What we are going through is unprecedented. It’s worth repeating that to fully appreciate what’s happening: a global public-health crisis, which has caused an economic heart attack, culminating in a societal coma. That’s what we’re living in right now.
First, consider that. Then consider the number of times we’ve heard "It’s the new normal!" in the past 14 days.
The thing is – this is not the new normal. Our obsession with "normality" and "consistency" can lead us to falsely declare it whenever we face adversity. I’ve repeatedly noticed it being used as a badge of faux-resilience: "Get used to it – because this is the new normal!"
I find, especially in leadership positions, we try to hold on to what we know to reassure those around us that everything is fine, anxious that any admission of change or impact is a sign of weakness. However, what we are going through is anything but normal.
The reason we have such an adverse reaction to "not normal" isn’t something to be embarrassed about. We hold tightly to things we can control because we want things to be the same; "the same" allows us to plan, to forecast, to predict – in an attempt for some form of consistency.
Leading a global LGBT+ brand and speaking to millions of queer people daily has been an unprecedented challenge through the past four weeks. I have noticed many industry friends react by gripping tightly to the things closest. Still going to the office, pursuing shoot schedules, keeping experiential projects on track, holding up contracts to clients and pushing copy deadlines through. All during this monumental crisis.
For our LGBT+ community, it’s also not business as normal. Many of us rely on physical connections to feel a sense of shared identity. We may not have traditional family structures or be "out" at home. With a growing number of younger audience members who live with their biological families, this is even more important today. It’s up to us, the world of media, to be putting this into perspective for them.
If we don’t, telling them via content – or indirectly in how we behave – that this is the "new normal" is anxiety-inducing. Instead of pragmatically reassuring each other that this might last for a while, we’re telling people to get used to it forever. Over the coming weeks, the loss of our combined sense of identity will be felt even more as Pride celebrations are postponed or cancelled. These can be critical moments for LGBT+ people.
Covid-19 has allowed me to better understand the often bandied-around phrase "consistency is key". It’s the "keep calm and carry on" in us – an attempt in vain to ignore or disregard the real experience we’re all feeling. Importantly, it’s also the experience your customers and audience are going through.
So while I agree with people’s instinctive desire for consistency and normality, we should be delivering consistency to our colleagues, clients and our audiences in another form.
What we must let go of is the consistency of the day to day. We cannot travel. We (currently) cannot leave our homes by our own free will. Our social lives are on hold. So, suddenly, your campaign looks out of touch. An image-based editorial, travel feature or community gathering looks horribly tone-deaf. To look at a total shutdown of society and still try to circumnavigate the issue is – in a word – ignorant.
Audiences want to know that things aren’t normal – this doesn’t feel right. If you’re maintaining "all is normal" with your teams and clients, that will seep through to the content, the work and the way we all deliver. This only widens the gap between our work and the real world.
So what should we be consistent about? What we must do is show an understanding of how this is a huge but temporary change. We should show comprehension of complexity to try to bring sense to something that doesn’t make sense.
During this time, your colleagues, customers and audience will look for consistency in your values. Consistency in who you are, where your brand fits in. What your role is in all of this.
People are looking for reassurance that this isn’t permanent, so we must change, adapt quickly and face up to the reality of what is happening. All the while knowing and communicating that this won’t last forever.
For us at Gay Times Group, that meant quite simply halting nearly a year's worth of content plans, schedules, shoots, editorials and events in order to acknowledge that we were entering a health, economic and societal crisis.
The consistency our brand upholds is the need to bring LGBT+ people closer together through shared experiences. Managing a global print and distribution business at this time has become a fair challenge. Our events schedule is off the table till summer.
But while the vehicles for that content may have been compromised, we have, and will, adapt to change. Not for any admission of failure or weakness, but maturity and strength – because we allowed ourselves, our people, our leadership, our strategy, to be affected.
We didn’t need to brand it a new normality to feel OK. All the while, we are communicating with our brand partners to quickly adapt to this temporary phase to ensure we promote the physical and mental well-being of our staff above all else and best serve the communities we value.
I don’t think many of us will forget this time in years to come. Like any scar, over time we’ll learn to accept, appreciate and perhaps even celebrate something that came out of this incredibly sad and devastating experience.
This isn’t the new normal. It’s a temporary period of time that will come to an end. It will leave a lasting impact for years, if not decades, but many of us will do our best (and probably be glad) to get "back to normal" as quickly as we can.
My view is, let’s not denounce the experience or write it off as inconsequential, but allow it to shape and change the consistency we’d all become so comfortable in.
Tag Warner is chief executive of Gay Times