Leaving behind two years of a “new normal,” as a communicator I hoped to take a breath from the constant crisis mode, uncertainty, struggle and trauma in 2022. As it often happens, the universe had different plans.
Early in the morning of 25 February, a notification on my phone alerted me to the start of yet another “new normal,” one I would have not anticipated in Europe in 2022 — war. It took me a few days to process what was happening. Just a few cities away from Bucharest, the capital of Romania and part of the European Union, the world was ending abruptly for so many fellow humans. Fellow professionals — who, just the week before, had been working on presentations, planning events, posting their latest thoughts on social media — were now reaching out in desperation from a bunker, trying to survive.
A few days into the war, refugees in large numbers started to flood into Romania. Train stations and airports became shelters, birthing places, nurseries, daycare centers, confessionals, therapy wards and supermarkets. Another new normal we were not ready for.
Communication is my trade. But what good is that when women and children flee their beloved homes and families to escape a war that threatens to kill everything they love? Who cares about what I have to say? About the way I say it?
And then I remembered that when everything is uncertain, what is most important becomes clear. When it comes to communication, there are few essentials that shine like beacons in these dark times. Communicators have a common responsibility in an age when something is deemed true just because it comes up on social media.
Information is power — more reason to make sure we follow our IABC Code of Ethics.
As soon as war became a new reality in Europe, it transferred into the realm of communication. It suddenly became so much more important whose side you were on as a communicator, the terms you used and the stand you took. One of the first appeals IABC made to its members was for honesty, accuracy, and an ethical commitment to the truth.
Now more than ever, there is more social and political responsibility on the shoulders of people in the information technology and communications industries. When the gates of a city are closed and when the only windows into what is happening are the screens we own, the common responsibility of professional communicators comes even more to the forefront.
Since my early days in communication studies, I learned about the media as a watchdog of democracy. In times like these, it is all of us, professional communicators, who are called upon to act as guardians of freedom, clarity and truth. Because there is so much power in information — in the lack and the plenitude of it — it falls upon us to share appropriate resources, guide others toward understanding of reality and what words might hide behind them.
Now more than ever, communicators have a common responsibility to put their trade in the service of others and the truth.
“Traditionally, people lived in a world where information was scarce. Power meant that you had access to information — the king had an archive and scribes; the peasants had nothing. Censorship worked by blocking the flow of information. In the 21st century, censorship works by flooding people with irrelevant information, or misinformation.” (Prof. Yuval Noah Harari)
Over the past month of war, in the field and in the media, it has been very difficult to spot the truth. Here in Romania, the focus has been on supporting refugees, but we have all kept a worried eye on our borders with the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. As the Russian Federation attacked Ukraine, Romanians worried about becoming the next target — fertile ground for fake news and striking panic. From “news” announcing the imminent tripling of gas prices to rumors about banks crashing and military service becoming compulsory again, Romanian press was caught in the usual conundrum of, “Do I check the source or rush to publish first?”
Today, information makes its way to us in an instant. As a communicator, and one who would like to be reliable and ethical, I found myself paying more attention to the news sources I consulted, the articles I shared and the language I used. It is in these moments when seasoned, trustworthy communication professionals must step up and unveil strategies used to deceive, call out lies and half-truths, and walk their stakeholders through the intricacies of the times. Our educational role as communicators is more necessary than ever.
Peter Drucker pointed out that true communication is hearing what isn’t being said. To that, I would add that true communication is also considering the way in which what you communicate is being received. Early into the war, as I was managing communication for the institution I represent, I was educated by the embassy of Ukraine here in Bucharest to understand that the words I use should not be by chance. As communication professionals, we have a duty to use words as keys to unlock minds and tools to make sense of the world, not as shields to hide behind.
Looking around in these surreal times, I understood that my communication must tick a few important boxes before it can be deemed ready for the world to receive. It must be needed, kind and true. By true, I mean authentically communicating what I believe, for the days of filters, good angles and euphemisms are gone. If the journey we are on right now is going to take us anywhere, it is only going to happen if we walk it with honesty, courage and empathy.
With more than 20 years of experience in independent international school marketing and admissions, Catalina Gardescu currently heads the Admissions, Communications and External Relations Department at the American International School of Bucharest. Gardescu’s portfolio of work includes parent interviews, admissions projections, publications and communications, parent relations, fundraising, alumni relations and strategic marketing. She is part of the leadership team of the school and helps create the school budget, marketing and communication strategies, as well as conducts the school fundraising program. She heads the school’s scholarship committee.
Over the past several years, Gardescu has been actively involved in creating the first ever ECIS Admissions Committee, Open Apply admissions workshops — of which she designed and led Admissions Certification Courses in Shanghai, Singapore and Sofia — founded the International Admissions Bulletin (currently published by Open Apply) and continues to support the profession in any way she can.
In her free time Gardescu likes spending time with her family, reading, working out and walking her dogs. Find her on LinkedIn.