3 Strategic Communication Life Lessons for Thriving During COVID-19

by Mia Long Anderson, Ph.D.

In graduate school, I began working in media relations for the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers. At the time, I had no idea the wealth of knowledge I would gain from my tenure there. My experiences only deepened my love for both sport and the area of strategic communication. Years later, there are life lessons that still hold true, even in the midst of the current COVID-19 crisis. They are particularly helpful when you are building, sustaining, or reinventing your personal or corporate brand.

1. Reputation Matters

When I joined the Lady Volunteers organization, I knew little about the athletics department or the stellar programs it housed. At the time, the legendary Pat Summitt was head coach of a women’s basketball team that was consistently ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the nation. That external success was undergirded by an equally exceptional team of public relations professionals. Members of the media and other credentialed guests knew they would be thoroughly entertained courtside and accommodated in the media room. Both aspects contributed to the program’s excellent reputation. I am convinced that reputation helped pave the way for me to work for the Atlanta Braves less than a year later and the Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets) hockey team following graduation.

A May 2020 Entrepreneur article, highlighted the importance of brands taking the time to “reinvent” their digital marketing strategies during the COVID-19 crisis. It is just as applicable to each of us. Now is a great time to evaluate your personal brand. Who do you want to be? What goals will you set for the remainder of the year? How will you reach them? There is no time like the present to enhance your reputation. Act on the dream you’ve had for years. Start a business or support someone else’s. Establish a habit of excellence, promptness, or any other desirable quality. Finish or start working toward your degree. Now’s the time, because when we come out of this crisis—and we will—your reputation may matter more than ever.

2. Listen More than You Speak

It was during my time with the Atlanta Braves that I learned the value of this lesson. As athletes and celebrities will do on occasion, one of the Braves players made an offensive statement that was broadcast across media platforms. Fortunately for me, this was before the rise of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. When I got to work the next morning, my boss gave me one job: “When people call, just listen.” Due to the nature of the offense, I had my doubts that all people wanted me to do was listen. On one particular call, a woman took great lengths to express her outrage. I could offer her no promises or concrete resolutions for her disgust, nor make any signs of agreement or disagreement. I could only listen—and it turns out, that was what she needed.

During the COVID-19 crisis, this is particularly important for those in leadership. Going from the equivalent of “running through life” to staying at home for months on end has not been the easiest adjustment for any of us. For some, it’s been downright devastating, resulting in issues related to unemployment, food insecurity, and mental health. Now is a great time to show empathy—particularly for those you lead—and just listen. Hear their realities and their fears. Place yourself in their shoes. Then, when you are done listening, show your compassion through kind, reassuring words, and by sharing challenges you’ve faced during the crisis and how you overcame them. First, though, you must listen. As the saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

3. Commitment Is Key

While working with the Braves, I had the opportunity to attend intermittent workshops in which a member of leadership would share their life story and advice. In one of those sessions, general manager John Schuerholz made a statement that would forever resonate with me: “Winners make commitments; losers make excuses.” It was only natural, of course, that a Major League Baseball GM would speak in terms of wins and losses. However, I believe this statement holds true for each of us today. We are in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic. The opportunity exists for each of us to make excuses for why we can’t or shouldn’t or won’t do what we are compelled to do.

Prior to the state’s stay-at-home order, I often glanced over at all the books on my bookshelf that have yet to be read. I always made the excuse that I didn’t have time to read. Between my commute, work, and family life, there simply wasn’t enough time. As I adjusted to telework, I upended that excuse and made time to read. Since the order went into effect, I have read three books, will soon start a fourth, and just began listening to a fifth on Audible.

What excuses will you remove during this crisis? More importantly, what commitments will you make? Will you commit to learning a new language? Starting a new exercise routine? Eating healthier? Enhancing your spiritual life? Going back to school? No excuses. Commit to creating the life you desire. When the crisis is over, commit to sustaining that lifestyle.

I’m thankful for the experiences I’ve had in strategic communication. During times like these, it is helpful—therapeutic even—to reach back for the lessons gained from my time in sports. They remind me that there is work to be done. Yes, even in the midst of a crisis, we must continue building God-honoring reputations, learn to listen and show empathy, and commit to sustaining rewarding lives.

Mia Long Anderson, Ph.D, is program director of the Master of Arts in Strategic Communication program at Azusa Pacific University and an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies.