During this crisis, I’m clinging to our company of communicators

By Belinda Willis
Director of Communications & Marketing | City of Mansfield, Texas

A few weeks ago, in this very space, our colleague Brian Ligon reminded us that we are all first responders. He told us that what we do as communicators - providing calm and clarity in the storm - can result in the same kind of stress that other first responders exhibit.

One month later the world is a different place. And Brian’s illustration of “communicator first responder” is playing out all across our country.

This last month has seen PIOs challenged as never before. Our skills as communicators have been tested as we navigate complicated information and scenarios that have our residents confused and frightened. And we do it all while trying to maintain core services in our communities and reinvent others to meet the needs of residents in today’s environment.  

Some PIOs have faced the additional challenge of defending their roles as “essential” in their organizations. Communications not essential? Who could ever think that in a time like this your communicators were not essential, were not a part of your first responder team on the front lines of managing a major public health emergency.

The Coronavirus emergency has called us to put every skill, every tool in our toolbox to use. We’re activating our crisis communication plans at the same time we’re being creative and innovative in how we reach our audiences.

I don’t know about anyone else, but one month into this emergency and I am exhausted, stressed and mentally drained. My FEMA training is coming in handy, but the drills were for natural disasters like hurricanes and floods. A pandemic wasn’t in the book. But what I learned there is helping me keep my messaging on point. I’m trying to remember that self-care is important right now. However, the pace of this crisis makes it difficult.

Although I did remember a key point in Brian’s blog article: PIOs can support each other. So I’ve also tapped into my tribe, my fellow PIOs from all over the country who are facing the same challenges I am. From 3CMA to my Texas colleagues in TAMIO to those who are a part of the Government Social Media Organization, this collection of communicators is a lifeline for me during this emergency. And based on all the posts I’ve seen in our respective Facebook groups, they are a lifeline for you as well.

We’re sharing graphics on social distancing, offering advice on virtual city council and board meetings, venting on how stay-at-home orders are playing out on our social media platforms, and that’s just the start. We’re finding help, advice and solace in our common challenges. I can’t even imagine what this experience would be like without those professional connections. Whether we’re a department of 10, or a one-person shop, the alliances we have formed in these organizations have created a company of communicators who are leading the charge for public information during this crisis. We’re helping our communities understand the complicated, find comfort in caring about their neighbors and preserve a sense of normalcy for everyone in cities and towns all over the country.

So as we move forward through this unprecedented emergency situation, know that there is a contingent of communicator first responders that have your back. You aren’t a one-person shop or even a 10-member department. You’re an army of thousands. 

We are truly all in this together.