During one of the most difficult weeks ever experienced by PR and communications professionals as they take care of the needs of their employers and clients while scrabbling to set up spaces to work from home, the Public Relations Institute of Ireland (PRII) put out a call for volunteers. Not ideal timing, but a most important call nevertheless.
PRII chief executive Martina Byrne (pictured) explains. Never more than in a crisis does clear, reliable communication matter. Communications teams are working long hours to ensure channels of all kinds are open with factual, timely information. Apart from getting fast-changing, often literally lifesaving, information to the public, the work alongside the media helps diminish the damage that can be done by the virus of misinformation.
The PRII made the call for volunteers because the communications teams of national and local government, public sector bodies, charities and NGOs at the front-line in fighting the virus are working flat out. They are already, no doubt, stretched and tired – and it has only been a few weeks. To date, 40 volunteers have registered with the PRII, providing details of their skills sets and how much time they could offer.
READY TO HELP
Some were early-career digital media strategists, others retired public affairs experts, all were ready to help. These volunteers are being matched, in the first instance with members of The Charities Institute and which have seen their funds dry up just as the needs for their services multiplies. Many need to move to digital channels but lack the expertise.
Byrne said: “Know that your work really matters. You can’t stop the virus, but you can keep the lines of vital communication open and flowing with factual, timely information. We’re also dealing with a virus of misinformation, some of which is downright dangerous”. Her words are aimed especially at young professionals finding the crisis heavy going.
You can try to control how you respond to the crisis even though you can’t control the virus. Mind yourself, heed the HSE advice and practise good hand hygiene and physical distancing. Pace yourself, this is a crisis that will persist for months. Take breaks. Watch really silly movies. Communicate with family and friends for mental and emotional support.
Stick to short and simple, now is not the time for flourishes and sophistication.
PERFECTION AN ENEMY
Don’t wait for your work to be perfect. As Irish hero, Dr Michael Ryan of WHO, said recently, “perfection is the enemy of the good when it comes to emergency management. Speed trumps perfection. Everyone is afraid of the consequence of error, but the greatest error is not to move, the greatest error is to be paralysed by the fear of failure”.
Dr Ryan could have been speaking to PR people rather than international policy makers.
Ask your line manager what is okay to drop or postpone, don’t expect to be able to get all the exceptional stuff done as well as the routine. Cut your managers some slack. If you are finding them difficult or demanding, it’s probably because they have extra responsibilities that come with their seniority. They have to think past this crisis, knowing the decisions they make now could impact the sustainability of your organisation or agency.
Like you and everyone else, they have their own ‘backpack’ of personal and family worries. Learn from their experience and lend them your energy. Take care of those younger or less experienced around you, they will be concerned too. They may be different concerns to you, but they are no less real. Think about your colleagues who are far away from home.
These people may not be able to visit loved ones for some time. Take care of them like you’d like to be cared for if it was you in their shoes. Be kind. Know that this will pass. Sometime in the future, you will look back on this as a formative period in your career. Maybe the PRII will ask you to deliver a conference keynote on what you learned from the Covid 19 experience.
Maybe you’ll write the book on pandemic communications that’s on the reading list of the next generation of PR students. Maybe you’ll give a talk to those students who will smile with incomprehension at the ‘old tech’ you used. Finally, no one will recall exactly what you said or did during the time of the Covid-19 emergency.
But they will remember how you made them feel, Byrne added.