That Cicero Knew a Thing or Two

Faced with an unprecedented worldwide health emergency, how lucky we are to have access to literally millions of ‘experts’ just a click away. It was only a matter of time before the ‘100 Lessons Marketing Can Learn from the Coronavirus’ articles started to appear, and sure enough it’s now hard to avoid this or that marketing commentator pontificating on one or other aspect of this awful situation.

It always used to be said that everyone is an expert in two things: his or her own job, and advertising.

We’ve all had experience of this, ranging from the aspiring copywriter who just had to share a line that his mates thought was fantastic, through to the guy who’s convinced advertising doesn’t work on him.

We all know this guy. He usually prefaces his remarks with ‘advertising has no effect on me’ before telling us all that of course Guinness is good for you as he sinks his third pint.

A more recent manifestation of this came during the Brexit debate when thousands insisted that they were swayed by the factual arguments behind the leave or remain case, and certainly not by any ad. Although of course he or she was looking forward to having a vast amount to redirect to the NHS, and we should all be on the lookout for the 70 million Turks who were about to land on our shores.

But back to the current crisis. It’s scary, and it’s reassuring to have expert advice, from experts. It would be even more useful to have the space to listen to what the real experts have to say without the clamour and background noise from the rest.

What is not helpful at all are the armchair health professionals telling us that someone they know knows someone who once met a nurse on a bus who told him that we should all wear hats to stop the virus entering our system through our hair follicles. (Fake News Alert).

It’s only a short step to the charmer who sent me an email threatening me with the coronavirus, which he would transmit to me via my laptop unless I immediately transferred some large number of bitcoins to him.

The point is that someone will believe this and will bankrupt themselves paying the guy out of sheer terror.

Or at the very least will buy a hat.

Social media is wonderful in a crisis; nobody needs me to extol its benefits. But it’s also full of people who think they’re being clever, or (worse) helping by spreading false rumours.

This is an inflection point. Life will change, for some more than others it’s true.

Take our little bubble and remote working. Yes, it is great – for some people in some organisations. So is hot-desking. And open plan offices. And shared spaces. And flexible working hours. And video conferencing. All are great. But there are some organisations where working together in the same space works well, and maybe even better.

It’s nothing to do with being old-fashioned or a luddite. It’s just that we’re social creatures and a single solution is very rarely the answer. Even if it involves the internet.

We change, we absorb, we adapt. This happens with media forms. Live streaming from theatres to cinemas hasn’t wiped out the theatre; DVDs didn’t wipe out the cinema; TV didn’t wipe out radio.

The situation we are all in will test our ability to adapt and absorb. Remote working, working from home, more flexible working arrangements all are being tried and many will be appealing and efficient.

It will be fascinating to see how the HR business absorbs these changes once we are through the other side of this emergency. They’re the guys we need to blend the ingredients together to create a modern, fair, flexible workplace whilst maintaining company culture and ultimately business performance. They should be listened to, and their advice heeded.

Meantime, for now we should beware those sounding off about things they know little about to an audience far too ready to believe what they read and far too keen on easy solutions.

Mediahub’s CEO Danny Donovan summed the state of play up in a quote (thanks to Kevin Duncan for finding it):

“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” Cicero.

As Cicero might have said: Qui salvum maneat. Vale.

Stay safe, people. Stay well.

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