit to discuss challenges and develop solutions. In fact, we won’t just hear from professionals and educators with unique insights from across the country; all attendees are invited to participate in moderated full-group discussions on how we can all commit to improving civility in communications through different professions. Greenlee Summit organizers don’t believe there is another conference focused on communications – or civil discourse – like this.

This summer also starts a heavy political cycle, culminating with several key elections in 2020. The coming year will provide a challenging test for civility in dialogue and communications, and the September Greenlee Summit happens just before gubernatorial, legislative and mayoral elections around the country, and as presidential candidates are campaigning ahead of the Iowa Caucuses. We could not have timed the event better.

Intended key takeaways for attendees:

  • Deeper insight into how the current uncivil environment is impacting the general public’s view of media and communications professions
  • Best practices for how to approach and carry out roles in a way that fosters civil discourse and protects the credibility of communications professions
  • An understanding of how media, advertising and public relations will be valued during the 2020 election and beyond – and what attendees can do to influence that

You can be part of this Sept. 5 and 6, at Iowa State University. The Summit kicks off Thursday evening, Sept. 5, with the ISU Lecture Series at the Memorial Union Great Hall. It continues with a daylong conference on Friday, Sept. 6, at the Scheman Building, Iowa State Center. Journalism, advertising and public relations professionals from across the region will attend, along with communication and political science instructors, and Iowa State University students. Around 450 are expected. For more information and to register, visit:

We hope you’ll join us for this significant industry event.

Jeff White is vice president of business development and strategy at Flynn Wright, a Des Moines-based advertising agency. He is a Greenlee graduate and member of the Greenlee Alumni Advisory Council, and he’s co-chairing the 2019 Greenlee Summit.