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If the bushfires weren’t destructive and disruptive enough 2020 has delivered us a challenge like we’ve never seen before: COVID-19.

For communicators the challenge of this virus is immense.  “We’re all in this together” might be the catch cry but the truth is more complicated.  We have never seen more disruption more quickly.  Whole industries shut down overnight, others are being rapidly restructured and reformed.

And this is real for us as communications professionals as it is for us as people.

Some of us are sitting at home, newly unemployed or stood down and in shock, fear and stress.  Others are working harder than they ever have in Government Departments and essential private businesses writing messages that are literally saving people’s lives, or ensuring they can get their banking done, get food, or stay connected.  Industries full of passionate and talented communicators in industries that are on many of our passion lists (from travel to hospitality to the Arts) have found themselves without goods and services to sell.  We’ve seen retail pivoting to online and some businesses have already closed for good.

Whatever we’re doing we’re feeling a range of emotions.  Sometimes in the one day.

This crisis has shown the best (and lets face it some clangers) in communications terms.  So here are 5 trends I’ve seen:

Brands that respond with empathy and honesty are winning

Now isn’t the time to carry on with boiler plate corporate messaging.  Life isn’t normal.  Over the first few weeks of the virus we all received emails from brands big and small, local and global that got the tone wrong- that felt either legalistic or so impersonal they left us cold.  Others struck the right chord- they were honest about things being uncertain and they did so in plain English.  Never before have brands needed to be clear and kind.  Informative with heart and soul. Those are the brands we now feel closer to.

Leadership isn’t a title, it’s a choice

We didn’t see consistency from our political leaders straight away but with the help of their Chief Health Officers our leaders have being finding their rhythm. More importantly though it has been great to see people and organisations stand up. From the 99 year old British General in the UK to the Thai restaurateur in Sydney giving away meals to Thai international students.  Real leaders don’t need a title- they just stand up with a good idea and people respond.

Our world has got smaller- local matters

Suddenly we’ve been home a lot more and what happens in our street, our suburbs matters most of all.  Which café is open? Where can I exercise? Who can I ask for help or offer help to?  Neighbours have been reaching out to each other. People in apartments have met more of their neighbours. Many got up early to commemorate ANZAC Day in our street. The local people and brands who win our hearts now will also survive once we are allowed to leave home more often.

We’ve become a little more honest at work and with our friends

People have been forced to share more than they have before.  Those at work have seen the homes of their co-workers for the first time. In their casual clothes. And many with facial hair!  We’ve seen and heard other people’s kids. And type A professionals have had to admit to friends and colleagues that they’re without work and worried about making ends meet.  And whether we’re working or not we haven’t all been coping.  But we have shared these trials together.

Communications has never mattered more

It goes without saying but it would have been impossible to have achieved Australia’s response without quality communications. The long hours and weekend work of so many have meant our emails and newsfeeds have had the right mix of information and empathy.  Marketing slates got turned on their head. The internal communications challenge of sending staff home to work or of standing them down has been enormous. The social media channels dealing with more engagement. The EDMs and websites that have changed more regularly than ever before.

Many of the leaders in businesses owe their good fortune to the communicators.  And whether we have a job or not right now, our skills will never be more in demand as we rebuild our economy and our lives.