The healing effect of crisis for communication
Whenever we go through a massive, worldwide crisis, we hear calls to arms in the profession – let’s be vital to our organisations, let’s be authentic, let’s be thought leaders, let’s get in the room with the top management and prove the value of communication there.
And the question that begs to be answered is… why is this happening only during crises? Why is it that when the things calm down, almost everyone is thinking only about the next platform that allows us to dance silly, or show your butt, or post surreal travel photos from journeys that were, in fact, mostly miserable.
I remember back in 2008, before the big financial crisis hit my country (Romania), that the greatest challenge to the PR community was finding creative year-end gifts and coming up with out of this world proposals for Christmas parties. And then disaster struck and for a while it looked like we had come back to our senses.
Those of us who were able to go beyond below the line competences and actually had command of strategic thinking and crisis management started to work for real. Leadership started to pay attention to communication like never before… internal communication, financial communication, crisis communication, even social media gained significant ground as a way to stay in touch with audiences directly, continuously, without additional filters.
Crisis Communication and Crisis Management
For a while, we realised that cutting the entire communication budget was not the solution, but cutting that half that was fluffy and narcissistic and over the top might be. Organizations trimmed their marketing and communication spending and even departments and then resumed communication step by step, analyzing and comparing platforms and media, seriously pondering, for a change, what, how, where and, most importantly, why they should communicate. You know, things one would assume would be the order of the day anytime, anywhere… only they were not.
Over a decade passed and we were recently celebrating the fact that we went back to the time before the crisis. Whatever celebratory reason you might find in succeeding to go back to where you’ve been before… And then disaster struck again. This time more pervasive and more life changing and more immediate than the previous one. Exposing, once again, the same flaws of our industry… our self-importance, our shallowness, our fake feel-good mission, our inclination to insulate ourselves (or our organizations) now with the help of automation and technology, as if we had all forgotten, once again, that communication is about people and about authenticity. Our never-ending chase of smoke and mirrors, of the latest and the greatest widget or the latest entertainer whose popularity we delude ourselves that we can leverage for commercial communication purposes.
Exactly, how many global catastrophic experiences would we have to go through to learn to focus on meaningful communication? To do the right thing? To do away with excess and amorality and fake and cowardice? To think of people as people and not human resources, or audiences, or social media communities, or targets?
Learning an Old Truth
Over the past two months, companies have learned many things that most of us, in our hearts and minds, had known to be true for a long time. That open space does not encourage communication, it just encourages people to wear headphones and tune themselves out. That working from home is not a productivity killer as long as you have carefully recruited people with healthy work ethics. That clear decision making and leadership, even harsh at times, works far better and is actually able to save lives, unlike the wishy-washy populist rhetoric. That e-commerce is fast, effective, cheap, useful and fun and far more measurable than the traditional one. That communication – corporate as well as interpersonal – is absolutely essential to stay alive, stay safe, stay relevant and sane.
As an agency, we’ve fared quite well during these two months. And I can only hope we will do the same in the near future, through whatever new changes life will put in front of us. Our best allies were not Tik-Tok or the Facebook engagement tools or our media contacts, but our principles, the talks and the strategy we drafted with our clients, our rediscovered usefulness to fill information gaps, to connect organizations with causes, to manage and appease fears and anxieties, to encourage and inspire. This is what we are good at. This is what we should be good at. It is as simple as it is complicated. We learn it and we re-confirm it with every passing crisis. My secret hope is that this time we will also remember it.
Article by Sorana Savu, Senior Partner, Premium Communication