Every industry and every organization is struggling to come to grips with COVID-19, an illness caused by a novel coronavirus that has swept the globe. From a federal government that, at best, is responding in fits and starts, to overwhelmed hospitals, to families faced with layoffs and curtailed income, the pandemic is upending life in ways unseen in over a century.
Admittedly, 10 days ago I was mildly concerned by what was happening in China, Italy and Washington State, but I still leaned a bit toward the “we’re overreacting” side of the conversation. My thinking changed within a couple of days.
Incredibly, there are still people who think the risk of COVID-19 is small. They claim it’s media hype—“fake news,” nothing more than a bad flu, perhaps not even as deadly as flu.
As a counterpoint, an Italian filmmaker assembled a video from individual clips of fellow Italians describing life in a country essentially locked down. Many of them were skeptical at the beginning of the pandemic; now they’re serving as voices from the future for the United States, where COVID-19 is just starting to ramp up.
In short, the naysayers are wrong. Terrifyingly wrong.
Fortunately, a great many organizations and people are striving to get it right. Over the past six days, I’ve had the privilege of assisting five different nonprofit agencies that are making quick decisions, tough decisions, right decisions, to protect the health of people while relentlessly pursuing ways to meet their needs.
For each of them, communication is a priority—engaging their employees, their supporters, and most importantly, the people they serve.
At times, communication must be innovative. Face-to-face gatherings are out. Social media, email, news media, videoconferencing, texting and other communication tools must do. Connecting with other organizations—across town, across functions—and aligning the work and the message assures broader impact. Rapid response, partnerships, sharing of resources—these things and more are driving the message and benefitting the people involved.
Those benefits are astounding. Corporations, foundations and nonprofits are coming together to raise crucial cash to meet near- and long-term needs. Action teams involving government, service agencies, nonprofits and private businesses are rallying expertise and sharing insights to help the community. Leaders are facing criticism head-on, yet with an open mind and open heart. Others reaffirm their commitment to honesty and transparency, even when there’s risk involved.
And while we hear seemingly endless stories of people hoarding toilet paper or operating a hand sanitizer black market, the stories we need to hear are those of heroic organizations that are doing the right things.
Because it matters to real people in real, meaningful ways.
For PR professionals, as challenging as communicating in a crisis invariably is, there’s nothing more satisfying than to be part of that honest and affirming work.