2010 → 2020: Lessons From 10 Years at the Herald Group

By: Carolyn Weems, Senior Vice President

Ten years ago this week, I began my first day as a Director at The Herald Group. Coming from a public affairs position in the financial services arena, I was excited to grow my strategic skills outside of the confines of one industry as only a multi-issue public affairs firm can offer. The 2008 recession was not far in the review mirror, but the outlook was bright at THG, and I was encouraged by the fact that many of our clients had been with the firm since the beginning.

During my time communicating about the housing market during a crisis, I learned the power of listening to your audience. The country, and indeed the world, was scrambling to understand the gravity of the recession and what it would truly take to climb our way out of it. As I worked day-in and day-out with reporters from across the country, covering everything from finance and markets to communities and consumers, the questions evolved from where are we and how did we get here, to what does our future look like? As the questions and reporting shifted, we knew we needed to evolve our messaging to meet our audience where they were – looking toward the future. We needed to help people envision the economy post-recession and how all industries impacted by the crisis would contribute to the recovery.

With a husband, two young children, and a decade at THG later, here we are navigating another market downturn, but this time instead of a housing crisis, we have a healthcare crisis. Again, we have spent months navigating unchartered territory trying to understand all of the dynamics of our current situation, and once again, the focus is shifting to the future and what it will look like six months, a year, and even five years down the road.

As communicators, it is our duty to understand those dynamics and work with our company, industry, and stakeholder partners to understand how the messages we share today will resonate into the future. Now is the time to develop a message, platform, or campaign that sets the tone for where we want to be post-COVID. We do this by developing a strategy that is relevant and timely but also adaptable. It requires us to listen to the needs and priorities of our audience and meet them where they are today and where they will be in the future.

For example, pre-COVID, we may be running a campaign in support of quality healthcare for patients with a focus on policies that protect access to comprehensive care and treatments. During and post-COVID, while those elements are still critical, the reality for the American people has changed, and our message focus will need to evolve along with it to include the importance of telehealth, preventative healthcare practices, and protecting the most vulnerable through social distancing, mask-wearing, etc. While these are certainly not new concepts, they hold much more weight and familiarity in a quarantined world and will undoubtedly be fundamental aspects of healthcare policy moving forward.

From a tactical perspective, instead of hosting large in-person events, we might instead see a greater value in continuing communication via virtual meetings or smaller group discussions. Messaging will need to be even more targeted for various segments of the population as they experience the transition into a post-COVID world differently, and we’ll further embrace creative ways to reach a more remote world through always evolving digital channels.

The good news is that today people are far more comfortable receiving their news and information from a much broader range of outlets than even ten years ago. A strong public affairs campaign embraces this fact and enables a company or industry to reach its audience in a way that is most relevant and effective in terms of influencing opinions and mobilizing them.

Now a Senior Vice President at THG, I’m excited about what the next ten years will bring to our industry and our firm. Our country has been through downturns before and will get through this one as well. It is during these times that we become more creative, better listeners, and stronger communicators. While we may not be able to predict what the markets will do, one thing is for certain: public affairs will always be at the forefront of the discussion.