The good comms can do in a crisis

Social and Local's Managing Partner Natalie Richards is demonstrating what you can do if you work to your strengths.

Social and Local's Managing Partner Natalie Richards argues that in uncertain times we should remember that what we do best can have a huge impact in a crisis.

When the list of key worker sectors was announced by the Government it was no surprise that Comms, Marketing & Advertising did not make the cut! Faced with the severity of the situation, like me you may have been feeling your job is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. My sister is a nurse, my sister-in-law a surgeon – they’re out there risking their own health to save lives. Supermarket staff, care workers, delivery drivers, all out keeping the nation going. Me? I’m home, tapping away with the dog on my lap. 

Then I gave myself a good talking to and reminded myself of one of our company values: work to your strengths.

As comms specialists, people in our industry have certain skills and traits in common: 

  1. We’re good at expressing ourselves – be it good at writing, graphic design, explaining the ‘why, what, how’ clearly
  2. We’re organised and used to juggling – our jobs demand flexibility and ability to re-think approaches (even if that used to be adapting to yet another sign-off deadline passing!)
  3. We tend to be forward-looking and plan ahead.

These skills are darn useful in a crisis! We can prompt people to think ahead and prepare. We can help people feel calm and in control by ‘translating’ difficult-to-understand guidance into more accessible (and engaging) language. We can use our creativity to provide inspiration for fun activities for kids or people stuck indoors. We can help organise and coordinate local support efforts. 

Mobilising the neighbourhood

Personally, I decided to set up a WhatsApp group for our street. I’d thought about it, idly. But, after BoJo’s press conference on Monday, I felt I needed to ‘Just Do It’. So my husband and I washed our hands, donned disposable gloves and headed out to put a flyer through every door on our road. It felt a little daunting, possibly OTT.

We’ve had a massive response. Via the group, neighbours have been shopping for essentials (such as chocolate for the mum in isolation at no. 43), sharing sourdough starter for breadmaking, setting up a Spotify list with the street’s favourite songs and hauling unused tables out of lofts for new homeworkers. Our local pub has set-up a take-away draught beer initiative; our corner shop is selling industrial loo roll at cost. We’ve discovered our oldest resident has lived here 50 years. And it turns out I’m not the only crazy dog lady.

I’m learning such a lot from the group of how near-strangers behave in a crisis and come together with practical support, fresh ideas and a healthy dose of banter. I’ve also seen an increase in memes offering solace and wise words. One that stuck in my mind was this:

What if the words we speak became actions?

We in Comms can do real good, now and in the somewhat altered future world we will inhabit. Let’s do it.

Natalie Richards is Managing Partner at Social and Local.

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Last updated 21 September 2020