The word ‘OK’ has been around for about 180 years. The phrase is said to have originally been a satirical abbreviation for Oll Korrect (all correct) used by proofreaders in a Boston newspaper during the 1840s, before going viral across the world. One of the reasons ‘OK’ took the world by storm is because almost every language has the letters O, K and A meaning that ‘OK’ is a unique blend of familiar elements. Almost from nowhere, ‘OK’ became one of the best known and understood words across the planet, becoming a part of our everyday conversations.

A similar story can be told for the word ‘coronavirus’, except this word – or at least our current use of it – has only been around for 180 days. Coronavirus has impacted our lives at breathtaking speeds, so much so that even 4-year-old children know what the word means. Just like the etymology of the word ‘OK’, the consonant K is a familiar element – most 4-year-olds know the phonetic K sounds for koronavirus (sic) as well as kangaroo in their A-Z books, and for us adults, K is also the predicted bounce back shape of the economy – we’ve had the vertical drop, a small bounce back and then either an upwards trajectory for some, or the horrors of the opposite downwards trajectory for others.

Few companies have done really well during this period. Aside from Amazon, Microsoft and Google, dog breeders and vets, hot tub salesmen and neighbourhood economies have all had some benefit from us all being at home and no doubt we’ll see them heading for the upwards trajectory. Other businesses and industries may have just about survived unscathed and on the road to recovery but millions of businesses and people have been plunged into darkness, losing their livelihoods and jobs, and for many there will be more distress to follow as the UK’s furlough scheme comes to an end in October.  

As much as we want to think it, the crisis certainly isn’t over and it’s not OK to think we are anywhere near safe or normal.

Ease creates, urgency destroys

Nancy Kline talks about the internal state of mind in her book “Time to Think”, suggesting that the best conditions for thinking are when you’re at ease and free from rush or urgency – and it really struck a chord because it seems we might be doing the opposite.

With the impact of lockdown, there is a sense of urgency to get businesses back on track financially for the sake of the economy and to pay for the bills. But whilst we’re busy rushing to get sales and keep the cash flowing quickly, we could potentially be destroying our need to think creatively about the situation we find ourselves in. To be ‘too busy to really think’ is dangerous and pivoting is not easy. It takes considerable thinking time and a lot of effort to make it a success.

Akin to that urgency is the impact of isolation. Virtual working may have given us the work-life balance we’ve desired for so long, but it has also made us physically insular and less adventurous. You only need to look at London’s tube during weekday rush hour to know that many people are still remaining in their homes for the foreseeable. And due to everyone’s physical containment, our incoming sources of mindful information are also restricted. We are reliant on news outlets, the internet and social media for insights and less on passing conversations with our colleagues, commuters and the people we get our coffee from in the morning. 

Avoiding hibernation 

As we head into Autumn and the wintry days, we must not hibernate our minds, we must give ourselves time to think and expand our horizons. As comms professionals, we must be sensitive with our comms outreach and outbound campaigns, bearing in mind the rise in unemployment figures and the people on the furlough scheme.  

Here are my tips on good ‘reputation enhancing’ for internal and external comms campaigns to assist your recovery and make sure you and your businesses are on the ascending trajectory and not descending.

  1. Listen to your employees. What do they need to perform at their best, and achieve the most? One of the things that the Employee Comms After Sudden Transformation guide talks about is conducting a cultural diagnosis to see where your employees stand and how they might be feeling. Doing this regularly will assess and identify employees concerns and changes in their feelings which can help you jump on employee issues quicker.
  • Listen to your customers. Ask how their priorities have changed recently, how their businesses are faring now, what still needs to change? Aligning on ideas and thoughts and setting expectations with one another will help make sure that you’re both on the same track. 
  • Appreciate those who have ridden the wave with you. For those who have stuck by you through the crisis, whether it’s your employees, customers, partners or suppliers, make your appreciation for their loyalty regular, meaningful, authentic and clearly understood. Collaboration is a key mechanism when navigating a crisis and you may have made or lost connections along the way but it’s important to keep them close by and show your appreciation for them.  
  • Understand how marketing and comms needs to change to reflect societal shifts. Last month, Charlotte talked about how we must shift our comms techniques to ensure we’re getting the best out of the rest of 2020, and this is important if we’re to be on the ascending trajectory. Back in April and May, a brand might have rushed to create marketing campaigns on TikTok, saw great ROI initially and decided to set aside the majority of next year’s marketing budget on the platform. Who knows where TikTok might be at the end of the year but it’s certainly a risk putting all your eggs in one basket.
  • Make time to freewheel with your colleagues. Explore ways to be creative and innovate. Remember ‘ease creates, urgency destroys’. Create an easy environment for a few hours to come up with new ideas to improve everything you do. If you are still not commuting, use that extra commuting time to read and expand your mind.
  • Make time to see ideas follow through. Even now in times of confusion and more pain yet to come, we need to ensure we are taking the right approach and turning our ideas into action. Whether it’s through experimenting, trying new services or doing things differently, not all ideas and plans are successful but if we make the time to learn from our mistakes we can be better.
  • Do some good for others less fortunate. Give back however you can, personally, professionally, corporately. There are so many people who need help, but whatever help you give doesn’t require a press release.

So back in 1840, when the Boston newspaper office were having a giggle about OK really standing for Oll Korrect, the team probably didn’t think it would eventually become part of the worldwide lexicon and everyone would use it on a daily basis. Sometimes creativity can come from the strangest of places and you never know, your next idea could be the next OK.

Hope we’re all OK on that?

