Special Message For Early Career Communicators On Covid-19

From Martina Byrne, CEO PRII


One of the nice things about my job is that I have a lot of contact with early career public relations professionals. Ye are so much more educated and confident than I was at that stage. So energetic and committed to social justice and environmental issues. So it saddens me to hear that some are feeling distressed and confused at this time of global crisis. What is going on at home and abroad makes the ‘Black Mirror‘ dystopian stories seem almost quaint by comparison.

For what it’s worth, here are a few thoughts based on past experience that I hope might help; they should be relevant whether you are working from home or not.

You can’t control the Covid-19 crisis but you can try to control how you respond to it.

Mind yourself, heed the advice from the HSE and practice good hand hygiene and physical distancing. I say physical, because now is the time to stay in close communication with family and friends for mental and emotional support.

In your work, stick to short and simple, now is not the time for flourishes and sophistication.

Our ‘new’ 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. And the problem in society we have at the moment is everyone is afraid of making a mistake. 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”. He could have been speaking to communications people rather than international policy makers.

Don’t expect to be able to get all the exceptional stuff done as well as the routine, ask your line manager what is okay to drop or postpone. 

Bear in mind too, your target audience may not have access to great broadband.

Pace yourself, sadly, this is a national crisis that will persist in one form or another for months, not days or weeks. Take breaks. Watch really, really, really silly movies.

If you are finding your managers difficult or demanding it’s probably because they have additional 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. And they will, like you and everyone else, have their own ‘backpack’ of personal and family worries. Cut them some slack. 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. They 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. It will. As Lara Marlowe, Irish Times journalist, said about the war on corona virus, “wars always end, sooner or later.”

Some time in the future, you will look back on this as a formative period in your career. Who knows, maybe the PRII will ask you to speak at its conference and deliver a key note on what you learned from the 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 technologies’ you were using! You can trust me on that one!

Finally, remember that no one will recall exactly what you said or wrote during the time of Covid-19. But they will remember how you made them feel.

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