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  • Kim Caldwell

Crisis + Connection


When we landed in Paris five hours after the president’s press conference ending travel from Europe, the only joke I could make was “Well, that escalated quickly!” Quoting Anchorman may not have been the classiest move, but making a joke was easier than sobbing to strangers about the uncertainty of when I would see my children again. And the move was 100% on brand.


Home safely and reunited with my stir-crazy children, I am facing a different work uncertainty: how do you communicate with a completely changed (and changing) public? So much of communication is reading the room and telling the story that meets your audience where they are. But our audience is coping with an unprecedented public health crisis, and last week’s burning crisis is this week’s “huh?”


Because. Wait for it… That escalated quickly.


So how do we communicate in a shifting landscape without overwhelming, annoying, or losing relevance to the folks who support our work? The answer is all in your values.


For example, Caldwell Connect is values-based communication. So whatever hot takes I have on crisis communication or public health response are only in my lane if they come through the lens of values-based communication. Thus, I am writing this.


Communicating through your values right now looks like:

  • Developing the right frame: However you talk about what you are doing, it should be framed within the context of a scary AF pandemic that is shaking how we interact with each other. So which values within your organization/personal brand make sense to lean into right now, and which ones should take a back seat? Or rather, if your value is community, how do you talk about it as a NEED rather than a benefit? Does showing up for people mean being there in person or being there on a screen? However you set up your message as the answer to people’s problems, it isn’t going to look like it did two weeks ago.

  • Determining frequency: To all of you who developed communications calendars in December, let’s pour one out for the time and effort that went into that. It isn’t all lost, but it definitely isn’t all relevant to this moment. With so much focus on Covid-19 updates and instructions, really ask how often people need to hear from you. If you’re offering assurance and coping mechanisms, maybe it is more often. But if you are trying to sell anything other than sweatpants, chocolate, art supplies, or noise-cancelling headphones - or are asking me to donate to your campaign - don’t visit my inbox. If it isn’t of value to your audience, don’t send it.

  • Finding tone: Similar to frame, you want to adjust how you are talking to people. We aren’t thriving; we are freaking out. Before writing I often ask “what do I want the reader to feel when they read this?” Reassured? Warned? Thankful? Inspired? If you can, balance the gravity of the situation with hope for the future, or any other value that you recognize as meeting the moment. We can find some levity, but it can’t be at the expense of people in real danger.

  • Matching medium and message: I write emails like a toddler picks her nose - with frequency and delight. But reading a whole email right now feels like a big ask, considering I can barely go seven minutes without my toddler wanting to show me what she picked from her nose. So when the message is short or for fun, tweet, Instagram, post on Facebook - meet people where they are going for community. Maybe make a youTube or Facebook live to provide extra feels to your audience. There are lots of ways to show that we are in it together, so again, look to your values for how to stay on track with whatever you’re putting out as engagement.

It all comes back to the values you share with your audience and what they look like in action right now. Also, remember that taking care of others starts with taking care of yourself and do that.


Good luck to your and yours.

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