Business has no memory, but by God, business communicators should—if only to remember what they faced and what they managed to achieve in the hardest year of everyone’s career. To that end, last week I went month-by-month, March through June, rereading every issue of Executive Communication Report: Coronavirus, which I wrote daily during those months. Today, we’ll look back at March 2020. Tomorrow, April. Wednesday, May. And Thursday, June. It’ll take you back. It won’t be pleasant. But you will be grateful, for the place you’re in now. And I hope you’re proud—of having survived, and of having helped your leaders and your organization do the same. —DM
From an issue of the then-weekly Executive Communication Report:
Coronavirus: “Everyone is staring at us communicators with blank looks,” confides one exec comms chief. What are you doing personally to help your leaders through? We want to hear—for attribution or not—for a roundup report for your exec comms colleagues. Write to me at any length: firstname.lastname@example.org.
On this day, the PSA put on a webinar with crisis guru Helio Fred Garcia, titled, “Executive Communication and Coronavirus: What You Should Be Saying, Thinking and Doing NOW.”
An item in the Executive Communication Report:
Leadership, at a time like this. An exec comms chief for a big and well-known organization emailed that his internal comms folks are holding back on having the CEO weigh in on coronavirus because they want to “save him for the right moment,” in the crisis, “when things are more stabilized.”
And I signed off, “Meanwhile hang in there, folks. As a Joseph Mitchell character said, “I feel like I’ve been hit on the head with a cow.”
We put out the first edition of a daily version of ECR, called Executive Communication Report: Coronavirus, which promised “daily news and analysis for those helping leaders communicate through the crisis.” The first item in the first issue was:
Two comments that I’ve heard from your colleagues have stuck with me:
“I suppose this week is answering an important philosophical question,” said a leadership comms director at a major professional association. “What if there are speechwriters and no places left to speak?”
“This is a defining moment for us who consider executive comms both our career and calling—a moment for both action and internal advocacy,” said an exec comms chief at another high-profile organization.
The second comment is the answer to the first.
Speaking of advising CEOs, here are bits of unsolicited advice to CEOs and their comms advisors, from the public relations measurement guru Katie Paine. “Stop sending out vacuous emails saying you care. Just because we’re working from home, doesn’t mean we have time to waste reading your dumb emails,” Paine writes on LinkedIn.
In this issue of ECR, we saw Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson express “candor and alarm, sadness and sacrifice” in a video that got lots of attention. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said he and other business leaders are “looking at this as a time of war … This is like World War II. And everybody needs to step up and do their part …” And Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told employees, “I know how unsettling and uncertain this feels. Like many of you, there have been times over the past weeks when it has felt overwhelming and all-encompassing for me.”
Worried about your job? “Be visible!” says an executive communications director I spoke with last week. She sees emails falling off and senses that productivity is going down, even among the communication staff. She’s urging her team to “be visible, be everywhere”—offering ideas even outside of their exec comms specialty—so that if layoffs come, you’re the last one the company can afford to lose.
Target CEO Brian Cornell withdrew the retailer’s financial guidance and postponed ambitious growth plans that it had unveiled at an investor meeting March 3. On CNBC yesterday, Cornell said he meets with his leadership team every day to adapt to changing shopping patterns and look for new ways to keep customers and employees safe. “None of us know how long this virus is going to last. We don’t know when Americans are going to go back to work. Obviously, it’s great to wake up this morning and see that the stimulus package has been approved, but we don’t know all the details. So it’s been really hard for us to say how long will this go on. … It’s a very unique environment that none of us have seen before, and there is no playbook for how to react in this environment. We’re writing the script each and every day.”
General Electric employees stopped work and stood and marched six feet apart to demand the company convert its operations to the manufacture of ventilators, according to a report on Vice. The International Division of Communication Workers is further claiming that recently announced GE layoffs will undermine the company’s current efforts to make ventilators. The company issued a statement, “GE is working around the clock to increase production of much-needed medical equipment. GE Healthcare has already doubled ventilator production capacity, with a plan to double it again by June, in addition to partnering with Ford Motor Company to further increase ventilator production. We continue to explore additional opportunities to support the fight against COVID-19, while continuing to support mission-critical work for our customers as well.”
If some of these items from March 2020 took you back to an unpleasant and disorienting place, wait until tomorrow, when you get a load of April.