Note: I originally wrote this piece on "COVID-19 Comms Tactics" for the IABCLA blog on the chapter’s website. I serve as the group’s vice president/president-elect.
Chapter leadership recognized the need for Los Angeles-based professional communicators to come together and share insights they gathered during this difficult and unparalleled time.
The discussion was led by Rachel Mann and Julie Wright, both IABCLA board members. Rachel is vice president of communications at Emburse, and Julie Wright is president and founder of (W)right on Communications. The duo shared several “aha” moments during the video conference, and their thoughts are below.
2) “Necessity is the mother of invention”
People are exercising their imagination right now, and Mann shared examples of this at Emburse:
- Virtual Events: her company had an in person gathering scheduled, but they were forced to cancel due to “social distancing” guidelines. It was switched online, and more people ended up attending the virtual session then had registered when it was scheduled to be in person. Organizations, therefore, may want to consider a mix of physical and online happenings when the pandemic ends. There are those who may want to attend events, but they aren’t able to travel from one point to another – online gatherings might allow them to take part.
- Social Platforms: Emburse has a messaging platform on Slack called “Virtual Water Cooler.” Employees post content about their children, their pets, their home office — there’s even a gentleman who performs daily with a guitar.
“Virtual Water Cooler allowed us to connect to our employees during Coronavirus, and it’s added a level of levity and fun in an otherwise stressful time,” she said. “Part of communications is remembering the human connection and need for empathy and compassion during these times. People are craving connection, they just want to talk to others.”
3) Messaging changes with an evolving situation
The standard best practice in communication is to keep messaging consistent, as well as crisp and clear. However, this isn’t always possible in the current climate.
“The messaging needs to evolve, and be tailored for each target audience. You have to hone in on the tone you need to take with employees, with the media, with customers, with partners — it’s very different for each stakeholder depending on what matters to them,” she said.
Also, the media isn’t concerned with products or services at this time — they care about what companies are doing to help the broader community. Organizations need to think, “People first.”
“What does it mean for the future? We can’t unring that bell,” she said. “Now that we’ve become accustomed to this, will we come back to this with a deeper connection to our employees? Will we embrace remote working and get more comfortable with it going forward? I’m pretty sure we will.”
2) Pandemic in terms of the “Five Stages of Grief”
In her 1969 book “On Death and Dying,” Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the “Five Stages of Grief.” Wright applied this model to the current state, as her job as a communicator is to move people through these periods.
- Denial: in early March, some of Wright’s clients still wanted to communicate to customers it was “business as usual” even though all indications were the pandemic was likely headed to the U.S. She, therefore, advised stakeholders not to indicate such as it might damage their credibility.
- Anger: some clients responded to the looming crisis with aggravation, particularly at the suggestion meetings or travel should be cancelled for reasons of health and safety. Her reasoning: “The virus is here, so let’s get ahead of it.”
- Bargaining: Wright noted it was positive when employees or stakeholders arrived at this point as it indicated progress was being made. She was able to convince them painful decisions had to be made in order to save lives and incorporate that in messaging to help their stakeholders, too.
- Depression: bargaining can lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and that’s when she introduced resources to clients to help others pull through. It’s important to let people know plans are underway even if there are no definitive outcomes at a particular moment.
- Acceptance: leaders, decision makers, and communicators want to make decisions from a place of acceptance — “this is what’s happening, this is what we must do.” This will allow leaders to have greater clarity in developing messages, in introducing them, and doing it in a way respectful of whatever emotional turmoil stakeholders may be feeling.
“As much as we have the crisis templates and we know what to do, the unprecedented nature of coronavirus is truly unbelievable,” she said. “Using this psychological framework helps me, makes me feel more purpose-driven in communications, and it gives me a neutral way to talk to clients and coworkers.”
3) Even in the virtual world, presentation still matters
Wright quickly realized she needed to “up her Zoom game” when, in recent weeks, she and her team began conducting business entirely by way of video conference.
She suggests various ways to make the best of online meetings: the computer screen should be at eye level, blinds need to be drawn to avoid backlight, shy away from a distracting background, and make sure audio and internet connections are solid.
“I need to make sure to let the technology do its job, and that I’ve stepped up to meet this opportunity,” she said.
As always, IABCLA will continue to pass along “aha” moments and other communications insights — and we ask you to do the same. Please email email@example.com if you are a member and would like to share your expertise with our community. You are also encouraged to utilize the chapter's LinkedIn Group — IABC Los Angeles Chapter — as a means of support and connection during this trying period.
I'm Eli Natinsky and I'm a communication specialist. This blog explores my work and professional interests. I also delve into other topics, including media, marketing, pop culture, and technology.