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    Categories: Commentary

40 years of communicating for good

R. Christine Hershey (Courtesy R. Christine Hershey)

When was the last time an official county document sent a flood of emotions to your heart? For me, it was on Oct. 17 when I read these words:

WHEREAS, R. Christine Hershey founded Hershey Cause Communications in 1977 to help nonprofits, foundations, government agencies, and businesses harness the power of strategic communications and design toward achieving a greater positive effect in Los Angeles County; and WHEREAS, she has served as an instrumental and pioneering connector of causes and communities within the County, resulting in local action that reflects and impacts the most pressing global issues of the day.

The proclamation from the LA County Board of Supervisors, presented by longtime fellow equality warrior Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, goes on with a bunch of “WHEREASs” about what we’ve done using communications for the greater good. I am humbled and grateful for the recognition.

But when I founded Hershey Cause Communications 40 years ago, I didn’t see it as an act of bravery. I saw it as an act of necessity. I had seen men rise much faster than their female peers in the workplace—and while I could never prove it—being a young, out lesbian created “issues.”

My best shot was to start my own agency. 1977 was a time of upheaval—the first National Women’s Conference was held, followed closely by the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. But that progress was halted in the early 1980s with the advent of the horrific AIDS crisis.  

It was against this backdrop that we used Hershey Cause as a socially conscious force for good and a tool for change, advocating for the end of HIV/AIDS, more effective child services and better mental health services.

Because our craft is communications—strategy, marketing, branding, public relations—we were often the first to create brand identities, produce events and help found organizations that focused on issues we cared about. Behind the scenes, we enabled these causes to evolve, raise funds, and grow, creating the “look” of the LGBTQ movement by amplifying its voices and visibility.

Over the years, we’ve provided counsel and created identities, campaigns, and raised funds for ANGLE, the LA LGBT Center, NGLTF, Victory Fund, Power Up, among others. And we’ve helped scores of AIDS-related businesses and non-profits gain visibility, from Pacific Oaks to The Wall Las Memorias. We are also proud of our innovative work promoting LGBTQ youth and families, from Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services to RaiseAChild’s efforts helping same sex parents foster and adopt children.

Early on, we also recognized that we needed to put the power of smart communications in the hands of everyone. So in 2000, we wrote the first edition of our free Communications Toolkit, providing expert guidance in communications practices for nonprofits worldwide.

I believe in doing well by doing good. Small business is the economic driver that can help our LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups level the playing field. It provides opportunity not only for individual gain but helps create a more equitable world.

That’s why I became an LA County Small Business Commissioner—to advocate for greater diversity in all of our small business efforts for women, for the LGBTQ community, for all underserved audiences. And I advocate for business doing the right thing. When businesses care about their workforce, their communities and the impact they have on the world, it is truly transformative.

There are several traits that many women/LGBTQ/underserved individuals are often quick to understand—traits that, when adopted by business, vastly improve many of the societal issues we are struggling with today.

  • Values driven: We understand we need to measure more than dollars—that people, profit and the planet all matter.
  • Play well with others: We network, connect and advocate. We recognize that different organizations provide different values to us and our business.
  • Celebrate diversity: Most successful women business owners create organizations that are characterized by inclusiveness and diversity, team orientation, consultation, coaching and individual development, and inspire others to move toward a goal. We know diversity makes us stronger.
  • Greater than themselves: Many small business owners understand we live in a “global village” on a fragile planet, that all of us need to think ahead. It is important that we make sure that small businesses in every field are thriving and being recognized for the impact they are making in the world.

As our current political climate drowns out marginalized voices in profound and devastating ways, the demand for clear and powerful communications has never been more urgent than it is right now.

I am proud that the agency I started 40 years ago has helped make the road a little smoother for those who have come after me. And at Hershey Cause, our hearts are already directed towards the next 40 years—a future informed by the urgency of today.

There is still so much more to do.

My heart quickens at the thought of what causes and impacts these next uncertain years may bring. But I remain resoundingly optimistic that the future is ours to shape.

—  R. Christine Hershey is the founder of Hershey Cause Communications. Visit  http://www.hersheycause.com.