Now and Then: Are we living through an unprecedented time … again?

Written by: Jeff Rodriguez, Historian

These are unprecedented times, which call for extraordinary actions – including another pandemic-themed column. This month, we present some random notes on our nation’s history with economic and health crises. Depending upon your perspective, this will either make you feel much better about our current situation or much worse. Either way, it might add a little historical perspective for PR pros as we advise their clients.

– From 1636 to 1698, Boston endured six epidemics of smallpox. The one in 1721 was so bad that most people fled the city.

– The country’s first significant financial crisis began in 1785. Four more followed quickly, and 16 of the next 25 years would be marked by economic turmoil.

– In 1835, the Bank of Maryland collapsed. Citizens, convinced they had been scammed, attacked the houses of the bankers. The state militia was called out, killing some 20 people and wounding many more.

– In 1837, the Great Plains suffered through a smallpox epidemic, one of several that contributed to the decimation of the Native Americans. That same year, the Panic of 1837 occurred.

– The Panic of 1837 was horribly misnamed. In fact, the recession lasted for about seven years, during which time more than a third of the banks failed, millions of people were unemployed, and civil unrest was widespread. The difficult time is more accurately summed up by the historian’s book titled, “America’s first Great Depression: Economic Crisis and Political and Disorder after the Panic of 1837.”

– 1837 also saw the Flour Riot, and no, it was not any fun.

– There have been multiple cholera epidemics around the world and in the U.S. Groups held responsible for starting the various outbreaks include Jews, gypsies, Indians, Filipinos, the Irish and the poor. Some American scientists blamed African Americans for causing cholera, while Tunisians blamed Europeans. Whoever was to blame, President Polk is believed to have died from it, along with millions of others.

– The Panic of 1873 lasted about four years, with the New York Stock Exchange closing for 10 days.

– Yet another panic occurred in 1893, again lasting about four years. In some states, the unemployment rate topped 25 percent, and the supply of gold reserves fell so low that J.P. Morgan had to give the government a bailout.

– The big picture: If you were born in1835 and lived to be 65, you would have lived through 16 recessions.

– Although smallpox has largely been eliminated in the U.S., there have been numerous epidemics. The last major domestic event occurred in Boston between 1901-1903, and had an estimated a 17 percent fatality rate.

– In 1920, Edith Wharton published what many consider to be her masterpiece, a book about the flu pandemic of 1918. It was titled, “The Age of Innocence.”

– In 1929, the Great Depression – ah, never mind.

– From 1949 to 1960, there were four recessions.  Although the 1960 one was brief, Nixon, who was vice president at the time, believed it cost him the election, because voters blamed their woes on the Republicans.

– There were two recessions between 1980 and ’82. Unemployment reached almost 11 percent, and for six quarters, the GDP was negative.

– In 2013, CBS ran a program on the JFK assassination; it was titled, “When America Lost its Innocence.” The Orange County Register also called the event  “the weekend America lost its innocence.” The ‘60s, they added, were “a time Americans came to question almost everything we had once taken for granted.”

– After the September 11 attacks, a senior Time magazine essayist, (among others), declared the event marked “the end of the age of irony.” Before the attacks, he explained, “the good folks in charge of America’s intellectual life have insisted that nothing was to be believed in or taken seriously.”

– Not to be outdone by her elders, a 25-year-old journalist wrote of the attacks, “Maybe a coddled generation that bathed itself in sarcasm will get serious. Maybe we’ll stop acting so jaded.”

– In 2012, a movie titled, “The Age of Deceit” was released.

– Earlier this month, the Fort Worth Business Press’  Robert Francis wrote an insightful column noting the sudden surge in the use of the words “unprecedented” and “uncertain.” Just for fun, I typed “unpr,” and sure enough, Google’s third search response was “unprecedented times.”

– In March, author and speaker Simon Sinek released a video out titled, “These Are Not Unprecedented Times.” It’s has more than more than 270,000 views – and just wait until we’re able to start holding conferences again.

Unprecedented or not, these are definitely difficult times for many. Please be kind to one another.

GFW PRSA May Virtual Program

Zoom Meeting: How Public Relations Practitioners Can Help Organizations Adapt to COVID-19: presentation and Q&A with Julie O’Neil, Ph.D.

Sponsored by: TCU Bob Schieffer College of Communication

As organizations of all types and sizes adapt to the pandemic, organizational leaders are increasingly relying on public relations practitioners to help with strategy and tactics. Public relations practitioners’ expertise has undoubtedly become more valued than ever. In this session you will learn research-based recommendations regarding the following communication topics:

Recommended communication channels
Employee engagement approaches
Messaging strategies for organizational leaders, external stakeholders and employees
Q&A to follow presentation.

Julie O’Neil, Ph.D., teaches and researches in the areas of public relations, measurement and evaluation and employee communication. She combines her corporate and nonprofit background, degrees in public relations and business, a desire to connect the academy and practitioners, and a love for teaching and learning to improve public relations practice. She has published and presented more than 90 peer-reviewed journal articles and papers on topics ranging from nonprofit communication, internal communication, standards and media source credibility. Julie is the Senior Associate Editor of the Public Relations Journal, and serves on the Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission, the Journal of Public Interest Communication, the Journal of Public Relations Education and the International Public Relations Research Advisory Committee. Julie is also Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Administration in the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at TCU.

*After registering, we will send you an Outlook calendar notice with the Zoom meeting link.

