COVID-19 is impacting businesses in a variety of ways– for communications firms, it’s making public relations during the pandemic more personal.
As public relations professionals, we are accustomed to working with clients on crisis and issues management. However, the onset of COVID-19 was a crisis that hit all of our clients as well as our personal lives at the same time. Each of the owners of Maven and I have two children who weren’t able to go to school or daycare.
While juggling home life, we have to focus on how the pandemic is changing our clients’ work. Helping them to pivot their strategy and messages while also managing to take care of and educate our children.
During this time, Jessica Sharp (JS), Rebecca Devine (RD), and I have had several realizations.
Change in How We Work:
Not only are we working from home, but the way in which we structure our workdays has changed due to family needs. As a wife of an essential healthcare worker, my uninterrupted time occurred before he left for his 11-hour day, the twins’ nap time, and after he came home. Jess and I both found that we had to prioritize and work efficiently during our spans of uninterrupted time.
Jessica Sharp (JS): “Instead of going back and forth between projects, if I only have 30 minutes, I’ll work on just one thing and close my email and any other application that might be a distraction. I’ve found, for me, that this is a much more efficient way to work and will likely keep doing it when my kids are back at school.”
Veronica (VMR): “I am fortunate that my husband has two and a half days off during the week and takes care of our twins. With that luxury, I tried to schedule most of my meetings/calls and work on projects that needed my undivided concentration on those days.
The two and a half days a week where I had to juggle kids and work, I would prioritize the work I couldn’t do with the kids running around and focus on that work from 4:30 am-7:30 am and then after they went to bed. Oddly enough, I came to enjoy those early morning hours as there weren’t any distractions (no emails, Slack messages, etc.) and I was able to get a lot accomplished.”
Rebecca Devine (RD): “I was fortunate to have help from my parents, who quarantined with us in the early days of the pandemic. But with so many people in the house, it was hard to find a quiet space to think, let alone achieve “flow.” We started mapping out schedules every morning, and then revisiting it again in the evening to determine who was available and when to manage the girls virtual schooling and entertainment. We found pockets early in the morning and later in the evening when things were less hectic. And for the first time in years, we all sat down together as a family for dinner – something that we hadn’t done previously because our schedules were so erratic.”
Working with Clients– They are People, Too:
What’s interesting about this situation is that we’re all experiencing it, so we can all relate. That makes it easier to connect with clients on a personal level. Consistent, frequent communication with clients is always important, and that’s no different today than it was a year ago. What’s changed are the conversations.
JS: “I know which clients have children and how old they are so we can connect personally about our experiences. I also keep up on what’s happening with our client’s businesses – how staffing and services are being affected, and then offer proactive thoughts on how we might help make the shift as smooth as possible.”
VMR: “Checking-in on client calls to see how everyone and their families are doing is a new normal. In the past, that wasn’t the case unless it was an in-person meeting. Finding out how the pandemic was impacting our clients personally also helped us adapt how we were interacting with them.
In one case, when I learned the unusual schedule one of our clients had, I realized a weekly report we sent needed to be provided a day earlier so she could have time to digest our report and be able to incorporate it into her own report.”
RD: “I try to call clients every few weeks to check in personally on how folks are managing. With everyone on Zoom or virtual meetings, we have a window into people’s real lives that has created an intimacy with clients that was never possible before. I see where they live, who their children are, and what issues they are dealing with day to day. It’s been comforting to know that we are all human and grappling with the same concerns and can be supportive of one another.”
Adapting to Client’s Needs:
At Maven, we pride ourselves on keeping an eye out for what’s happening and impacting our client’s businesses.
JS: “During this time I’ve focused on how our clients’ staffing and services are being affected, whether they’ve had to layoff members of their department, and I can offer proactive thoughts on how we might help and change some of our strategies and tactics to mitigate some of the stress they’re feeling.”
VMR: “For my nonprofit clients, as soon as the region and state closed, we threw the strategy for the quarter out the window and worked with our clients to create interim strategies. These new strategies addressed the pivoting of services to manage the impacts the pandemic had on their work in order to continue to address the ongoing and new needs of the community.”
RD: “We threw ourselves into overdrive working side by side with clients to figure out the new protocols and guidance for employees and customers. The tone of our communications shifted from “buy me” to “we’re here to help you.” The emotional quotient of all our outreach increased as people needed stability and comfort, not sales.”
Delegating to Meet the Needs and Expectations of Clients:
As a mom, there are always times where you question how you will handle work and the needs of your kids. COVID-19 made this prominent in the minds of many working parents. As many in corporate America learn from management training or coaching, one of the best traits of a good manager is someone who can delegate.
VMR: “Some of the projects for our clients entail a lot of phone calls and quick back and forth emails. Having my twins’ home by myself made that very hard to do, so I delegated the projects to team members who were able to handle imminent asks. I then picked-up other work that didn’t need such availability.”
All in This Together, But in Different Ways:
Even though we are all going through this together, the pandemic has personally affected everyone in a different way.
JS: “Pre-COVID I saw my kids for about 4 hours a day, and I wanted those hours to be quality time together – I was totally engaged with them, planning activities, games, etc. As a result, they came to expect that time with me was all about me providing the entertainment.
Now that we’re together 24/7 it’s not realistic that every moment together is quality time or that I’m the one ensuring that they’re thoughtfully occupied. It took a while for the kids to get on-board with occupying themselves (without screens, which is another saga all together), and it’s still a work in progress, but we’re getting there.”
VMR: “Pre-COVID my twins were unstably walking or still crawling. As our time at home continued, they started running, climbing, and exploring with anything and everything. Their excitement for adventure and their ability to start saying what they wanted/needed made me realize just how much they still rely on and need my attention.
I am still working on this, but the pandemic made me realize that I am not a bad mom if they crawl inside the kitchen cabinets and pull out the pots and pans while I’m watching them and working.”
RD: “In my pre-COVID life, I was very put together! Formality in meetings, my appearance, and in my communication mattered. But with two kids, my parents and my husband all quarantined together for the first 8 weeks, I needed to let some things go. Now my kids make frequent cameos in Zoom calls and meetings, and I am not going to freak out if I take a Zoom call without makeup.
In some ways, this has created an intimacy with clients that was never possible before. I see where they live, who their children are, and what issues they are dealing with day-to-day. It’s been comforting to know that we are all human and grappling with the same concerns and can be supportive of one another.”
I’ve been lucky to work for a company where the owners understand the hardships of having children at home. The ability to do my work outside of normal business hours along with leadership that’s patient with my children crying, yelling, whooping, banging on pots, sitting on my lap during video calls, and joining a meeting a few minutes late after my headphones are tossed in the toilet, helps me get through this time and keep up-to-date with my clients.