Last year, I wrote my guest blog for PRCG Powerlines about vulnerability as the “secret sauce” to effective crisis communications. To say that theory has been tested in 2020 by COVID-19 – and other crises/issues of this year — is an understatement.
I think there are many communications professionals who would agree that their clients were “forced into” a level of vulnerability they had never experienced before. I’d guess (and hope) that those who accepted their vulnerable state and communicated it with candor and authenticity did a long-term service to their brand and organization.
But let’s face it, it’s “getting old” for customers and the general public to hear all the ways companies, the government and nonprofits are “trying” to address their vulnerabilities and the uncertainties. People are asking: when will we get solutions that lead to a brighter future?
I’d submit we’re now turning a corner where messages about innovation and reimagining better solutions are important. Yes, there are things to learn about COVID-19, but many organizations know that their “standard” practices didn’t always mean “best” practices. And even these current “band aid” efforts can be greatly improved for many reasons. For example: We know airlines are opening the middle seat and cleaning more, but how will planes be built and outfitted in the future to reduce contaminants and be “cleaner” for passengers? What will the food supply chain do to more quickly address any disruptions in the future? Can virus impact modeling –and testing — be improved? And do we now see that homelessness is not just a tragedy but a public health issue that must be addressed for the good of all?
Effective communication is critical to getting these business innovations and reimagined public policies and practices on the table and out in the ether. I encourage all professional communicators to help their clients “intellectually pivot” in this way. Yes, there are still the mundane realities we must all address in the midst of this ongoing pandemic. But as crisis fatigue sets in, we must communicate to our audiences that innovations and real improvements are on the way by using communications tools such as: virtual town halls and other webinars; white papers; media interviews; employee and target audience/public “imagining” sessions; as well as substantive research and development of products and solutions.
As communicators walking the path with our clients, let’s encourage them to take the next steps on this unpredictable journey which I think is summarized well by the Latin American saying:
“Se hace el camino al andar”—“You make your path as you walk it.”
Shelly Holmes runs Holmes Associates, a marketing/communications agency, and is PRCG’s Los Angeles/Orange County affiliate. She has worked with many clients to effectively address (or avoid) crisis communications issues – including COVID-19 — locally and nationwide.