Costs
• $5 (Members)
• $5 (National Members)
• $5 (Non-Members)
• $5 (Students)

Many thanks to this month’s luncheon sponsor: TCU Bob Schieffer College of Communication.

Julie O’Neil, Ph.D.

Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Administration in the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at TCU.

Self-quarantined

Written by: Jeff Rodriguez, Historian

In 1918, accurate information about the extent of the flu pandemic was often kept under lockdown.

During the influenza pandemic of 1918, April was a relatively uneventful month. But given the current circumstances, it seems a good idea to interrupt our regularly scheduled column to look at this event from a PR perspective.

The first thing to note is that the crisis was wrongly blamed on another country: that pandemic was often called “the Spanish flu.” But World War I was going on, and reports of the damage being done by the flu might encourage one’s enemies and discourage morale.

So the major countries involved in the war (including the U.S.) withheld information on the extent of the flu. As the Smithsonian explained, “By contrast, neutral Spain had no need to keep the flu under wraps. That created the false impression that Spain was bearing the brunt of the disease.”

If only officials had kept the virus under wraps as carefully as they did information. The New York Times, for example, ran a story quoting the city’s health commissioner. The headline: “Influenza epidemic not expected here.” The headline for an interview with U.S. Surgeon General Rupert Blue was, “Advises on Mild ‘Flu.’ ”And the headline in an Iowa paper read, “Iowa physicians say epidemic is old-fashioned influenza, nothing more.”

Historian John M. Barry, author of, “The Great Influenza,” noted that President Wilson went one step further, creating the dubiously named Committee for Public Information. As the group’s founder explained, “Truth and falsehood are arbitrary terms. The force of an idea lies in its inspirational value.” Which is why it was not called the Committee for Truthful Public Information.

Fortunately, there were many efforts to accurately educate citizens. For example, The Wisconsin State Journal reported on the “woeful shortage” of medical staff, adding that local pastors were asking people to stay at home. And the Seattle Times ran blurbs explaining flu safety precautions and symptoms on its front page. Above the masthead.

But with so many conflicting messages, conflicting responses were inevitable, often with tragic results. Never was this more evident than in Philadelphia.

In September, the city decided to hold a massive parade for war bonds. Medical and public officials both objected to the idea, but their concerns were repressed by higher-ranking officials. The day after the event, the Philadelphia Enquirer proudly reported, “Representatives of a great nation embattled take part in tremendously impressive pageant.” A few weeks later, the same paper reported 200,000 cases in the city, escalating deaths and an emergency hospital being built.

Some of the best information on the pandemic would not be available for another 20 years. Legendary author Katherine Anne Porter was stricken with the flu, and became so sick that her obituary was prepared. Porter survived, and her 1939 novel, “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” is a fictionalized account of her experience living – and almost dying – at that time. One historian who later wrote about the pandemic dedicated his book to Porter.

Hopefully, this pandemic will be kinder to us than the first crisis (although the 1918 crisis saw far more deaths in the fall than the spring.) Whatever happens, it’s worth keeping in mind the important role PR pros can plan. As a professor from Middle Tennessee observed, “there are numerous lessons to be learned [from 1918] about perception management, rumor control, and public belief about what is and is not happening.”

Author John M. Barry was more blunt. “The biggest lesson from the 1918 pandemic is clearly to tell the truth,” he said. “People can deal with the truth. It’s the unknown that’s much scarier.”

May all of you – and the truth – stay safe.

COVID-19 Update

#FWPRSA: Due to the latest COVID-19 developments, the following changes have been made to the chapter’s upcoming events:

• March 19: GFW PRSA Health Care Special Interest Group meeting – postponed

• March 26: PR After Dark Happy Hour – postponed

• April 1: PRSA April luncheon – will be turned into a virtual event. Watch for details.

• May 6: PRSA May Luncheon – will be turned into a virtual event. Watch for details.

We are thinking of you & your teams and feel that keeping this group of PR professionals in contact will be beneficial as we all navigate this unprecedented time.

GFW PRSA April Luncheon

Notice: This event will be virtual due to COVID-19.

Register here: https://bit.ly/2w3GKM3
Upon registering, a Zoom calendar notice will be sent to you.

Price:
• $5 Members
• $10 Non-members
• $5 Students

LinkedIn has been around for more than a decade, but it may not be your favorite social media platform – yet. Right now, there’s an incredible opportunity to use LinkedIn to grow your presence. It has been developed into a robust content and engagement platform full of opportunity to build influence, thought leadership, and community – for your personal brand, as well as for your business.

In this workshop, you will learn how to cultivate community, engagement, and results on LinkedIn without spending your whole day there. You’ll also learn why now’s the time to create videos for LinkedIn and how to get started. Attend this luncheon and you’ll walk away with specific actions you can take to amp up your LinkedIn game immediately – for your personal profile and even for business pages.

Speaker: Tiffany Monhollon

Tiffany Monhollon is an award-winning marketing, communications, and social media strategist who is passionate about helping businesses and professionals succeed. She speaks and writes for sites like Entrepreneur, MarketingProfs, Chief Marketer, Small Business Trends, and Media Post. From startups to non-profits to the Fortune 500, she’s led marketing and communications strategies for organizations from large to small, including the USA TODAY NETWORK, Social Media Club of Dallas, ReachLocal, and more. Today, she works as a fractional CMO and consultant, helping clients build and implement winning marketing and communications strategies.