On any given day, a Public Information Officer spends his or her time pitching stories to the media; fielding calls, developing PR strategies, writing, designing, and occasionally putting out fires. For some, local tragedies have shaped their careers and carved a place into their hearts and minds forever. In March of 2020 one such tragedy began to unfold, not just locally, but globally.

The COVID 19 pandemic took over a hopeful 2020 a few months into the New Year and challenged all of us in ways we’d never imagine. Not only would our lives change personally, but professionally our focus would shift solely to the health and safety of our communities.

As communicators we quickly moved into crisis mode assessing the threat of the pandemic locally and developing consistent messaging to be shared across our communities. We did this under the leadership of the New River Valley Public Health Task Force which was formed at the onset of the pandemic to bring together professionals from Health Care, Public Safety, Local Government, Higher Education, K-12, and other regional groups.

A team of communications and marketing professionals representing the Task Force membership, soon launched the “Be Committed. Be Well.” public awareness campaign to build a sense of community responsibility to one another and a call to action for the young and old.

The campaign was led graphically by the University Relations staff at Virginia Tech, and strategically, communicators from both universities, each locality, New River Health District, and others, developed video content, social media plans, websites, weekly media Zoom meetings, and Task Force reports showing the latest virus trends locally. Every word written or distributed has been a 9 month collaboration among the local Public Information Officers, and it continues to this day.

One has to look hard to find any semblance of a silver lining as it relates to COVID. As New River Valley communicators we’ve learned that collectively we are a capable group of individuals who are able to pool our resources and talents to not only focus on the entities, organizations, and communities we serve, but to come together and build on our responsibility to one another and our region. It has been incredibly challenging, yet incredibly rewarding.

For more information about COVID 19 and the Be Committed. Be Well. campaign, or to download campaign signage and other materials visit https://www.nrvroadtowellness.com.

Submitted by Heather Browning, Community Relations Manager, Town of Blacksburg

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