From the Principal’s Desk
By Bashon Mann
A seasoned public relations official recently presented me with a simple yet profound statement as we discussed his approach to communicating through a crisis, “...your actions should create clarity.” I wrote it down on a piece of paper immediately.
There is a transfixing element to our current communications environment. I find there to be no shortage of PR practitioners, career professionals or individuals/influencers offering unsolicited advice on how best to “communicate” during this coronavirus pandemic. They seemingly provide everything from qualified, documented research on crisis outreach to sage advice on how audiences will react to information or how best to facilitate messaging around your business or platform. I’m drawn to some of the discussion and perplexed by even more. Which is why I am forcing myself to keep writing what has been growing on my mind over the course of self-isolation and social-distancing.
As a communicator I have developed and spoken at length about my ‘toolbelt’ philosophy for my career practice. It works for me. It’s proven and effective. Though it is clear, present day, I must fall back on my own guidance and re-evaluate my ability to stretch beyond what worked yesterday so as to be prepared for what tomorrow has in store.
Much like a head coach, player, or field grade officer, I’m looking for my playbook. The instruction manual which provides a step-by-step sequence of instruction for how to execute success. Admittedly, I have become so centered on the textbook definition of standard business practice, my mind has been slow to turn in the direction many of us must now face, at home and at work. I offer the following not as a cure-all for what ails, but rather an evidential admission of why a tool change is necessary for growth and progress.
Pouring through emails, text messages, phone calls, and Zoom video conferencing while trying not to turn on a television, I am met still with an all too consuming feeling. Just what am I doing? Not quite in the literal sense, I understand I am waking up and moving about my home as prescribed; taking care to don a mask as I move from home to essential locations and back again as is now rote behavior. Moreso, what am I doing to address the furtherance of my family’s safety and well-being, in addition to the continued forward progress of my business, alongside and in step with my partners? How do WE make this work and quite honestly, when do I get off this ride?
While we are all having to face certain adjustments to life, I am met with a rather uneasy feeling about how I speak and act as a father and effective business partner. Essentially, while the kids may certainly be ‘alright,’ I am sitting here wondering if I am speaking to them and others in a fashion and manner that IS functional. What I mean is, while attempting to gather as much factual insight about the existence of coronavirus and the safety precautions we all must take both at home and within our communities, my pathway has become foggy and I’m thrown by the particular phrase, ‘new normal.’ Consider me maladjusted to this existence and dare I say, feverishly navigating the waters of presenting a cool, calm, and collected front. You know, for the kids. Here’s MY reality. For more than 20 years I served the United States Navy as a professional communicator. Any higher education degrees, career training and work experience all account for the semblance of a seasoned veteran of the communication and information environment. To top it off I now have an ownership stake in a public relations company where I media train, offer what I believe is ‘sage’ advice, and direct clientele through carefully orchestrated and designed plans of communication. My partners and I are good at what we do. I’m truly awed by their abilities and attempt to learn from them daily as we push forward and conduct business amidst COVID-19. But if I’m being honest, this professional communicator is struggling with what to say at home and behind the mask. Last week, my family lost a dear family member to this dreaded virus and similar to more than 20,000 other families across America we were left to face the frustratingly painful task of accepting the reality of saying goodbye from a distance; knowing a precious husband died alone without his loving wife at his side, seeing a daughter weep because she witnessed her mother in agony over not being THERE for her dear husband in his last moments. As I steadied myself to break this news to my children, about the Uncle who was last seen playfully laughing at the Thanksgiving table, I was caught in a moment of distinct sadness as I considered just how many other people were facing this similar predicament. In this place, this NEW normal existence if you will, we are having to figure out not just what to say, write, sing, or play in #ClubQuarantine but accept the frustratingly difficult task of dealing with the limits of our communication under the confines of safety, well-being, and I’ll just say it - FEAR. And this is where I am searching within myself for a pulse of high aspiration. I’ve been knee-deep in crisis over my years, dealt with tragedy, humanitarian aid/disaster relief, and regrettable circumstances all while having to direct leadership and business toward organizational success. This feels different.
And it is.
Therefore, I believe it is permissible to address it as such. This requires a playbook which is not yet written. Sure we can fall back on specific hardened rules of crisis communication as it pertains to healthcare and protecting one another, there is room for that. However, I’m laser-focused on what’s directly in front of me; how I speak to my family; how I ensure my children are mentally clear and engaged within this environment isolated from friends, school, dance class, soccer, and piano lessons. How do I express genuine condolences and remembrance for a loved one via a Zoom video conference? How do I execute NEW things?
This is where I’ve realized while the tools I currently possess within my toolbelt hold useful value, there is a need for me to adjust my outlook and approach to what I’m building and more importantly, why the structure is necessary. It’s an examination we MUST make in order to remain effective, whether at home or toward our communities. Yes, are my actions creating clarity.
While I haven’t created the wheel, nor sliced any bread, I’ll tell you flat out where I am and what I’m attempting to create as my new normal -- I’m communicating with truth, friendship, and love. It’s a muscle I’ve not stretched in quite some time and these times, these odd, outright scary times deserve a clear-eyed exercise in truth. I miss my family, I miss my friends, I miss the people I love, work, and fellowship with. And I just want to let them know today and again tomorrow. That’s what I’M doing. Clearly.