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Banking on KC – Roshann Parris of Parris Communications

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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for tuning in. Joining us on this episode is Roshann Parris, the founder and CEO of Parris Communications, a strategic communications and PR firm that focuses on crisis communications. Welcome to the show today, Roshann.

Roshann Parris:

Thank you so much, Kelly. It's a joy to be with you.

Kelly Scanlon:

Crisis communications, you must really be busy these days.

Roshann Parris:

Well, actually, it's interesting you start with that because I have to say that we are clocking now I think at 14 weeks of what we've come to call 24/7 crisis communications work since the pandemic hit. And then subsequently obviously the racial justice movement that we've also been deeply engaged in. So you are right. It has been a pretty intense period in not only in Kansas City, but in America, and in the world. We're involved in multiple ways and across multiple platforms. So it is indeed a nonstop effort that's for sure.

Kelly Scanlon:

No kidding. You have been in business for 32 years, Parris Communications just celebrated 32 years. That's no small feat. So first of all, congratulations on that.

Roshann Parris:

Thank you.

Kelly Scanlon:

But let's go back. Why did you make that entrepreneurial leap?

Roshann Parris:

You know, that's a terrific question. At the time actually, it was a matter of necessity. I had spent six years in Washington, DC working in the United States Senate. I actually left college a little bit early because of a job opportunity on Capitol Hill and finished my degree in Washington at night while working in the US Senate and then made the move to Kansas City to get married actually.

Roshann Parris:

And soon after, even though I was traveling actually in a presidential campaign and working downtown at a local PR firm, when we started a family, I realized that I needed a little more flexibility. So I started the business on June 15th, 1988 out of essentially our reconverted carport in our little ranch home in Johnson County-

Kelly Scanlon:

Such a classic entrepreneurial story.

Roshann Parris:

Oh, completely. I mean completely. We didn't turn into Apple, but it was something akin to that anyway.

Roshann Parris:

And from there three months later, it became very clear just based on the way the business was growing that I actually needed an office. So opened a small office on Shawnee Mission Parkway, 4330 Shawnee Mission Parkway was our first home. It took off from there.

Roshann Parris:

It's interesting, it was a matter of necessity at the time, I needed the flexibility to be a mom and take care of our infant son. But I think I also had an entrepreneurial bug almost from birth. My parents operated the quintessential corner drug store in a working class neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky. And there is not a day in my life where I don't remember working. I think the very first job that mom and dad gave us at our drug store was we got to kind of sit on the ground aisle by aisle on the floor and clean shelves.

Roshann Parris:

Because of the nature of our clientele, we were not only the corner drugstore, but we were the gift store and the soda fountain, everything you needed, we had in our store. So as a result, there were lots and lots of things that had to be dusted every day. And then I eventually got to graduate to one of those push button cash registers at our soda fountain. Then eventually I was honored to be able to actually make the stuff that we served at the soda fountain.

Roshann Parris:

And then eventually my dad had me back in the pharmacy with him, this was during my teenage years, where I could help support, legally the Kentucky State Board of Pharmacy wouldn't let me fill prescriptions, certainly, but I was back there helping push things out the door. And then we jumped in the Mohawk drugs pickup truck, and we deliver medicine to people till about 10 o'clock at night. And then we'd pull in and I'd go to school the next day and come home and we'd start the cycle all over again.

Roshann Parris:

So work was always something that was a family affair. My brother, when he was born, joined the effort as well. And I just can't ever remember not working.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah. It was just baked into your DNA. Entrepreneurship was baked, and you didn't realize it at the time, but what a great experience too, for building up customer service and people skills and [crosstalk 00:04:23] learning every aspect of a business, which had to, and still probably does, give you such keen insights into the different things your customer or your current clients are dealing with. You have a well rounded picture of business, not just communications.

Roshann Parris:

You're exactly right. And it's interesting, honestly, no one has ever said to me what you just said to me. But in fact, I did learn the most of what I learned about the way you treat people, the way you make every customer feel like they're your only customer. I never knew the word client, client always seemed like such an elegant term when I finally hit it because our customers would never have considered themselves that way.

Roshann Parris:

But it is absolutely the case that we wanted everybody who crossed our threshold to feel warm, to feel welcome and to feel like they were the only person that we were taking care of that day. So it was an ethic that was definitely instilled in me. And night after night, I watched my parents come home and mom would work on the books and dad would work on ordering pharmaceuticals or other things that we needed at the store. And to this day, I think there are lots of nights where I still turn out the light at 2:00 AM thinking of them and the ethics they instilled from a hard work standpoint. I think that still lives inside of me as well.

