Jennifer Byrd, Divisional Director of Communications, Golden State Division, The Salvation Army
Work situation: The Salvation Army has activated its Emergency Disaster Response to help those in need amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Both the organization and our employees are considered essential. I have been operating as a PIO, working with employees, volunteers and Salvation Army officers across the Golden State Division, which stretches from San Francisco to Bakersfield. I am working from home, but once or twice a week I deliver meals or volunteer at one of our food pantries.
In San Francisco, we’ve adjusted our programming to follow the CDC and City’s guidelines. We have suspended our congregate meals and social programs, but have continued with weekly food pantries. In partnership with the City’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH), The Salvation Army recently created a meal delivery program, MealsinPlaceSF, to prepare and deliver nearly 1,400 meals a day to people experiencing homelessness and living in encampments in the City.
Challenges: It took me a minute to get used to sheltering in place. I don’t typically work from home, so I needed to create a new working schedule. Because we are in disaster mode, meaning we are more actively fundraising for our relief efforts, the work is ongoing. In a typical disaster, say a hurricane or flood, there is a rhythm to the response and pretty much a definite end to the cycle. With this, there isn’t a traditional end in sight. With the large number of people in unemployment, The Salvation Army will be helping more people for some time to come. It will dramatically affect our efforts.
Coping: While I’ve gotten quite used to working from home, I’ve had to be creative in pitching stories, as a lot of the reporters I work with are also sheltering in place. For example, on a recent story about our homeless meal delivery program, I sent the reporter names and numbers of people who were delivering meals that day and acted as a reporter on the ground for him, providing details of deliveries. Personally, it’s been interesting too. I live alone and am quite an extrovert, so I have missed going out with friends, going to the movies, just enjoying San Francisco. But I have also been increasingly enjoying my time at home, working on projects and cooking more. And, giving myself time to relax and turn off my brain!
Advice: I would make it a point to reach out to the reporters/producers and folks you usually work with to just ask them how they are doing. I have found having these conversations, whether by text or phone, reminds us that we’re all human and deepens the relationships we have with one another. Also, it is more obvious that media outlets are really busy and some are understaffed, so our role as storytellers is more important than ever. Don’t undervalue your worth as a PR pro and the help you can provide in telling the story of the day. Also, be flexible. It is not business as usual; everyone is dealing with the stress of the situation in their own way, so you need to stretch yourself.
And This: A plug for the Army! We need volunteers and donations! Volunteers are needed daily (Monday-Saturday) to help package and distribute the fresh meals as part of MealsInPlaceSF. Volunteers can register on-line through www.volunteer.usawest.org. We also need donations to continue our COVID-19 relief efforts. (You can donate at goldenstate.salvationarmy.org.)
Paul Rose, Partner, Lighthouse Public Affairs
Work Situation: I’m a partner at Lighthouse Public Affairs. I’ve been working from home since the shelter-in-place order was put in place. It’s been busy because many organizations need public affairs/communications help getting through the pandemic.
Challenges: Obviously, there is less separation between work and home life. While there is no commute, we still have to get our kids set up for their Zoom classes every day and try to fix things when they go wrong. Also, everyone in the family needing to go live on Zoom at the same time has created an IT/Wi-Fi issue that has caused problems. We’ve had to upgrade our system from a home account to more of a business account. At any point of the day, my conversation flow can go from serious work-related issues, to “How do you spell ‘believe?’”, to a package at the door, pitching a reporter, to “What’s for lunch?”, to reading an article that just came across Google Alerts, writing a document for work, to “What groceries do we need?” However, it is nice to be able to end a conference call and walk into the dining room to see what everyone is doing.
Coping: I just try to take it one issue at a time and hopefully that is enough. I honestly feel like I’m working more because I don’t have to rush home to be with the family on time. When the workday would normally come to an end, I ask myself: “Have I done enough?” and the answer is always: “I can do a little more,” and then I do. I feel like a lot of people are doing the same, and it feels like the work is extending later in the day and across the weekend.
Advice: Take it one day and issue at a time. We’ll all get through this eventually. I think these are unprecedented and challenging times, so people are a bit on edge to keep everything stable. Once shelter orders start to lift, things won’t be the same, but I feel we’ll all stabilize and create work and life environments that we can all get used to. That is, if you’re not used to it already.
