by Lisa Rushka, APR
One of the key benefits of belonging to a professional association is the connection it brings. As CPRS Calgary shifted with the rest of the world, we recognized the importance of connecting with our members to touch base, check in, and discuss how COVID-19 was affecting our colleagues. About 15 professional and student members joined the COVID-19 Virtual Round Table on April 30 for what turned out to be an hour of insightful and affirming discussion. As CPRS Calgary President Gordon Hawker, APR, stated while welcoming participants – sometimes it helps to know that even though we’re working in isolation, we are not alone. Talking about our challenges doesn’t always solve them, but sometimes it’s enough to know that others are experiencing the same things.
Led by facilitator Lisa Baril, APR, the virtual round table focused on three key questions:
- During COVID-19, what has been your biggest personal or professional struggle?
- What insights or observations have you had as a communicator?
- As communicators, where might we bring value to our organizations and our communities going forward?
After an introduction and grounding exercise by Ms. Baril, participants took turns talking about a variety of challenges they have been experiencing. Issues identified ranged from working with kids at home to not working at all; the rapid shift to remote work and the learning curve associated with the new technologies required for remote access . Even for consultants who have worked from home for a long time, the isolation they’re experiencing is taking its toll. Both students and long-time professionals shared the concern that those seeking internships face an uphill battle. For those who are immersed in crisis communications, the challenge is in sustaining communications for a crisis that is seemingly unending. At the risk of using the latest jargon, these unprecedented times present circumstances that communicators haven’t faced before.
The group shared many keen insights and observations, including the strong application of key messaging across platforms by politicians and government representatives (shout out to our hero, Dr. Deena Hinshaw for her clear, concise and compassionate messaging throughout the crisis). Members also observed increased transparency and empathy in messaging from those same spokespeople. Discussion turned to how brands are communicating – sometimes in a disappointing way. Audiences hear that brands “are there for you”, but what does that really mean? Audiences need real information, not just platitudes. That said, traditional channels through which companies can share messages are limited by the abundance of COVID news. Therefore, social media has become an even more important tool in the PR toolbox, a critical way for brands to maintain their connection with their audiences.
It comes as no surprise that our members unequivocally agreed we have a great deal to contribute to our organizations and communities as we recover from the COVID crisis. The pandemic has shone a light on the value of good communications. Just watch updates from our Canadian and U.S. leaders to see the difference! Communicators are well-positioned to coach leaders in all sectors to be better prepared for crises, and to model empathy, clarity and level-headedness in the face of difficult conversations. As a profession, we have demonstrated our capacity to adapt on the fly, to navigate new technologies and embrace new approaches to reaching our audiences. We have proven our resiliency, which bodes well for the future – no matter what that future holds.
Beyond the insights colleagues shared about the COVID crisis, the true value of this event was the opportunity to connect with our colleagues. It was a good reminder that whether we’ve known each other for 10 years or 10 minutes, there is a bond among communicators that is strengthened when we come together to share our thoughts, ideas and struggles. Our CPRS community is strong, resilient and connected – a beacon of hope as we emerge from this storm.