Kelly Scanlon:

Oh, what a great story. Let's talk about the crisis communications aspect, that focus. Was that a deliberate focus area, a decision that you made early on, you saw a gap in the market or did you steer that way because of the way society has changed, and as a result of the platforms that we now have that can just proliferate messages and they can get out of control so fast? What prompted the focus?

Roshann Parris:

Crises have existed since the beginning of time. People, businesses, enterprises, organizations, all hit hotspots along the way, and you are exactly right that they have certainly been complicated by the rapid pace of information flow.

Roshann Parris:

So in the old days, when we would get a call from an existing or new client, that there had been a workplace accident, that there were some financial misdealings, that they had a client situation that did not go well and we're being sued. And so many other circumstances back in the old days, when things seemed so much simpler.

Roshann Parris:

We would leap into action and work very hard at the time to help that client develop a plan for strategically communicating through that crisis. And there are multiple markets to whom you would communicate in crisis. Certainly, it would be your internal organization. And then there will be multiple external targets, whether it's stockholders, partners, customers, the media is certainly a targeted audience as well, because they are the conduit for communicating the facts of the case or the facts of the crisis.

Roshann Parris:

So in the old days it was simpler simply because you had the privilege of saying, "Thanks for calling. Thanks for that overview. Do you have time to meet tomorrow or next week?" And you'd sit down and you'd meet within a week's time and you'd build a plan and get everybody both internally and externally on board and you'd begin communicating it.

Roshann Parris:

It seemed and certainly felt like we always had a much bigger window, 10, 20, 30 years ago when we were managing urgent issues. Today, it's a five minutes ago kind of thing. We are in drop everything mode every day.

Roshann Parris:

When I think about the call we got for an eight alarm fire in Overland park and suddenly CNN and all major networks were sending crews into Overland Park and it was lead news that night that this fire in Overland Park in an apartment complex had taken hold on nightly news across the nation.

Roshann Parris:

When tragically, there was an accident at the Schlitterbahn, we got that call on a Sunday afternoon as I was walking in through a driving rain, holding my new baby grandson and the phone rang. And on a Sunday afternoon, you might think since you have a grandson, your first grandson visiting from out of town, that you could maybe let the call go, but I didn't, and that's what it turned out to be.

Roshann Parris:

When there's a shooting at the Jewish Community Center and they're in lockdown. And again, on a Sunday, we get a call that they'd like for us to come over immediately. That's the sort of thing where we drop everything and we are present. And in a number of those situations, obviously we work with the client over a long period of time because it takes a long while to unwind the circumstances or the tragedy.

Roshann Parris:

And another circumstances we swoop in as was the case with the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom shootings, that we will take up residence in the command center with the police to navigate through all manner of issues, but at some point pretty quickly, both local law enforcement and the FBI have hold of it and we're able to step back and be on call.

Roshann Parris:

So, your original question about how it's evolved and whether it's always been this way, it is definitely a much more intense business to be in simply because of the extraordinary fast pace with what you have to respond.

Kelly Scanlon:

No question. Your influence is just far and wide, but it's in the background.

Roshann Parris:

Yes.

Kelly Scanlon:

But I would imagine that most of our listeners have no idea that you have been involved with all those major events that anybody here in Kansas City has to be aware of. What other kinds of events have you been involved with nationally? Because I know that your footprint isn't just here in Kansas City, you have clients around the world. What are some of the most memorable ones?

Roshann Parris:

Most of the memorable ones outside of Kansas City are attached to my travel to actually over 50 countries with former presidents and first ladies. I served all eight years in both the Clinton and the Obama administrations as a lead international advanced person. So we took advanced teams, negotiating teams around the world in support of the president and first ladies travels. And we would sit down with our counterparts in other countries along with my colleagues, and you know, not only white house colleagues, but colleagues from the State Department, The National Security Council, The White House Communications Agency, our brothers and sisters at the secret service.

Roshann Parris:

And together, we would forge a plan for the visit of the American president or first lady to every corner of the earth. I have had the privilege of accompanying president and first lady to sadly, a number of funerals. But two that come to mind immediately were those of mother Teresa and Princess Diana. Those were life changing moments and they're stories I'll never forget.

Roshann Parris:

In particular Princess Diana, I remember sitting on the edge of a bed waiting for the British police to come and escort the first lady to Princess Diana's funeral at Westminster Abbey, and the ambassador was with us. And we were watching all three American networks and the BBC. And when we flipped to the BBC, it was nothing but silence.

Roshann Parris:

And you could hear the clip clop of the carriage, carrying princess Diana through the cortege, and I will never forget the BBC reporter and the ambassador then turning to us and saying, "Many people think that what you're witnessing from around the world here is the mourning of an entire nation, but it is not that. This is the morning of millions of individual people who are personally devastated by the passing of princess Diana."

