A. N. C. – It Matters Now More than Ever
By Grant Wright, CEO
When I learned to fly, my instructor beat into my head a simple phrase: “Aviate. Navigate. Communicate.” The idea is simple, but powerful – fly the airplane, figure out where you’re going, then tell someone. It speaks to priorities during a crisis.
For my fellow communicators, I will translate: Aviate equates to operations–keep the plane in the air. That’s the first priority. Navigate speaks to strategy–know where you’re headed and how you’ll get there. Communication is something we understand: let your team and people know that you’re aviating and have a plan for navigating.
For pilots, they know that when a crisis occurs mid-flight, there’s little sense in figuring out how you’ll get from A to B if you haven’t first corrected your nosedive. And once the plane is stable, there’s little point chewing up valuable mic time with the tower until you know where you’ll next point the plane to conclude the flight safely. This rule of three has been in use for years because they work incredibly well when the pressure is on. Unfortunately, pilots can be so distracted with their heads deep in a map or talking with controllers that they fail to notice the fuel gauge or mismatched engine readings at the root of their problem. Aviate. Navigate. Communicate.
In the years since my training, I’ve realized this lesson applies to so many other areas of our lives. In times of crisis, there can be a tendency to subordinate communications to less important things. But if you can keep operating and see a path forward, then the most important thing to do is to share that information with other stakeholders. As a pilot, that means your crew, passengers and the tower. As a CEO, that means your leadership team, board, and investors as well as your employees, customers, regulators, and other stakeholders.
After remembering to actually fly the plane and figure out where you’re going, the third most important thing to do is communicate! This is backed up by research: in a crisis, leaders need to increase communication to stakeholders and not decrease it.
In business, this means quickly stabilizing things to a new but temporary operational norm and planning next steps to emerge as strongly as possible once things play out. By definition, both need solid communications to achieve. And solid communication also means, for example, adapting marketing messages now to avoid tone deaf messages because they were programmed three months ago; acknowledging fears and anxiety; and contributing helpful information into the national discourse when possible. It also isn’t the time to attempt distracting news desks with an unrelated PR hook for brand mentions that don’t help. In other words, now is not the time for newsjacking the coronavirus.
With operations and planning in hand, communication itself then becomes the next most important focus. Those organizations that move more quickly than others through the grief stages will emerge stronger than those organizations that act like a deer in headlights.
While the current pandemic is an unprecedented threat, and events are playing out with startling speed to which we’re simply not accustomed, it isn’t hyperbole that we’ll get through this. Unprecedented action is being taken the world over and ‘this too shall pass’.
At (W)right On, we’re assisting our client partners with their temporary operational adjustments and plans development. Communication isn’t slowing, it’s being redirected to support the aviate and navigate priorities. But recognizing that as inevitably as the wave is coming it will recede, and that post-pandemic attention for marketing messages will be a scarce resource, some are already beginning to explore more creative communications to take advantage of competitive opportunities to emerge. With solid aviation and navigation in place, our client partners are already planning to increase marketing communication in the weeks and months ahead to ensure that, as the wave passes, they are poised to protect and increase their market position. Like those that wait to deal with operations and navigation, organizations that unduly subordinate or arbitrarily delay marketing communications won’t do as well.
Pundits are hoping for a slow smolder in the USA with a peak to come in the weeks ahead after which life will begin returning to a new normal. In the marketing communications world, this timing is relatively imminent. It heightens the importance of not only embracing communications now to effectively aviate and navigate, but embracing communications to, well, communicate.
At (W)right On, we’re solidly behind our client partners and team members to move through this together, and following the guidance of experts and community leaders to ensure we help remain part of the solution. Comment below and/or let us know how you’re adapting your communications to rise to the occasion called of all of us, and to rise to the opportunities that will inevitably emerge as the wave passes.