Photo of eight sticky notes that read messages like "online chat", "stay home", and "be safe"

Staying globally relevant in the new normal

The phrase “think global, act local” has been around for years prompting many of us working in global businesses to be sensitive to how our initiatives play out in different parts of the world. But not until the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has there been a global emergency that has truly required everyone, everywhere to care about what is happening in their own communities, as well as the rest of the world.

Globally, uncertainty has become our only certainty. Our work in the field of communications has taken on a new purpose as people seek accurate information to help them answer questions about how to plan and live their lives. 

Like many of us, I spent the first half of 2020 devouring all of the content I could get my hands on — newspapers, TV, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and WhatsApp. In the U.S., Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefings became a critical reference point for me and millions of people desperate for clear and honest information. Scientists became our new figures of authority and trust. 

As the complexity has grown, government leaders everywhere continued to manage the cadence and content of their communication to create the perception that they have everything under control. Meanwhile, the average citizen has been left desperate for direction, clarity and leadership. 

Globally, entire industries and businesses have been demolished by job losses and changes in leadership. Numerous countries are closing their borders to each other. Those working in agencies, corporations and institutions have watched their jobs grow more intense with non-stop video meetings, a renewed focus on internal communications and a need to be relevant to external stakeholders in a world that is continuously focused on only one topic.

The social and political climates demand business leaders be more aggressive and creative in communicating through new channels — beyond the standard company e-mail and in-person town hall meetings. It has also become imperative for corporations to take a stand on social issues — from health care to the environment, to racial equality to workplace mobility, while factoring in the political backlash basic corporate decisions can create.

The world continues to simultaneously mourn the past and fight for the future — for change, equality and hope. As communicators share experiences with each other and tips on what’s working in our new normal, a few themes emerge:

  • Keep an ongoing pulse on the environment and be ready to pivot your strategy as needed. Flexibility is key.
  • Find purpose in everything that you do. Communicate with real intention and meaning. The words we pick matter even more these days.
  • Use this environment for more listening vs. doing. Advise the organizations and leaders you work with to lead with empathy, patience and love.
  • Find the right moments to introduce new topics that matter to your target audiences. We are all tired of 24/7 discussions of COVID and politics and have other interests.
  • Take care of yourself and your loved ones. And hold onto your sense of humor. Even when it seems like it’s impossible to.

I recently received a text message from a good friend in New Jersey with a photo of a huge tree that was uprooted in her backyard and crashed on her pool and outdoor sitting area. Her caption said, “Did I mention it’s 2020?!” This is a year where everything seems unhinged but thoughtful communication can make this and next year more manageable. 

Gulden Mesara is Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at the City of Hope. She is a member of the USC Annenberg Center for PR Board of Advisors.