Roshann Parris:

And those are moments that you sort of never forget. I will never forget the moment that I had the privilege of meeting president Nelson Mandela at his home. He was welcoming the first African American first lady of the United States ever to travel to the African continent, Michelle Obama. She brought along both her daughters and her mother, which in Africa is a great honor to bring the women of your family.

Roshann Parris:

You never forget being in the presence of such mind-bending greatness. I look back on the shuttle diplomacy we conducted in the Middle East, flying back and forth between Jerusalem and the Gaza in the midst of heavy fire. And when we were on the ground, we helicoptered back and forth, but we also went in on the ground in armored vehicles and there, and also in Bosnia doing crash dives and combat landings, as we were trying to get in and out of Bosnia, images of Vietnam and traveling there with the first American president. To arrive there since John Kennedy went to Vietnam was extraordinary.

Roshann Parris:

So, and it goes on and on. Uganda, India, China, so many other memories along the way. So it's been a joyful existence, but I've so often said, it's amazing to travel to places that I never imagined my eyes would see and have the privilege of coming back home to Kansas City, truly.

Kelly Scanlon:

I remember years and years, I mean, it's probably been close to 20 years ago. I remember talking to you and you were telling me about an instance, because you mentioned that you had an infant son and you started this business to have more flexibility.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, that flexibility really came home to roost. In this example, I'm going to ask you to describe, and that was, you were standing in a receiving line and you get a phone call, tell ... you know what I'm talking about. Tell us about that incident.

Roshann Parris:

Oh wow. Your memory Kelly, your memory is a thing to behold. That's amazing. So I think what you're remembering is that we were in Amman Jordan. We were at the palace and his majesty King Abdullah and her majesty Queen Rania were welcoming the first lady of the United States.

Roshann Parris:

They hosted a big event, which included a number of Americans who were living in Jordan. We were in the receiving line and my kids knew how to reach me through the White House switchboard 24/7, wherever I was in the world, really didn't matter to them. But my husband and kids both knew how to do that in the event of an emergency, and that was pivotal, in the event of an emergency.

Roshann Parris:

So I am standing in line and the first lady notices that a member of the White House communications agency team whispers in my ear. And I looked at her to say, I needed to step away for a second. And she could tell I was worried because it was one of those sort of frantic moments where you think that's never going to happen unless.

Roshann Parris:

They take me off and get me to a quiet place where I can pick up the call. In those days, we didn't have the level of communications that we do today, certainly. And so it was a little bit difficult to make the connection. And when I did, I hear, "Mom." And I said, "Justin." And he said, "Yeah, we have an issue." This is my eight year old. "We have an issue." And I said, "Honey, what's wrong?" And he said, "Well, we're trying to decide if it's okay if we go ahead and order, dad's not home right now, our babysitter's here, and we want to order a pepperoni pizza. Is it okay to do that?"

Roshann Parris:

The first lady later told that story on Oprah, because it was just one of those moments where you, I was one of the few people traveling at that time who had young children. And so it just became a little bit of a legendary story, so you're amazing to remember that.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, I bring it up because all of the places you've visited, all the important work you've done. And at the end of the day, there's these things that keep you grounded, and your children are one of those. And so I just had to have you tell that story.

Kelly Scanlon:

You and your firm represent the new Royals ownership group, led by John Sherman. We all know that it's been a very crazy ride in the baseball world through the coronavirus pandemic. You know, whether they're going to play or they're not going to play, if they do play. When are they going to play? Where are they going to play? All of that, what's been your favorite part of working with the Royals?

Roshann Parris:

Boy, that's a fun question. I have felt emotions along this journey over the last now seven or eight months that I've had the privilege of working with John and the new ownership group and the Royals front office team and Dayton Moore and his amazing and energized team.

Roshann Parris:

I am more blown away. Everybody in Kansas City thinks they know the Royals. We all own a piece of them, right? Somewhere in our heart, they are exclusively ours individually.

Kelly Scanlon:

Of course.

Roshann Parris:

And yet the privilege of watching this organization work behind the scenes, particularly with the new ownership group. John has put together a group that is really unparalleled in terms of its commitment to Kansas City, to a person, every single member of the ownership group has an extraordinary link to Kansas City even if they're no longer living here.

Roshann Parris:

And they have been relentless in their support of this community at a time when, I mean, whoever spends a billion dollars to buy a baseball team and then walks head on into a pandemic. You just can't write this script?

Kelly Scanlon:

Crazy.

