Everybody seems to be waking up to the same conclusion: the constant declarations about the historic severity of the current financial crisis are self-fulfilling.
Things are tough, worst recession since the Great Depression, we are told. So we stop buying houses or cars, vacations or fancy meals out, which leads to layoffs and even less spending as we fear for our jobs. And that brings further job cuts.
Leaders in business and government can help ... or make it worse. It's time to quit focusing only on the crisis and start paying a little more attention to the signs of hope. Fear is contagious; so is hopefulness.
Certainly you'd expect optimism from the Obama Administration, aka "Team Hope."
Yet Obama and others in the Administration haven't tried to hide their enthusiasm for using the crisis to further ideological and policy objectives, as pointed out by Jonah Goldberg in his devastating op-ed, "Obama's Fear-mongering." Sec. of State Clinton talks about not letting a "good crisis go to waste," echoing sentiments voiced by Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel and Obama himself. Same for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Democrats and Republicans alike should be careful about shamelessly exploiting an economic crisis that has brought considerable misery on the nation's voters.
On ABC's 20/20, John Stossel's investigation into the economic wisdom, or lack thereof, of the multiple bailouts began with the chorus of doom coming from leaders in both political parties. The daily reminder that the economy is spiraling downward has taken a predictable bite out of consumer confidence and set in motion a spiral of cut-backs by businesses, consumers, businesses again. Everyone, it seems, except our government is making do with less.
Peggy Noonan has her own take. Her op-ed in the weekend Wall Street Journal focuses on the "pandemic of fear" sweeping the country. "People are in a kind of suspended alarm," she writes, "waiting for the future to unspool and not expecting it to unspool happily."
Here's my take on what this means to business communicators:
On the down-slope of a deep recession, all companies today are slashing costs and retrenching. They aren't investing in the future; they're in survival mode. Company leaders seem to be unable to get past wringing their hands and staring at the feet, as they mutter, "Must cut SG&A."
Eventually some bold CEOs will begin to plan for expansionary growth opportunities on the coming upside of the cycle. While continuing to keep costs in check, they'll capitalize on unique opportunities ahead to get a jump on their competition. Articulating a confident vision of profitable growth in the future, they will motivate and engage their employees, inspiring them to achieve great things. Confidence and hopefulness are indeed contagious.
A confident vision articulated in smart, proactive and creative communications to all stakeholders will help sharpen the corporate brand, engage employees who otherwise might be frozen in fear, drive sales and revenue growth, win influence with policymakers, and drive support from analysts and investors. Sharp, fully aligned and integrated communications can make the difference, distiguishing a company as a winner in a crowded market.
More on this in my next post.
- Jon Harmon