Communications is notorious for moving at breakneck speed; I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people say that a PR year is like a dog year. We juggle communicating with stakeholders from our own teams, to customers, to journalists, to analysts, and with partners, not to mention the higher-ups in our own companies – and they have stakeholders too! All this collaboration and co-ordination needs thought and not just snap judgments. But if you put that on top of all the other mental load that we’ve been experiencing this year, you’ve got a super-quick recipe for burnout.

The Roots of Slow Thinking

But why is this? It’s not just stress and fear of the pandemic – to really understand this we have to go a little deeper. We tend to quote Daniel Kahneman a lot, either in pieces for this newsletter or our own sales collateral, because his work is very important to reputation – and his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, is a banger*.

The primary thesis in TFAS is that humans prefer to ‘think fast’. We run on automatic, we take shortcuts, we become creatures of habit – whether that’s preferring Sainsbury’s over Tesco, McDonald’s over Burger King, or whatever else. This is because this automatic, ‘fast’ thinking is less energy-consuming than the alternative. Thinking ‘slowly’, deeply, or however you want to refer to it, is literally an energy drain. It’s tiring.

And during the pandemic, we’ve all had to think more slowly. Where do I need to wear a mask? How many people can I socialise with? Am I following the latest government guidelines? Am I more than two metres away from that dogwalker on the pavement? Do I have hand sanitiser with me? Is it safe to go to the cinema?

Every single time you force your brain to think, it’s working out like an Olympic athlete. When you add all of this to the fast-paced world of comms and it’s no wonder people are exhausted – it’s been a tiring year! Clearly, the same is true for other industries as well – it’s not just comms, it’s HR, it’s sales, and so on – any part of the business that went into over-drive has been running on empty for some time.

Can I Think Fast and Still Get the Job Done?

As a manager or director in comms, it’s a tough job to balance looking after your team and still getting the job done, because a lot of our work is ‘thinking slow’, deliberate, considered work. There will be some jobs – reports and the like – that can be done on automatic, but in general, it’s better to look at measures where you can save mental energy to begin with. So here are a few starters for ten:

Know Thyself: You can’t do a good job if you’re not looking after yourself, so be aware of whether you’re having an especially bad / tiring day. Be kind to yourself and remember that we’re living through a pandemic and that’s incredibly hard.

Know Your Team: They’ll be having ‘off days’ as well, and that’s ok. Everyone will have felt the strain of the pandemic differently, so keep an eye on them, force them to be kind to themselves. Above all, make sure they’re taking holidays!

Trust (and use) Your Team: With any luck, not everyone will be having a bad day at the same time, and while we’re not saying to ‘push everything down’ and delegate wildly, your team is there to support you – so make use of them (and vice versa). Sometimes this means getting someone else to check that email you’ve just written if you know you’re having an off-day because you’ve exhausted yourself mentally and sometimes it’s doing that for someone else.

Rest Properly: The urge to ‘fight back to normal’ at weekends can be strong, so if you’re busy during the week, don’t push yourself to catch up with *all* your friends and relatives at the weekend, because that requires lots of thought, and although it might be good for you on a social level, it’s also draining. Get the balance right.

Insist on Routines: Routines are mental shortcuts (‘thinking fast’) – and as you build habits and get into them, you can ‘think fast’ about them, rather than always having to ‘think slow’. Similarly, avoid unnecessary distractions – unsubscribe from newsletters (not Firefly’s, obviously) and try not to multi-task too much. This will help to conserve that valuable mental energy!

Looking Forwards

As I write this, the government is issuing new guidelines on how many people can gather in public in the UK, and the news sites are speculating about the possibility of curfews being introduced. The Economist is warning that unless we can beat Covid globally, we won’t beat it at all – and even the most optimistic estimate doesn’t see us beating the pandemic before the end of 2020. In short – it ain’t over yet.

This means that we need to start – or continue – measures to adapt to this temporary (but lengthy) difficult period. Most of us have our masks, hand sanitiser and (where appropriate) home offices set up, but now it’s time to make sure that we’re being kind to ourselves, realise the impact that the pandemic has on our mental states, and adapt sustainably so that we can continue communicating efficiently and effectively.

* Put it next to Oren Klaff’s Pitch Anything and Kotter’s Leading Change and you’ve got three of the best communications books in the world.

It’s been almost 12 years and three Presidential terms since Bill Clinton left the White House. Listening to his closing keynote at last week’s Entrepreneur 2012 London summit, it was clear to see why he left his post with the highest end-of-office approval rating of any U.S President since World War II.

Talking to a packed ExCel crowd of 4,000 would-be and successful entrepreneurs, Clinton demonstrated his disruptive entrepreneur credentials through personal success stories of corporate reform. Rather than take on the business elite, he has worked with them to leverage humanitarian change that benefited the disadvantaged and turned an economic profit for multi-national organisations.

Here are five memorable takeaways from his talk:

1. Always be on the look out for unique opportunities in a downturn. If you can’t find a solution to a problem, you are looking at the wrong problem.

2. Territorial walls are becoming nets. Working in a progressive network is the key to turning good intentions into real change.

3. We live in amazing times. Clinton suggested he would give up having been president to be 20 years old and charting a course through the next generation.

4. We are great at solving yesterday’s problems. Our private and public sector leaders of the future will be the ones who embrace a global entrepreneurial approach to the political challenges and economic opportunities of climate change.

5. Our world is too unequal, too unstable, too unsustainable. Collaboration through technology is the key to prospering turning good eco intentions into real change.

With 100 million attendees in over 100 countries attending a Global Entrepreneur Week event, it’s possible Bill Clinton will be around long enough to witness this change and still get to keep his Commander-in-Chief place in history.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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