By Nikki Wright

One-Minute Manager author Ken Blanshard once said, “when you stop learning you stop growing.”

And that has never been truer than during the current COVID-19 emergency. Almost everyone’s life has been radically disrupted by the virus with new requirements, knowledge and revelations surfacing daily. If we don’t learn from what is happening, we will not grow.

For Wright Communications, lockdown Level 4 sent us all home from the CBD office and posed the challenges most businesses faced of how to keep going – if indeed that was possible – and how to keep our team together and spirits up.  We’d migrated to the Cloud two years ago, so the IT challenges around working from home were relatively minor ones – and the new digital tools like Zoom and MS Teams came to the fore.

Scattered east, west, south, north, and central, we managed to get a routine working of WIP meetings on a Monday, an internal general discussion and brainstorm on a Thursday and a social hour Friday afternoon – virtual “drinks”, even (of late) with a little entertainment via the musical talents within the team.  These sessions are so important. They give us structure and strengthen the bonds in the team when we are forced to be apart.

The first weeks of the lockdown (late March and early April) saw a focus on safety both internally and with our clients, and my colleague Richard Gordon and I also hosted a webinar on effective crisis communications during the pandemic which drew 80 people and was a very useful way to tease out the most pressing concerns facing businesses at this time.

Sadly, some of our clients were hit hard by the crisis and either ended their monthly retainer relationship with us or shelved the project we were supporting them with. We absolutely understand that – and will be happy to resume the relationship the moment they need us again. But for many of our clients – and consequently our business – the work has carried on, their mission only partly affected and new needs and opportunities emerging that they have pivoted to embrace.

There was heartache too in the loss of jobs in the media, at Bauer and NZME for example; media and PR are often painted as being on two sides of a divide but that’s nonsense – they are an integral part of the communications game and we regularly work closely together.

COVID-19 has been a massive shake-up and stressful for us, as it would be for any small business. But we value the importance of resilience and practices that support it, as well as the need to retain a sense of humour – witness the wealth of memes out there, and spoof “news” stories like this one by our colleague Ron Murray – a modern day (COVID-19) take on Snow White.

As an agency specialising in (and passionate about) sustainability communications, one concern for us from the rapid arrival of the COVID-19 crisis and its utter dominance of the airwaves and our lives was the potential loss of momentum for sustainability initiatives and advancement. But I was privileged to have the task of interviewing a number of thought-leaders in this area like DOC Director-General Lou Sanson and Tourism NZ CEO Stephen England-Hall as part of a project for The Aotearoa Circle – and I’m feeling somewhat reassured.

The shift to a more “green” economy and transition to a lower carbon one is still very much on the agenda, which is music to my and my team’s ears. We see a lot of exciting potential for sustainability gains and an expanded green economy in the Government’s proposed “shovel-ready” programme – and are similarly excited for those of our clients in the food, fibre and domestic tourism areas as these vital sectors reboot.

We will continue to hold fast to our mission of helping our clients do the right thing and telling their stories, and look forward to being part of the recovery phase for NZ Inc.

On a personal level, as a business-owner I’m also hugely grateful I have been able to hold my team together which is testimony to their resilience and dedication. There is still a lot of unknown terrain to navigate ahead but I am optimistic the future will be bright.

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