- Public Relations
I participated in a panel discussion at the Public Relations Executive Forum, co-hosted by the Arthur W. Page Society and the Institute for Public Relations. Our panel’s topic was “the impact of the economic crisis on corporate communications and public relations.” My fellow panelists (Kimberly Crews Goode of Northwestern Mutual, Cathy Babington of Abbott and Greg Elliot of Navistar) and the moderator (Don Wright of Boston University) shared great insights and ideas, and forum participants — the future stars of our profession — asked superb questions.
Perhaps it was this stimulating exchange or just Chicago’s warm, sunny weather, but I left the session with a lot more clarity on these times in which we work and live. In fact, when I first started thinking about the implications of the economic crisis, my initial observations were primarily negative – to the point that I was feeling fairly depressed about things! But as I sounded out a number of friends (Ron Culp, Lou Capozzi, Tim Volk, Kevin Donnellon and others) and thought more about the topic, I came to appreciate that there are, indeed, several upsides to the downturn.
I won’t attempt to summarize our panel discussion’s key takeaways, but I would like to share one rather personal observation, in the hope that it might strike a positive chord with some of you.
I have the distinct sense that many of us have become numb and even desensitized to the larger world around us. For a year or more, we’ve had our heads down, with noses to the grindstone, helping our organizations address the downturn’s consequences for our organizations and our people. We have been extremely busy communicating executive changes, layoffs, hiring and travel freezes, salary and bonus cuts, refinancings, restructurings and restatements, not to mention losses in revenues, profits, market share, reputation, confidence, trust, etc.
On a more personal level, we have seen the value of our houses and retirement funds plummet, while talk of bank failures, federal bailouts and nationalization heighten levels of uncertainty. Our retirement plans have been deferred, and we’re even concerned about short-term job security for ourselves, our family members and our friends. As a result, we’re living day-to-day, and no matter where we stand on the socioeconomic ladder, we’ve become unusually myopic, short-term and — c’mon, admit it — even a little bit scared. Even the smallest glimmer of good news, such as a week-on-week rise in the Dow Jones average, lifts the mood.
I described myself in our discussion as an “optimistic realist,” and I really am a hopeful and confident person at my core. I am genuinely grateful for the chance this panel gave me to step back from my daily existence and think about the downturn from a broader, long-term perspective. Yes, I remain concerned about some of the decisions that companies and governments are now making. Confidence and trust in business had not recovered from the Enron days, and now it seems to have taken an even bigger hit in recent months. I’m concerned about the growing intrusion of government into day-to-day business, especially because government under any party has never been a role model for efficient, effective management. And I’m especially concerned about people who have no homes, income or health care — and dwindling resources to which they can turn for the most basic subsistence and needs. For this reason, and I’m sorry to say it, I’m afraid we’re a long ways from getting back to “normal.” Sorry, but that’s the realist in me speaking.
But above all that, and without attempting to brush off these larger issues of profound importance, I most fervently believe that every crisis is an opportunity to change the way we work and live. I now have renewed energy to seize this opportunity and to make the absolute most of it. And I sincerely hope that others who may have similar thoughts and feelings will soon find whatever inspiration it takes to rethink, recharge, renew and move forward in their lives – because inspiration and hope is what we all need a lot more of right now.
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