COVID-19 and the Role Played by Communicators: PRSA Chicago Webinar Recap

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Controversy continues to surface regarding just about every aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in these waning days of April, it’s readily apparent that controversy related to the virus and its impact on society and our way of life will continue for the foreseeable future.

From another perspective, one can argue that the virus has become the most talked about, most written about, most analyzed, most disputed topic in human history to date.

Regardless of the what takes place in the months ahead — whether we can resume what once were “normal” activities — this remains certain: We’ll need accurate and regular communications on what’s happening next week, next month and next year.

Yesterday, PRSA Chicago hosted a Zoom webinar, “Leading Through Crisis and Establishing a New Normal for Communicators After the Apex.” A long-standing member of the Chapter, I took in the presentation, which featured three senior communications professionals:

Chandler Goodman, Director at Gagen MacDonald, moderated the program and PRSA Chicago President Dane Roth provided welcoming and closing thoughts.

Here are summarized and bulleted recollections from the panelists:

  • Avoid being opportunistic when issuing communications.
  • Unlike other crisis situations, developments in the COVID-19 crisis often change hourly.
  • Communicators must update messages on a continual basis — both to internal and external audiences.
  • What was not considered newsworthy in the past may be newsworthy today.
  • Regularly try to demonstrate progress on communications to stakeholders.
  • Senior leaders should reach out to employees on a regular basis.
  • Maintain credibility, honesty and transparency when addressing a competing interest.
  • Listen to feedback from all audiences.
  • The virtual workplace will be in place for a long time; get accustomed to managing teams, media and internal communications remotely.
  • CEOs now have to respond to stakeholders and the media via Zoom or an online platform; this may require additional coaching.
  • Grasp how relationships with business partners have changed during the advent of the crisis.
  • Demonstrate the value of effective public relations during these unprecedented times.
  • Collaboration between other business or organizational units has been positive during the pandemic.
  • Recognize that a greater segment of society now recognizes the value of effective communications.
  • Some organizations now field many, many more media inquiries than prior to the pandemic — some up to 100 per day.  And, some organizations issue multiple news announcements daily.

One great feature of Zoom is the ability to pose a question. I’m proud to note that my question — “What have you learned during the pandemic that can be employed in the future?” — was the final query addressed. The responses:

Rodrigo: Communicate often and be as transparent as possible, both to internal and external audiences.

Heather: Be transparent and be human; let the world see you without wearing a tie.

Jim: You can’t over-communicate today. Be prepared to manage a long list of FAQs.

And, I’ll conclude with one other suggestion from a panelist: Communicators need a day off, which I wholeheartedly support.


Finding This Worker “Essential” During COVID-19 Pandemic

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Let me echo the tributes to the first responders — the healthcare workers, the police, ambulance and firefighters, the elected officials, and the other courageous women and men — on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in my home state of Illinois, across the nation and around the world.

This is how I found the Sunday April 19 edition, just outside the front door.

Same goes for those deemed essential to our lives and the economy — like mail carriers, grocery store workers and truck drivers, transportation staff, farmers and food processors.

If I’ve neglected a category, my apologies. There are many people out there day-after-day away from the safety of their homes and families doing their jobs so many of us can shelter, work at home and battle the virus remotely.

Now, let me propose adding another category to the list of essential workers: The newspaper delivery people, those unheralded part-time workers who cruise streets in the early-morning hours and fling a folded print publication onto porches and doorsteps.

For years, we’ve subscribed to the daily and Sunday editions of the Chicago Tribune. And, each day (with a few exceptions) the newspaper is delivered on our front porch. Usually by 7 a.m.

I’ve never formally met the lady who delivers our newspaper each day, but we’ve exchanged waves on occasion. I know her name is Yeimi, because around the holidays (remember those?) she includes a note in the Sunday edition offering greetings. I respond with a some words of holiday cheer and thanks and a modest gratuity.

The delivery of the newspaper is part of what makes my day “normal” and “predictable,” factors I appreciate.

It’s been hard to find normalcy and predictability for the past month-plus, and it’s uncertain when they again will be within our grasp.

Thanks to Yeimi and the unheralded working members of our society, a seemingly minor comfort provides welcomed respite.

When Will …

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

When will the “proper distance” we can have with friends and strangers becomes three feet?  Then no distance at all?

When will the drone from the nearby Kennedy Expressway fade during most of the day because of the return traffic that normally builds from early morning and lasts well into the evening?

Looking forward to the day I can take my widow seat and engage in what I call “malt therapy” at Small Bar. (Image courtesy of Small Bar.)

When will I be able to scan the eastern sky from our back porch and count five or six jet airliners heading toward O’Hare International Airport most evenings?

When will I not have to look both ways more than one time when planning to cross a street?

When will I be able to read the main news section of the Chicago Tribune and not read an article on the subject that has dominated our world over the past few weeks?

When will I find trash dumped on the sidewalk near our home, evidence that more people are carrying on with life in the way they had before all this happened?

When will I find enjoyment in listening to loud rock and roll again, when now I only find true enjoyment and solace in jazz and classical music?

When will I be able to take my favorite window seat at my neighborhood tavern, the Small Bar, and enjoy a beer and an honest welcome served by Katy?

When will I wake up and not have to say a silent prayer thanking God that I’m not sick?

When will television commercials again center on candidates running for office or political issues?

When will acronyms like “PPE” and words like “surreal” and “uncertain times” be gone from our everyday lexicon?

When will I be compelled to not write about this subject anymore?

Answers and thoughts are welcomed.