By Monty Hagler
Sitting in a conference room high above the crowded streets of San Jose, Costa Rica, among a group of public relations agency CEOs, I witnessed the Worldcom Public Relations Group tagline in action. Partners from Mexico, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and other Latin American nations passionately discussed how to help clients in their respective countries succeed by understanding the communication, political, economic and cultural nuances that so often trip up companies.
I attended the Worldcom LATAM Regional meeting for several reasons – to represent the North American region and Global Board, to meet new partners who have joined the world’s largest and oldest partnership of independent PR agencies and, most importantly, to learn how RLF can better support clients as they evaluate expansion into Latin American markets.
Just as colleagues at work are more than images on a Zoom screen, Worldcom holds in-person meetings for the express purpose of ensuring we do not look at our partners as simply dots on a map. In an emerging, Covid-fragile world, we are starving for interactions that are not defined by a screen, text or call. While the work world is definitely a better place with the freedom and flexibility technology provides, there is no substitute for face-to-face interactions, casual conversations over coffee or meals, spontaneous brainstorms, subtle mentoring and a host of other ways we build trust, confidence and bonds with our colleagues and clients. That’s particularly valuable for younger workers. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on studies in which Generation Z workers love the flexibility of working remotely, but their levels of stress, loneliness and anxiety from never meeting their colleagues and working in isolation are incredibly high.
The LATAM meeting was organized by local partner Agencia Interamericana de Comunicación. They did an excellent job blending presentations from current partners with outside speakers. One presentation detailed the impact of COVID-19 on educational access in Latin America. Virtual learning in countries with significantly less than 50 percent of the population having broadband accessibility will have a dramatic, negative, long-term impact on the poor and vulnerable. We’re hearing a similar story in the United States as well; there will be societal consequences for reducing in-person learning to young people who need education the most for emotional development, social mobility and stability.
Presentations also detailed the dramatic shift in consumption patterns. Almost overnight, and in almost every corner of the world, people shifted from consuming services to consuming goods. Since we could not go out to restaurants, entertainment or take trips, we invested more in home makeovers, automobiles, new technology and other consumer goods.
In effect, there is a hurricane sweeping through companies and organizations, driven by the dynamics of health (COVID-19 and all its permutations), logistics (supply chain distributions), production (slowdown of manufacturing due to labor and materials), technology (lack of semi-conductor chips), energy (sharply higher costs) and commodities (rising costs driven by rising demand for corn, wheat, soy, beef and grain).
Challenging times bring out the best and worst in leadership teams and amplify the impact of their decisions. Consumer goods companies that reacted too slowly to the demand or were still overly dependent on brick-and-mortar retail to drive sales, lost market share and leadership positions. Companies that moved much too aggressively and stretched themselves too thin (think Peloton) have suffered similar fates.
Clear, consistent, transparent communications remain at the heart of how companies navigate complex challenges. It is much more than marketing, advertising or promotions with customer. Short and long-term success is dependent upon connecting with the internal and external audiences that matter most – employees, vendors, suppliers, regulators, legislators, investors, analysts, media and community partners – and ensuring all parties understand and have input, on the who, what, why and how of a company’s decisions. Because those decisions carry ripple effects for everyone associated with an organization, not just the executive suite.
Everywhere in Costa Rica one sees the slogan Pura Vida. It means “Pure Life” or “Simple Life,” and it reflects a desired way of living. For many people and organizations, it is easier said than done in these trying times. Our partners in Latin American described challenging economic conditions in their countries and all the steps they have taken to protect their employees and others who depend on them. I am honored to be their partner.