I recently suggested on Facebook that a great day in 2020 was one where you did your laundry and all the socks matched. It was amazing how many people agreed with me. It’s been a year of such unbelievably bad news, hard times, and eye-popping headlines that we have all become more numb to calamity.

And yes, I’m well aware that it’s not over yet. But, at least for me, the election results mean things may be looking up a bit.

So many communications plans were created in 2019, only to have the ground beneath them dramatically change. What lessons can we learn for the future of measurement? Here are three big ones, gleaned mostly from Paine Publishing’s Summit on the Future of Measurement (visit this page for a summary and recaps) and PRSA ICON.

1. Authenticity trumps all

No matter what you try to communicate, or how great your strategy is, one authentic action can turn the tide, and one inauthentic move can wipe out all your gains.

Consider toilet paper manufacturer Georgia-Pacific. Earlier this year they were caught in the crosshairs of pandemic hoarding, but they chose not to issue a standard corporate statement about how they were working hard to solve the problem. Instead, they embraced who they were and the awkwardness of the shortage and used puns and potty humor to make their points.

Their quirky-yet-effective strategy was basically: “Toilet Paper ‘R’ Us: We make it in America and we’re making it as fast as we can.” They educated reporters as well the public on the complexities of the toilet paper supply chain. And they did it all with mesmerizing videos of assembly lines and enthusiastic, well-protected workers. And puns — lots of puns. A statement from Meg Fligg, G-P’s Director of Communications and Public Relations, captured the wit of their approach: “I’ve been waiting for 25 years for TP to become important!”


The campaign worked well: the messages got out, panic subsided, and Georgia-Pacific became the go-to experts for journalists’ questions about supply chain issues. (Read more about Meg Fligg and her work at Georgia-Pacific in our recap of her presentation at this fall’s Summit on the Future of Communications Measurement.)

The point is that when so many communicators are working from home, being truly authentic and showing people who you really are is inescapable. When your cat jumps up on your keyboard in the middle of a Zoom call, you can’t pretend that you’re all buttoned up in an office. You have to embrace your inner cat lover.

So, next time you are trying to push out those corporate messages, make an effort first to be sure they are actually in line with your purpose, and that they ring true with all your audiences.

2. People are the priority

When I travel between my home office and the local grocery store, I pass about 25 signs that say, “Thank you, essential workers!” It’s about time society began to appreciate grocery store clerks, nurses’ aides, and so many other people we tend to think of as just “employees.” And if it has taken a pandemic to get us to do so, the well-deserved recognition might be just about worth it.

This year every communicator working for a major corporation has seen the time they spend on internal communications skyrocket. At Beam Suntory regular communications from the CEO to employees jumped from once-a-quarter to several-times-a-week.

Keeping employees informed and engaged has become many a corporate communicator’s biggest priority. Whether it is educating them on health safety protocols or navigating decisions about “hazard pay” for those deemed essential, the focus in 2020 has been on the people who make an organization work.

External communications also shifted focus. When companies did push out messages to external audiences, those messages were overwhelmingly people-focused — words of support for health care workers, for Black lives, or for whatever issue was top of mind at the time. In fact, when “normal” marketing messages appeared in social media or email baskets (no doubt programmed to auto-send before quarantines and lock-downs became the rule of the day), they struck recipients as jarringly tone deaf, and occasionally generated complaints. We know — we were guilty of that ourselves.

3. We are all humans in this boat

Princess Leia on duty.

Back in May, Mara Liasson, NPR’s legendary national political correspondent was rudely interrupted mid-reporting by her dog Buster. (She now lists her dog as “occasional commentator on NPR.”) Paine Publishing’s equivalent was not long afterwards, when Princess Leia decided to announce the FedEx truck in the middle of a Measurement Base Camp session. (She’s a Great Pyrenees, and their bark has been bred to frighten bears.) I was proud as punch: “Now I’ve got something in common with one of my heroines, Mara Liasson!”

These are just two of the many moments of human connection enabled by working from home and meeting on Zoom. As the year went on, we became more and more ourselves. We learned and adapted, mostly making sure that the truly embarrassing things didn’t get broadcast. (Mostly.) (Read more about improving your virtual meetings in the “Put the zoom back in your Zoom” section of this month’s Reading List.)

The point here is that seeing where and how people live, and having a few impromptu meetings with their kids and pets, builds empathy. Lord knows we need more empathy these days.

So, at your next online meeting, make sure you’re wearing pants, but don’t be afraid to let your guard down. Show a little humanity; we’re all in this boat together. ∞

Photo at the top by Iain Farrell on Foter.com / CC BY-ND

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