Zack Pohl on COVID-19, the “Mother of All Communication Challenges”

Zack Pohl, Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Communications Director, recently joined PRSA members statewide for a live conversation about the current media climate and facing communication challenges amidst COVID-19.

The hour-long event was moderated by Bryce Huffman, reporter with the new Bridge Detroit. Among the many themes Pohl touched on, here are five key takeaways from the event.

Managing the mother of all communication challenges – COVID-19

The biggest challenge for Pohl and his 10-person team throughout this pandemic has been battling misinformation. Even with quick and timely information being shared straight from Gov. Whitmer’s communications office, there are always people out there communicating false and misinformation – primarily through social media, shared Pohl.

He recalls one instance in which a rumor spread that Gov. Whitmer was being held hostage in the Capitol on a day she wasn’t even at the Capitol. Pohl and his team were fielding media calls not only from Michigan reporters but also from national news outlets.

Pohl reinforced that throughout this pandemic, which he referred to as the “mother of all communications challenges,” his team’s top priority is to share timely and accurate information. This is key to communicate to both the general public and reporters.

“Part of our strategy is to try to be everywhere and communicate in as many places as possible – big or small,” Pohl shared. He went on to describe how his team coordinated virtual press conferences with participation from media outlets across the state.

Strong writing trumps everything else

When asked what skill he values most, Pohl said, “Give me a strong writer every day of the week and the rest will work out.” Being able to communicate empathy through writing is key right now. He stressed that this shows you understand what people are dealing with.

Be a force for good

As consumers of news and information, we – as communicators – can play a role in ensuring the accuracy of information that’s spread. “Be a force for good,” Pohl stressed. He asked attendees to call people out if you see them sharing misinformation and set the record straight.

Pohl also encouraged PR professionals to share good news from our own companies and clients with him and his team. He reinforced that making them aware of positive stories going on – particularly surrounding the Governor’s key priorities – is helpful to them so they can amplify this information, as appropriate, across the state.

Walk the walk; don’t just talk the talk

While some political leaders spoke out against racial injustice over the past couple of weeks, Pohl emphasized the importance of being in front social issues with action as much as words. He said it’s important to the Governor to not just speak about change, but literally take her own steps toward it, which is why she walked peacefully with protesters in Detroit recently amidst the continued push for social justice.

Morgan Layne is a Public Relations student at Grand Valley State University and an Account Associate of the GVSU PRSSA student run firm GrandPR.

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