If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that three months into 2020 we would all be sitting in our homes connecting over Zoom, Slack, Google, Skype, Facebook, and a host of other online tools, I would have probably chalked it up to another romantic notion of what technology was going to make possible in this very widely-anticipated and highly-lauded year of futuristic expectation. I would have never imagined it could happen independent of our personal choice. Yet, that is exactly what we are all experiencing together.
In fact, “we are all in this together.”
Who could have imagined that this slogan, which sounds more like something a presidential candidate would be politicizing right about now, would actually ring so true? In the last month or so I personally have gone from chuckling at my wife for being overly worried about something that was happening an entire ocean away, to having to have difficult conversations with our clients, to motivating our team and our clients to think creatively and beyond the limitations of physical closures and “lockdown” conditions for a majority of the public – not just here, but all over the world. That is certainly unprecedented.
At some point you have to pull away from the 24-hour news cycle and get down to the business of coping with the uncertainty of the uncertain. That, for me, has probably been the most challenging. Not from the perspective of not knowing what to do, but wanting to do the “right” thing in the middle of all of this.
What do I mean by that? Well, it’s simple really. Even though things may be relatively calm for myself and my inner circle at the moment, the reality is that hundreds of thousands of Houstonians, Americans, and global citizens may not be in that same predicament right this very second when it comes to this pandemic. As human beings, as marketers, as communicators, as brands and organizations, we have to be cognizant of that and act and react accordingly. For us that are in the business of communicating our client’s objectives and goals, this is especially critical.
This week, for example, we started the week by editing a bunch of social messaging because of the escalating situation in our city. Just a few days earlier the not cheerful, but not somber messages we had written for a client’s Census 2020 campaign seemed appropriate since everything was pretty much still business as usual in Houston. By Monday, however, many businesses had already shuttered, the number of those affected was increasing exponentially, and every network and online platform was carrying multiple COVID-19-related press conferences from local, state, and national authorities.
The feeling in the air was different.
“It’s not that the copy should be somber, but it should be respectful,” I remember somebody on our team saying during our discussions. For some clients that meant tweaking language here and there, for others it meant scrapping entire messaging programs or campaigns. Not because these initiatives were inappropriate or wrong in any way, simply because the timing was no longer right.
Instead, we pivoted into identifying opportunities to support those on the frontlines of this pandemic and/or to provide value to all of us at home because of it. I won’t say it has been a seamless process in every instance, but what we have found collectively (with our clients) is that it has been a very rewarding experience overall.
In the coming weeks and months the likelihood that things will become even more difficult are pretty high. Instead of giving in to worry or to the temptation of sitting still, I encourage you to be proactive. Use this as an opportunity to take a step back, to evaluate, to start something new, to build stronger relationships with your family, to think creatively and maybe even to take a risk. Yes, that may be easier said than done, but do what you can as often as you can.
For those of us in the business of communicating and storytelling, I leave you with this quote that I came across recently and that really spoke to me.
“Now is the time to show people who you are. Now is the time to let your values speak for themselves,” – author unknown.
Juan Alanis is Managing Partner at Big Oak Tree Media. He leads communications strategy and public relations / digital marketing efforts for our clients. You can follow him on Twitter as @juanofwords.