Three big communication lessons from 2020

This past year—the 25th for ECPR—has taught the world myriad lessons about life, information, community, business and ourselves. The pandemic broke a lot of things and revealed the cracks in many others. But as some things crumbled away, others were revealed: truisms, worthy virtues and prevailing wisdom.

As professional communicators, we found ourselves at the table with clients in many sectors as they decided not only on their message but their method for adapting in rapidly changing and highly volatile circumstances. While sometimes harrowing, it was an honor to be in their service. Like just about everyone else, I learned a lot and grew more than I thought possible.

These are the communications lessons I took away from 2020:

1. In a crisis, it comes down to if your people care about you.

This year, we all saw a lot of businesses in crisis. Some failed and some floundered. But the ones that survived and even thrived did so in large part because they had done the work beforehand of learning about their workforce and customers—establishing trust and a sense of mutual caring. This was the glue that kept people loyal and as companies had to pivot. Where people cared about the brand, they were willing to follow.

2. Communication is essential.

“Marketing is the first thing to go” people like to quip. But as it turns out, when push comes to shove, communication is a discipline that stands firmly in the middle. In a time when we’re separated physically amid great uncertainty, it is communication that is keeping people informed and confident and productive. That’s kept me thankful to have a meaningful role to play and more certain than ever that what we do is so critical.

3. MacGyver had the right idea.

The 1985 series starring Richard Dean Anderson as the guy who could get out of any tricky situation with his ingenuity was fun to watch because it seemed just within the bounds of reason. In 2020, I’ve been reminded of just how cunning people can be. Watching the ECPR team adapt and piece together platforms and new best practices from other fields with their innovative mindset has taught me that the settings and tools are unimportant. What matters in terms of getting things done is keeping the customer’s interests at heart and to feel empowered to turn over every stone (and, if you have to, blow them up with a battery, some chewing gum and a paper clip).

Headed into another year that we know will hold uncertainty and hardship—albeit with an injection of optimism—I will take with me a sense of gratitude, humility and a spirit of flexibility.

There’s nothing we can’t accomplish so long as we keep a fluid mentality and view nothing as fixed except perhaps our determination to carry on.​

David Wyatt is a senior vice president at ECPR.

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