The RH Strategic team is expanding its expertise with a new colleague who will lead our work in the public sector—meet Bonnie McLaughlin.
Bonnie brings decades of experience to RH Strategic as a vice president. She has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world while at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Tribeca Film Festival.
We sat down with Bonnie to chat more about her work in D.C., big moments in her career, and what strategies she’s keeping an eye on for the years ahead.
You worked with some of the biggest brands in the world while you were the executive director of global partnerships and marketing at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. What sort of influence were they looking to have in the D.C. area?
These companies were looking to get smart on D.C.—for key players, policy and legislation. The Chamber provided a way in. We’d put together days of briefings for various companies’ executives and leadership teams on healthcare policy, workforce development, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and then arrange exclusive, behind-the-scenes experiences. We developed this VIP feeling that helped companies become insiders to the way D.C. operates.
How did your work at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce intersect with business and the public sector?
The Chamber is the world’s largest business lobby. It’s the group advocating for all of the business community, not just large, global companies, but medium and small businesses too. The Chamber is the group in D.C. that keeps an eye out for businesses of all sizes and helps make their voice heard. We represented the business community as a whole and educated members and legislators on how policy—whether it was on tax cuts, supply chain programs, or the COVID recession—would impact Main Street.
What’s the biggest PR challenge you’ve solved and how did you overcome it?
During the pandemic, we had a unique opportunity with our Small Business Index, reporting on small business economic indicators and the overall health of small businesses. We published our Q1 small business index in March 2020 on minority-owned businesses. When we started fielding media, we saw a trend of journalists asking specifically about COVID. The data showed that small businesses would be the ones most affected by the pandemic and the ones most likely to close.
The country had an urgent need for information, and we decided to move from quarterly to monthly reports. We had to cut out steps, like printing, that prevented us from executing it quickly. It was less important to find the perfect stock image—we had to tell the story of the data and keep pace with the news cycle. In the end, we got more media coverage than we could have ever imagined.
You also managed partnerships and sponsorships for the Tribeca Film Festival for a decade with companies like United Airlines, Procter & Gamble, and AT&T. What experiences from that have informed your approach to working in communications?
I’m a connector. Bringing together organizations and partners is something I really enjoy, and uncovering those commonalities is something I find important. As I was working with all of these different personalities and executives, I was focusing on fostering meaningful connections and trust. That’s how you make things work.
You build trust by being organized, prepared, strategic and available. I’d see my partners with their families at red-carpet events and panel discussions, and we could build these deeper connections outside of the office setting. The quality of experience that our partners had was critical to the organization’s reputation and our effectiveness.
This was an interesting and exciting time in my career—so many stories.
What PR strategies and trends do you anticipate will be most impactful in the year ahead?
Policy has always been part of our lives, sometimes people realize it more than others because of the type of impact. Policy plays into cyber threats, healthcare outcomes, and, of course, the economy.
In a similar sense, the field of communications has become more integrated than ever, and this trend will only accelerate. Clients expect every PR pro to have expertise in digital marketing and social media, as well as communication strategies. They want partners who understand innovation and market disruption and can put them at the center of the story.
One of the things I’m most excited about is that RH works at the intersection of it all.
RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based PR agency with a nationwide presence and additional global reach via membership in the Worldcom Public Relations Group. We provide strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, government and healthcare markets.