Nancy Hayden Crowley, Director of Communications, San Francisco Sheriff’s Department
Work Situation: I continue to work for the City and County of San Francisco for the Office of the Sheriff. Even the communications director is considered an essential worker!
Challenges: Communications is understaffed at the Office of the Sheriff. There is not enough time or people to address all the external and internal communications needs.
Coping: At the beginning of each week, I review communication priorities with Sheriff Miyamoto. I am candid about how much we can accomplish. Sometimes we are able to pull in resources from other department units and sometimes we have to postpone projects. Plus, stuff comes up throughout the week and plans get derailed. I keep Sheriff Miyamoto in the loop when this happens. It’s a combination of delivering results while managing expectations.
Advice: There is always a need for communications, so even if you are furloughed or laid off, stay in touch with your employer/clients on a regular basis. Projects will come up and you will be needed. Remain on friendly terms but don’t give away your time. People seem to value you less when you discount your labor. You bring your experience, your skills, and your wise counsel to business situations that are in desperate need of reassurance and a steady hand.
And This: On a personal note, I lost my business partner and fellow SF PR Round Table colleague Patsy Barich to cancer last July. I miss her so much and think of her often, especially when my copy gets edited by others and I have to live with it. I could always call Patsy for support and a good laugh.
Kathleen Brennan, PR Practitioner
Work Situation: I have been interviewing for a new job since mid-January. The support of colleagues in SF PRRT has really helped me get through this grueling process. My network within the organization sprang into action and offered all sorts of help from offering to connect me with anyone in their network to job leads at their companies. Thankfully, I recently found a great role within an industry I’m new to but excited about.
Challenges: As an extrovert, being unable to see family and friends is challenging. Video conferencing has helped but it isn’t the same as plopping down on your friend’s couch and watching a movie together.
Interviewing for a communications role is difficult when you can’t meet in person. You have to emote more than you normally would and it can be exhausting. To fight boredom and Netflix overload, I bought a Game of Thrones-emed Monopoly game. Well, mid-way through the seventh of nine video interviews (for the company I ultimately received the job offer from), all of a sudden I hear the Game of Thrones theme song! One of my cats had hit the button on the game that plays the song, and it was loud. That would have never happened if I’d been interviewing in person. Who knows, maybe that charming moment helped me get the job.
Coping: I’m making an effort to keep things as normal as possible. I try to eat as I normally would and drink lots of water. Take vitamins and go for walks. It makes being in front a screen most of the day more tolerable. I think it’s too hard to tell who has been successful or not until we’re through the worst of the pandemic.
Advice: Persevere and the right job will come knocking.
Scott Maier, Senior Public Information Representative, Public Affairs, UCSF Office of Communications
Work Situation: Per City and County of San Francisco orders, I’m sheltering in place and working from home. While some businesses are operating with a reduced (“skeleton”) crew or temporarily closed, handling media relations for one of the country’s pre-eminent academic medical centers has kept me, my news team colleagues, and our entire clinical and research enterprise extremely busy.
The biggest challenges are the volume of media requests and promotional opportunities and the lost track of time. Since late February, when the initial disease cases were reported, we’ve been an expert resource for local, national and international requests at all hours of the day, night, and even weekends. And with our expertise, we’re also being proactive in seeking media publicity through news releases, pitches, press conferences and more. As this rolls on past the two-month mark, you tend to forget what day it is, and your sleeping patterns and personal life can take a hit. Sometimes, it seems like you just get out of bed, get cleaned up, turn on the computer to see what’s come in and scheduled for the day, and away you go!
Coping: My best coping mechanism is my spouse, who always has supported me and understands the challenges of working from home while she does the same. She keeps me steady. It also helps to go out for daily walks to get fresh air and view the world going on around you, and to speak with family and friends. So far, so good!
Advice: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. The COVID-19 pandemic will not be over for possibly a year, maybe more, until a vaccine is found. Stay focused on your work, but not at the expense of your personal life. Take breaks. Go outside. Connect, or reconnect, with people, especially those you love. Engage in hobbies. When you’re working, look for opportunities to insert you and/or your organization into the conversation, as media are hungry for COVID-19 story ideas. And as we’re all experiencing quarantine fatigue, remember the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
And This: Hang in there, everyone! We’re all in this together!
Edited by Molly A. Walker, Board Chair