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MAY 8, 2020 //     

Persevering in a Time of Crisis

By Tracey Cassidy

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

I bought a magnet a while back for a friend with that Winston Churchill statement. It’s a powerful sentiment. And as we embark on week eight of shelter-in-place orders in New York City and the surrounding tri-state area, it’s more relevant than ever.

Prior to this week I’d not taken time to reflect on the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in NYC – a hotbed of the pandemic. Until now, I kept going, kept moving and dealt with what was in front of me, hour by hour, day by day.

We expected March to be a busy month. We had several clients with events planned, but we started to see trepidation from reporters about attending. Then Hearst, Conde Nast and Meredith ordered their staffs to work from home and refrain from attending in-person events. Many at these outlets had staff who attended Milan Fashion Week in February, and rumors spread that some editors may have contracted the coronavirus. Clients quickly canceled events or pivoted online.

Yet, the actual threat of the coronavirus still felt at bay. Then our Canadian client Shopify shut down all its offices and provided a $1,000 stipend to outfit employees’ home offices. As the general manager of Allison+Partners’ New York office, I started talks with agency partners and senior leadership about the possibility of a work-from-home scenario. We’d already given staff the flexibility to do that or commute to the office during off-peak hours.

Still, the threat didn’t feel imminent. Maybe it was because we were also packing up our office space in Union Square, which we’ve occupied for more than a decade. Despite what was going on around us, the team stayed focused on preparing for our move. Looking back now, I realize it was a distraction and one that maybe we needed.

Once we instituted the mandatory WFH order, it seemed the walls around us began to crumble. You couldn’t escape a day without talking to someone who was directly impacted or knew a family member or friend who was sick with the virus. We all checked in on each other regularly to see if any of us had COVID-19 symptoms. 

My friend is an ER doctor who remains on the frontlines in a New Jersey hospital. When I reached out mid-March to see how he was, I was shocked to hear his hospital, in an affluent area, gravely lacked personal protective equipment (PPE). He told me a story of sending staff to STAPLES to buy sheet protectors and electrical tape to make their own face shields. STAPLES?! My first thought was that’s not a medical supply store – did I hear that right? This is not a third-world country! At that moment, I realized the threat had arrived, it was real and taking victims. And clearly, we were ill-prepared. 

The last eight weeks have been unprecedented, and I realized Churchill was right. The best thing we can do is keep going. I’ve never led during a time of crisis. The last crisis I can recall of this magnitude was 9/11, and I was just starting out in my career and not responsible for managing others. My biggest takeaway is we must find the things that push us to keep going. I’m not a crisis communications person, but this is how I’ve tried to help my team during this crisis:

  • Find the silver linings – the text to my ER doctor friend made me think of him first when a client asked if anyone had contacts at local hospitals because they had PPE they wanted to send. Our client shifted quickly from manufacturing car parts to face shields almost overnight. I connected the client with my friend, and shortly thereafter 1,000 face shields arrived for him and his medical staff. My friend is doing well and continues to show nothing but gratitude.

  • Keep kindness going – sending a client or colleague a compliment via text, chat or email is powerful. It might be the one thing that person needs during a rough day. Shift to compassion instead of criticism, and somehow the outlook magically changes to be a little bit brighter.

  • Acknowledge you’re going to have bad days – I met with my senior team this week and shared that mid-week seems to be when I hit a wall. It’s evitable when you’re juggling so many balls in the air, but being aware of this helps me manage it. Maybe you’ll start to see more virtual happy hours on Tuesday or Wednesday in the New York office.

  • Find comfort in the discomfort – We know this isn’t a typical or comfortable situation for employees or clients, but we’ve collectively found comfort in the uncomfortable and will emerge from this stronger because of what we endured together.

I don’t know what will unfold in the coming months. What I do know is I’m grateful for my position at Allison+Partners and the talented group of people I get to work with every day. Despite being remote, this team is tighter than ever and doing amazing work. And we will keep going no matter what comes our way.

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Tracey Cassidy is the General Manager of Allison+Partners NYC office, the largest in the network. Tracey brings more than 20 years of experience building brands and safeguarding their reputations.

Follow her on Twitter @TraceyCassidy or LinkedIN.

 

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