Recalling Lessons from the Dot-com Bust

We couldn't pinpoint it initially, then, over lunch, we had a simultaneous revelation: we're experiencing acute déjà vu. When we were employed by a large PR conglomerate, we'd benefitted from the dot-com boom, endured the bust, and then weathered 9-11.

We couldn't pinpoint it initially, then, over lunch, we had a simultaneous revelation: we're experiencing acute déjà vu. When we were employed by a large PR conglomerate, we'd benefitted from the dot-com boom, endured the bust, and then weathered 9-11. Though we're working in a decidedly different agency of our own creation now, we were struck by the similarities. Web 2.0 feels like a flashback. Maybe it's the venture capitalists courting our clients, perhaps it's the recent Internet fest featuring the former editor-in-chief of the long-defunct Industry Standard, or maybe it's the nearly deafening South by Southwest buzz. The market turmoil feels familiar, too. The Bear Stearns implosion and the looming economic crisis are creating a Back to the Future-esque moment.

In the midst of this realization, we asked ourselves a question: What lessons did we learn the last go-around that may serve us now?

Here are the things we noted:

1) Sensitivity is key and being human is especially important during turbulent times

It's “back to basics,” but let's face it: If you express an understanding of what people (the members of the media, clients, colleagues) are experiencing they're more likely to be responsive. Relationships are reciprocal. It pays to listen, tune in, and think before you talk. When we began media outreach on a new initiative recently, we decided we should either abstain from contacting the producers at CNN for a few days, or at the least express sympathy given the tornado that had just ravaged their headquarters.

2) There were many channels for information exchange before; there are even more now

During the first bust, people were using the Internet as a source for information, by visiting sites like fu**edcompany.com to get the latest on businesses going belly up. Since then the channels – social networks, RSS feeds, blogs, etc. – have multiplied exponentially and the consumer has become the creator. Word of mouth, while always important, is playing an even more central role. As communicators we must consider how people are passing information and operate within that framework. This is not the time to rely on traditional communications channels, mass e-mails and one-way messages.

3) Fast-paced news demands communicators stay in touch

We're living in a Twitter-ized, 24-7 news environment and things can change in an instant. The hot topic yesterday probably won't be the key issue tomorrow. It's incumbent upon us to keep our proverbial fingers on the pulse. For example, when Hillary Clinton was garnering front page stories, one of our clients created a consumer poll on perspectives on her campaign. Overnight the Spitzer news suddenly consumed front, middle, and back page news, so we rapidly reoriented to avoid wheel spinning.

4) We must fight tunnel vision

What we've described above, while all critical, shouldn't be done at the expense of considering the bigger picture. Though we have as much of a tendency as anyone to get focused on the task at hand, it seems the key at such a tumultuous time is to pay attention to the broader environment. We need to discipline ourselves to pull our heads up and look at what's going on in the world at large. It seems this is always key in PR, but it's more important now than ever before.

Rosemary Ostmann and Victoria Grantham run Rose Communications http://www.rosecomm.com/.

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