With so many sheltering in place or at least migrating back home, it’s fitting that Michael Monahan is the new president/CEO of Moxé. The veteran PR pro has spent more than two decades away from his native central FL as a brand communicator, including with several Fortune 1000 companies.
In an interview, Monahan emphasized that PR’s basics haven’t changed much during the pandemic. Concentrating on your people and the companies you represent remain the keys, he said, though the circumstances, inside and outside the office, may have changed. Indeed, we jumped at the chance to interview Monahan, in part, because he and his team have worked in their offices for several months.
PRNEWS: Imagine a company comes to you and says, ‘Should we re-do our crisis plan [since we’re in a global pandemic]?’ What do you tell them?
Michael Monahan: Well, if you’re not re-evaluating your crisis plan regularly, you are doing yourself a disservice and it’s not going to be a good crisis plan.
So, I would ask, ‘When is the last time you looked at [your crisis plan]?’ If it’s been longer than three months, I would recommend they read it and perhaps make some adjustments to it because some of your protocols may have changed. Some of your procedural elements may have changed. Some of the emergency contacts may have changed.
Since we’re in a bit of a lull in terms of activity, this is a great time to invest in things [like crisis preparation] that you may not have had time to take advantage of if things were humming along at a normal clip.
PRNEWS: Since nobody is sleeping well at the moment, we hate to ask the ‘What keeps you up at night?’ question. But we will. What’s keeping you up?
Monahan: The same things that always did. Look, you focus on [those you represent] and focus on your people. If you take care of those two things, you’ve solved 90 percent of the agency model.
PRNEWS: So, what is your focus?
Monahan: Working to differentiate ourselves is always going to be a priority.
I’m also working to help our clients really understand the paid, earned, shared and owned mix and being able to generate results that are in line with their expectations. If a company is only focused on PR, but they’re not using paid social, that’s a missed opportunity. If they’re generating great content just to live on their web site…that’s a missed opportunity. If they’re not engaging their workforce to share across their social media platforms, that’s another miss.
PRNEWS: What has made media relations more difficult during the pandemic?
Monahan: Finding story angles that are not COVID-19-related. That’s challenging. And then, if you need to do a coronavirus story pitch, figuring out ways to bring something new to the conversation. There’s always a good story. You have to find it.
PRNEWS: Can you give us an example?
Monahan: There’s a pest control company. You wouldn’t think that sort of company would have much to do with COVID-19. But it just released a plan...for a commercial treatment that’s applied to hard surfaces. It tries to mitigate coronavirus by keeping work stations clean and safe.
PRNEWS: Unlike a lot of PR pros, you and your team are in the office. Tell us about that.
Monahan: We’re wearing masks and we’re six feet apart. It’s not the easiest way of conducting business, but you do it.
Also, you need to understand you’ve got team members who may be anxious about coming into the office and the potential exposure they may have. And so, working with them and trying to be collaborative and very patient and understanding the anxieties they have are perfectly normal.
PRNEWS: Managing a team that’s remote, as many of our readers are doing, also is a challenge.
Monahan: Working through the technical difficulties that may come with that is a new challenge, yes. You have to construct a communication protocol or structure that is much more frequent than the touch-bases you had [with your team] in the past because you have lost the ability to have those casual collisions in the hallway or over the water cooler.
You now have to have those via Slack or chat or text or Zoom. That adds another layer of complexity, making sure you’re in constant contact with your team despite the fact that they may no longer be in the office with you.
PRNEWS: What lessons should communicators learn from this public health crisis?
Monahan:[The pandemic] is pervasive, so it’s different from traditional crises that arise and then wane.
Living and working in a crisis like this puts an emphasis on companies being true to who they are, focusing on their core values, their people and their customers. Those relationships and focusing on values are what carries you through any crisis.
Crisis is defined by something impacting your people, property and principles. This one touches on all three.
PRNEWS: You talk to other PR leaders. How would you assess their mood now and for the future?
Monahan: Americans have a feeling that we’ve always come out on top of every crisis we’ve faced as a society. So, I think there’s a general sense of optimism, even though we’ll be facing very difficult days. Ultimately, we are going to prevail. Science will give us a vaccine and we’ll be able to return to a greater sense of normalcy. But we have difficult decisions between now and then. It’s going to be incredibly important to show a sense of leadership and a willingness to make those difficult decisions that will benefit the greater good.
PRNEWS: Is this the hardest time for you?
Monahan: For sure. There’s no playbook. You’re dealing with macro-level and micro-level factors that are affecting every aspect of the economy, every aspect of peoples’ home lives in addition to the impact it may have on your working relationships and running a business.
PRNEWS: What are non-PR CEOs telling you?
Monahan: One of the things we’re hearing is that they’re taking this time to take stock. They’re thinking about who they are, how to streamline processes and develop their people. For example, conducting media training for their junior staff, evaluating their marketing mix. So, they’ll be very well-positioned to take advantage of those trends.
PRNEWS: A recent LinkedIn study said communication now is a top skill. Perhaps the pandemic has made that clearer. Do you agree?
Monahan: Yes. The role of a trusted advisor in the communication profession has never been more important than it is now. And it is going to continue to have that level of importance in the C-suite as we emerge from this crisis.
PRNEWS: You’ve been a brand communicator and you’re now on the agency side. What misconceptions do brand communicators have about the agency environment?
Monahan: This is just my perspective, but the only difference is the number of clients. In house, you have one client. Whereas in an agency, you have to apply your talents across many verticals. You’re going from depth [at a brand] to breadth [at an agency].
PRNEWS: What do you look for when you’re hiring?
Monahan: I go back to my early days in central FL, playing football and baseball. I had some very good coaches who stressed the fundamentals. I do that when I’m hiring.
So, for an early-career professional I’m looking for writing, planning, and reporting. For middle and senior roles, I’m seeking experience and a skillset, even industry-specific experience.
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