Global Chief Marketing Officer, Havas Health & You, overseeing reputation and market presence for our global network.
The pandemic has affected society in all kinds of different ways, some expected and some less so. An explosion of work-from-home technology? Expected. A shortage of toilet paper? Not so much.
In such a short time, we’ve all changed the ways we live as we’ve also experienced a digital migration of epic proportions. Our priorities have shifted. Our vocabulary has shifted. Perhaps most notably, our perspectives have shifted. Throw in an explosive and deeply important dialogue around racial justice, and you have a society that you’re interacting within that looks and thinks much differently than it did just six months ago.
In communications, the rules have changed. The way I see it, those who have been nimble, adapted quickly, learned furiously and listened intently have fared much better than those who have continued to act as they did at the beginning of this year.
How have things evolved with regard to communications? Let’s take a look.
Covid-19 and diversity-related communications set a new precedent for authenticity. Many companies became much more candid. Commercials were shot on home phones. CEOs showed raw, real emotion. Broadcasters scrapped hair and makeup. Kids and dogs interrupted executive Zoom calls.
In the future, will some of the polish come back? Likely. But will we return to the fully manicured version that we were living in before? In my opinion, likely not.
2020 is a time to build trust, and trust has been either gained or lost — and done so visibly. Trust is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as the “Firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something.” People trust what they believe in, and believability comes from truth. Authenticity is showing that truth, even when it’s hard.
Want to know how? Show emotion both in the voice of the brand and the leadership. Share information openly, even if it’s not ideal. Don’t sugarcoat tough conversations or be afraid of showing emotion. Broadcast video updates from your leaders’ homes, while they’re with their families, as you level with your people. The trust built or lost during difficult times is likely to be remembered forever, and you can work toward building it by showing your truth.
Companies and leaders have been more transparent in the last six months than perhaps ever before. Sharing financial struggles openly, asking for help from industries and governments, publishing diversity data and expressing deep personal emotions and values with the public. Many CEOs sent outpouring communications to their staff and set a new benchmark level of information and expression that they’re willing to share. I’m hopeful this sticks around, as it’s deepened the relationships between employees and consumers and the companies and leaders that they align themselves with.
When considering how transparent to be, consider a personal visit to a doctor. You likely want to know if there is a diagnosis of any kind and what steps are being taken to help remedy it. Do you need to know every last detail of the science, the symptoms or the worst-case scenarios? That will invoke anxiety and may not be productive. But there is nothing more dreaded than a voicemail that says, “It’s your doctor. We need to talk.” This leaves your imagination to run, your sense of dread to creep and sometimes panic to set in.
People have a keen sense when something is wrong. The way I see it, Covid-19 has normalized imperfection. If there is a “diagnosis” for your company, share it with grace and empathy. What has happened? What are the issues? What is the remedy? If there are headwinds for the company ahead, ask your audience, both internally and externally, for their input and support. If you make a mistake along the way, own up to it. This is the year to learn how to do this. Drop the polite veneer and create deeper personal connections.
Diversity, Equity And Inclusion
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement rocketed the race dialogue to the height of awareness and discussion. We are not living in a world where these issues can be ignored or where microaggressions or passive and active racism can be tolerated. As communicators, we play a profound role in addressing these topics and creating inclusive messages that express respect for different races, cultures and religions, and their rights and values. If you don’t know about this, learn. And learn quickly.
What does this look like specifically? Consider your language. Are you addressing different groups with respect, openness and proper terminology? Are you acknowledging different points of view and cultures in your writing? Are you conscious of recognizing important days for different religions or backgrounds? Are you using different voices from within your business? If there is a video or image, can minority groups see themselves in them?
This process may not be perfect, but showing empathy, respect and openness in communications is a profoundly important step to creating a company that stands inclusively for equality and fairness.
There is no doubt that 2020 has been transformative, as well as very tough, so far. I don’t know of a single person who hasn’t been challenged, either in their health, their work, their finances, their families or all four.
The question I keep asking friends and family is, “No matter how tough, would you go back?” Some sigh and say “yes,” but overwhelmingly, people express deep gratitude for the changes that have come with the chaos. These changes include a deeper prioritization of loved ones, the enormous gratitude for health workers and those in industries that make our world go around on a daily basis, the honest dialogue around injustice and racism, and the progression of more flexible work environments, just to name a few.
The pre-pandemic world may have been a bit more oblivious and certainly more comfortable, but to me, the world now feels more grounded, more honest, more compassionate, more grateful and more conscious. This is certainly something we should all hold on to.
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