Aviate. Navigate. Communicate. – It Matters Now More than Ever

ANC - Aviate Navigate Communicate

When I learned to fly, my instructor beat into my head a simple phrase: “Aviate. Navigate. Communicate.” The idea is simple but powerful. First, fly the airplane. Then, figure out where you’re going. Last, tell someone. 

It speaks to priorities.

There’s little sense in figuring out how you’ll get from A to B if you haven’t corrected the nosedive that’s about to render your flight obsolete. And once the plane is stable, there’s little point chewing up valuable mic time until you know where you’ll next point the plane to conclude the flight safely. Pilots have unfortunately been so distracted with their heads deep in a map or talking with controllers that they failed to notice the fuel gauge or mismatched engine readings at the root of their problem.

In the years since my training, I’ve realized this lesson applies to so many other areas of our lives. In this unprecedented time of a worldwide pandemic, it’s easy to get caught up in talking about the drama without realizing we’re not yet actually taking the priority actions. Case in point, our President bungling his communications while not yet role modeling the avoidance of handshakes let alone practicing social distancing. Or our Vice President prioritizing the lavishing of praise on our President versus using all of his precious communication time with an audience of millions to relay information people actually need.

In times of crisis, there can be a tendency to subordinate communications in favor of less important things. But other than remembering to actually fly the plane and figure out where you’re going, communication is the third most important thing to do! Aviate. Navigate. Communicate.

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 months 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.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: As CEO and Managing Partner, Grant provides oversight and senior-level communications and business counsel for the agency’s client partners while also overseeing agency management and administration. Grant Wright has more than 30 years of senior management experience including external affairs and business development leadership roles for major American and Canadian corporations and their subsidiaries. With extensive skills in all aspects of communications including media, regulatory, governmental, community outreach and labor relations; he has also led major infrastructure project development, M&A due diligence and implementation management, marketing and brand development, strategic planning and business plan development for small through Fortune 500 companies.

Communications Tips for Coping with the COVID-19 Crisis

COVID-19 Crisis Communications grief model

We developed these communications tips for coping with COVID-19 crisis after recognizing the classic stages of grief in our clients’ and our own responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether you’re a communicator, an executive in a decision-making role or a citizen trying to do your part, we all need to get from Denial to Acceptance in order to cope with the tough calls, and even tougher consequences, of this global pandemic.

COVID-19 Crisis Communications grief model
Click to enlarge. Link to download PDF below.

These COVID-19 crisis communications tips in the graphic below will help you spot the stages and move your communities and stakeholders through that grieving process.  This includes employees, colleagues, neighbors, family, constituents, customers, clients or patients.

The tips will also help you spot some of the psychological traps that might impact your decision making or how your messages are received. If we’re going to flatten the curve in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, we need to impact people’s beliefs and attitudes so they accept and stick with the massive behavior changes needed to save lives.

Even as people come to Acceptance,  we recognize that fear and anxiety will be the predominant emotions in our communities. For these, here are some more conventional crisis communications principles to apply:

  • Err on the side of communicating too frequently—especially with employees who are working remotely or laid off.
  • Focus on fact-based messages and have one single point of truth and spokesperson so information is consistent.
  • Meet your audiences where they are: on social media, email and the web.
  • Stay in your lane: defer to the expertise of public health officials and policymakers.
  • Create feedback mechanisms for concerned stakeholders and be responsive to or, at minimum, show empathy even if you do not have answers.
  • Be clear in all communications that the situation may change abruptly.

All of us at (W)right On Communications are incredibly concerned for our clients, communities and friends and family. We are standing strong with our client partners and doing our part to help one another through these coming weeks and months, including social distancing through telecommuting.

Please stay home, shop local and give what you can to your neighborhood nonprofits. And if there is anything we can do to assist you or your organization during these unprecedented and unpredictable times, let us know at info@wrightoncomm.com. We will make it work. It’s what we all have to do.

Download a PDF of our tips: COVID-19 Crisis Communications Tips.pdf (3391 downloads )