A year ago tomorrow, I sat in a conference room at Haymarket Media’s offices. We’d just spent 35 minutes finalizing our involvement in the health track at SXSW, a discussion that spanned the professional (partnerships/editorial coverage) and the somewhat less so (brisket/beverages/bands). The general mood was positive and energetic, despite concerns about the mysterious virus that had just made its way to these shores.

Within two minutes of returning to our desks, the call went out across the newsroom: SXSW had been canceled. The inevitability of the decision didn’t make it any less disappointing. We packed up our bags for the night and said our goodbyes, then made our way into packed trains and buses.

At home, of course, the SXSW cancellation played somewhat differently: No business trip for Daddy! Yay! We hit Dairy Queen after dinner and the kids were sugar-wired long past bedtime.

That, in retrospect, was my last “normal” moment. I hope your last pre-pandemic outing fills you with similarly warm memories, as well as a determination to return to that very same place. We’ll get there, man.

This week’s Haymarket Media Coronavirus Briefing is 1,922 words and will take you eight minutes to read. 

The forks in the road

Remember those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books from way back when? With the slackening of mask mandates and other protective measures, it feels like we have a lot of individual agency in the arc of the next few months.

The Takeaway: We’re at yet another inflection point. Please act responsibly.

Source: Getty

The red lights

Some flash more urgently than others, but we’re still far away from yellow or green territory.

The Takeaway: Let’s not let the good news – as a mental health balm, I seek out footage of newly vaccinated individuals every morning – blunt the enormity of the bad. 2,350 people died on Wednesday from COVID. We won’t be in look-back territory for quite some time.

Source: Getty

The messaging

That it’s hard to miss is a great sign. Now, let’s do a better job calibrating it.

The Takeaway: Communicators, marketers and advocates have had a solid first two months of the year. Here’s hoping they’re ready to take it up a few more notches during this critical next juncture.

THREE QUESTIONS WITH… Epic Marketing Consultants futurist Peter Shankman

How would you assess communications and messaging around the vaccination effort so far?

Mostly horrible, with the occasional bright spot. Let’s face it, no one knew what to say from day one. Instead of listening to scientists and putting scientists on stage, politicians took the lead. Never in the history of time has any major emergency been halted by having politicians take the lead.

There was mixed messaging from the start, Masks work. Masks don’t work. The virus is hard to spread, except when it’s easy to spread. Six feet. Fifteen minutes. Like the virus magically starts spreading after 15 minutes and not a second before. One unified message would have helped – which is hard to do when some countries won’t share anything, and others don’t believe in science. If nothing else, perhaps we can learn from this. There are SO many lessons to learn from this. 

What are the areas in which those efforts could stand to improve?

Speaking in negatives never helps. In fact, studies have shown it hurts more. People are going to get together. Telling them to stop was a mistake, akin to saying, “Don’t ever have sex until you’re married” to a bunch of horny high school kids.

Messaging should have been designed to LESSEN THE COST. “We know you’re going to get together, so do it. But wear a mask and have a cup of coffee while walking around outside. The chances of spreading the virus outside are much less than inside, and wearing a mask lessens that chance even more. So get together with friends if you want to, but please think about doing it in the most responsible way, so we can go back to normal sooner rather than later.”

Something as simple as that could have made such a difference. Instead, the tactic of “stay home, never visit anyone again” was employed, with, as we can see now, terrible results.

What are the first things you plan to do after you receive the COVID vaccine? And after the pandemic lifts?

I’m on a plane as soon as I’m declared safe. And as soon as the pandemic lifts to manageable levels? I want to be back on a stage. God, I’ve missed being on a stage.

(are you smart, or do you know someone who is? If so, please reach out to Larry.Dobrow@haymarketmedia.com with nominations for potential “Three Questions With…” respondents)

The rest

…and some songs.

The Lucky One, Freedy Johnston

I’ll Take My Chances, The Click Five

Luck Be a Lady, The Brian Setzer Orchestra

Fortune Teller, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

Tomorrow Never Knows, Bruce Springsteen
Some housekeeping news: For the next three months or so, while I’m off wrestling with a Megalodon of a project, the Coronavirus Briefing will be written by my friend and newsletter partner in crime, Jeff Forster. I’ll be back in June, at which point I hope to cover stories about inadvertent hug intensification and spontaneous conga-line outbreaks. It’s hard to be an optimist, given how we’ve bungled every aspect of our coronavirus response, but maybe there won’t be a need for this newsletter at all. Until then, be well and be smart.