Roshann Parris:

And what they have done for the Royals and for this community on the journey has been really a privilege to see. So the day it was clear that the pandemic was going to change our lives, it was also made clear to the staff that while we all want to get back to baseball, the most important thing that the Royals organization could do right now is to take care of Kansas City, and to do all we can and could to support food insecurity and so many other corners of the community that were desperately in need.

Roshann Parris:

And to this day, the Royals continue their efforts. Some of them quiet, and some of them a well known, to be able to give back to the community and make sure that everyone comes back from this journey as strong as they possibly can, realizing obviously that it has had and will continue to have a game changing impact on so many people in this community.

Roshann Parris:

So it's been a privilege to not only work with them on the road to the crack of the bat, but on the road to getting to that place, to watch the human beings of character and the moral and ethical grounding of the people who run this organization, and certainly the people who own it has been remarkable.

Roshann Parris:

John Sherman has the heart of Kansas City beating deep inside of him and the rest of us are certainly blessed for that.

Kelly Scanlon:

You have had so many different experiences, obviously. And we talked about staying grounded. Is there a philosophy, or is there a favorite quote that you have that has guided your work or your life?

Roshann Parris:

I'm going to give that a second of thought. Well, there are actually a couple, two or three, actually that run through my brain as I think about it.

Roshann Parris:

But the one that popped up on my radar, the first is a quote from John Wooden. And I actually have it up on our wall and it is, 'You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who can never thank you'.

Kelly Scanlon:

Love that.

Roshann Parris:

That really defines the way that I have lived my life, the way that I've raised our children, the things that we infuse in our grandchildren, and most certainly an ethic with our team at Parris Communications.

Roshann Parris:

There are so many things that we're privileged to get involved in and support, particularly actually in the pandemic, there was a remarkable group of very generous Kansas Citians. You may recall this, that came together to develop the Rapid Response and Recovery Fund. The goal was $10 million and we led the communications effort for them. And I think within 48 hours, we had the privilege of announcing that the number was up to 16 million and counting.

Roshann Parris:

That's the-

Kelly Scanlon:

Incredible.

Roshann Parris:

It is absolutely incredible. United way of greater Kansas City community foundation, LISC and MARC, the Mid-America regional council. So many others came together through quiet, generous donors led by the Hall Family Foundation and the Sunderland Foundation. And that is the definition of, you can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who can never thank you.

Roshann Parris:

Because these resources continue to go to organizations, large and small, who are helping people that you and I may never meet, but whom our hearts go out to, it's just a wonderful thing to live in a community that gives back and that wakes up every day, looking for that opportunity to do something for someone who they may never meet, and who can never thank them, but to whom their efforts were life changing.

Kelly Scanlon:

Given the global scope of your work, why have you chosen to remain headquartered in KC. Given everything you've done, somebody might think you'd be living on the coast, especially the East Coast, but why Kansas City?

Roshann Parris:

I am returning back to the partial list I gave you of some of the places my eyes have been privileged to see. And along those journeys, there were some incredibly odd and inspiring moments. I think back to the vision of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in Red Square in Moscow, and we had 57 heads of state come together and the vision of that was so extraordinary.

Roshann Parris:

And yet the greatest joy in the trip is actually the privilege of just coming back home to Kansas City. And so I go back to another quote, which is having seen the sunrise on the other side of the earth, I shall never be the same again. Those experiences are incredible and life changing, but at the end of every day and every week and every year, we still all want to come home to a place where our family, our friends, our colleagues, the people with whom we take in everyday journey are and live.

Roshann Parris:

And Kansas City is forever that for me, it is a community that not only gives back within, but really differentiates itself in so many other parts of this country as a community that cares and that takes care of itself and each other.

Roshann Parris:

And again, having had the privilege of being in so many places here and around the world, I do think that that is a differentiated attribute, it just makes it an extraordinary place to come home to. An extraordinary place to raise a family and make a life.

Kelly Scanlon:

Roshann, You have done so much. Thank you for sharing your story today and thank you for continuing to call Kansas City home.

Roshann Parris:

Absolutely, always and forever. And thank you so much for giving us all a chance to bring these wonderful feelings to life.

 

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, president of Country Club Bank. Thank you, Roshann Parris, for visiting with us this week to share your entrepreneurial journey. It's a journey that's taken Roshann around the world and back playing an instrumental, behind-the-scenes role in pivotal events that have shaped our world. But, at the end of the day, she always returns to Kansas City, her hometown.

Country Club Bank has been proud to call Kansas City home for many generations. We understand what it means to live here, to do business here, and to raise a family here. Wherever your journeys take you, at the end of the day, we're here for you with a hometown banking experience.

Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank — Member FDIC