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Conveying Leadership Remotely

April 25th, 2020 Vern Oakley

What does COVID-19 mean for your communication strategy?

A key strength of a corporate video communication is its ability to showcase human authenticity and steady, confident qualities of leadership. Delivering that message becomes even more important in times of disruption and uncertainty, as witnessed during the current COVID-19 outbreak.

“It’s a scary time for everyone,” says Vern Oakley, Tribe Pictures CEO and creative director. “We all need leadership, and leadership without a voice, without communication, really doesn’t help inspire people, keep people motivated, and keep people becoming part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”

Of course, the job of producing the video messaging to channel your voice is also more challenging when, due to stay-at-home orders, travel bans and social-distancing constraints, a production crew can’t be physically in the same room with the leaders they’re putting on camera. For Tribe, which operates on a global scale, the pandemic has meant rethinking, in the course of just a few weeks, a number of scheduled projects in locations around the world including Italy, Vietnam, India, Japan and China.

A quick pivot to working remotely

Tribe has adapted quickly, using Zoom teleconferencing to remotely produce specialized COVID-19 related video messages for clients, including a major pharmaceutical firm and a large bank.

The drug company wanted to reach out to its 6,000-some employees, who are pulling extra shifts to produce needed medications. Tribe got the company’s top officials on Zoom and recorded their messages to their workforce, edited them remotely, and has been releasing the material in the form of twice-weekly videos on topics ranging from safety protocols to gratitude for the heroic efforts of employees, and their crucial role in helping society through the pandemic. A major aim was simply to let the employees know that their leadership is pro-active and concerned for their well-being.

“Part of leadership is that calm, reassuring voice, that lets people know that we’re moving forward, that there’s a plan – that there is, indeed, a future,” Vern observes.

The bank’s leaders had a different audience in mind, but the same need to show a firm hand on the tiller; with financial markets see-sawing, they felt it was urgent to get some marketing insights out to its nervous younger clients. This took the form of interviews with current employees discussing market conditions and giving perspective and context. The bank realized that with with people feeling isolated and anxious to get the latest information, failing to reach out carries its own implications. Clients are thirsty for communication right now, and if you don’t satisfy that thirst with your own message, rest assured that someone else will be giving them their message about you.

Pluses and minuses of production via Zoom

The remote approach to video production does require some tech adjustments. For example, Tribe is having interviewees record the video sessions looking directly into their smart phones, while allowing the directors to do their work in coaching them through Zoom conversations on their laptops.

Working remotely still results in a video that looks a bit less polished than one made on site. But the approach also brings with it some silver-lining benefits.

One is that putting an executive on camera through Zoom makes for a more casual ambiance than recording them in a more studio-like setting. This can be reflected in a more relaxed and spontaneous performance – cultivating more of that crucial factor called authenticity.

“I get to do this from my office, and they get to do it from their office or their home,” Vern points out. “I think that creates a certain amount of intimacy. And it’s not as big a deal in their day. We’re just another part of the day. It creates a sort of calmness and an ease that is really showing up in the kinds of performances we’re getting.”

And for portraying both honesty and the shared reality of coping with a pandemic, a little roughness around the edges isn’t entirely a bad thing.

Message: We’re all in this together

“What’s happening in this age of COVID is, we’re taking the social media tools that are so easy for Gen Z and a lot of the millennials, and we’re taking that rough, ready, real approach, which is acceptable, and taking it into corporate suites,” Vern explains. “All the production values aren’t there; it’s not the executive walking into the multi-million-dollar building, the power shot. It’s much more human, and it’s really resonating.”

And when a stakeholder, who’s probably stuck at home and limited to mostly online interactions, sees that a company is improvising to work around virus-imposed barriers and keep the lines of communication open, it also conveys a sense of solidarity.

“The way I like to say it is, we’re all in this together,” Vern says. “Leadership is really demonstrated and tested in times of crisis. And it’s just such a privilege to see these folks in action, to see them being decisive, to see them really rising to the challenge – it’s inspiring. I feel lucky to have a ringside seat for what’s happening.”