In a series called My Hot Mess, inspired by the Wall Street Journal, we’ve spent several weeks speaking to communicators around the globe about the things they’re doing right now to get through this hot mess we call life.

In the last of this series (new series coming next Friday!), we talk to Drew McLellan about how he’s coping during a pandemic. Check back next week for our new series!

I hate the pandemic. I hate that it’s putting people’s health at risk. I hate that it’s created a recession, and families are struggling financially. And I hate how it has further polarized and paralyzed our country.

But honestly and selfishly, what I hate most about the pandemic is that it has turned what was going to be one of the best years of my life into one of the worst.

I thought long and hard about saying no to this invitation because I’m faring far better than most, and I feel guilty complaining. I also try to be someone who is positive and encouraging. But the truth is, probably like the rest of the world, I’m angry and deeply saddened by what the pandemic has taken from me and those I love. 

I try to rise above it, and most days I succeed and stay focused on being a good dad, friend, and advisor, but there have certainly been some moments where I wanted to curl up into a ball and just hibernate until it’s over.

Leading into the pandemic, the year was shaping up to be one for the record books. 

Personally, my daughter was graduating from nursing school, and we were going to celebrate that accomplishment with a trip to Africa. Her wedding was scheduled for the fall, and it was going to be magical.

Professionally, I was continuing work I love—serving people I love, scheduled to be on about 200 planes (my norm), we were launching AMI’s very first international conference, and my agency was celebrating our 25th anniversary. My workshops were full, my new book was just released, and there were many exciting firsts on the calendar.

Besides our personal trip to Africa, I had work trips to Dublin, Florence, and London on the books.

2020 was going to be amazing. And instead, it’s been anything but. Everything has been canceled or postponed. Financially, it’s been a train wreck, and I’m emotionally out of gas. 

Enough whining. I believe the question is, how am I coping, right?

Serving Clients Non-Stop

My clients are small to mid-sized agency owners, so the pandemic knocked them to their knees in a hurry. For some of them, 60%+ of their AGI evaporated in a single week. I decided that every single one of them was going to survive the pandemic, and it was my job to make sure that happened. 

I started writing an email a day (seven days a week) with the latest information on government relief efforts, how other AMI agencies were navigating challenges, and links to resources that I knew they needed. 

All of the agencies we serve got their PPP loan funded and most of them in the first two weeks. We’ve helped them produce sales materials and create strategies to help clients pivot budgets. We’ve produced many pandemic specific podcasts for our audience. 

For the first 45 days of the pandemic, I was on the phone with agency owners pretty much from 7am until midnight every day—just listening, talking them off the ledge, and helping them decide on next steps. My capacity to work kept pace with their worry and panic.

We also hosted open mics and served many agencies who are not paying members but are still an essential part of our community.

While on the surface, this probably seems like a very bad coping mechanism, given that I worked myself to literal exhaustion. But I know we made a difference for our agencies, and it gave the pandemic meaning for me. I had a purpose, and in helping other people survive it, it absolutely helped me survive it, too.

Planning Future Adventures

I love to travel, and 2020 was going to be a spectacular year of new adventures here in the U.S. and abroad. As one trip after another had to be canceled, the cost of the pandemic rose for me.

Despite work putting me on 200+ planes a year, I gladly get on a plane when I have free time. 

Suddenly, I was grounded with nowhere to go but the grocery store. To remind myself that this is all temporary, I started planning trips for 2021. The pandemic’s upside is that I have a ton of airline and hotel credits that “need” to get used!

One trip that I am most excited about is a whiskey/scotch distillery tour of Ireland and Scotland with my longtime friend to celebrate our 50 years of friendship. We decided that was a milestone worthy of an epic trip and voila…in June of 2021, we’re going to traverse the two countries, sampling single malt scotches and Irish whiskeys for more than weeks. 

Picking out distilleries and other sites to visit has been a lifeline to a normal life post-COVID.

Single Malt Scotch Tasting

The 50th-anniversary friendship tour discussions made us realize that we could (and absolutely should!) prep for the trip by sampling single malt scotches neither of us had ever tasted. 

We do some research, select a scotch that’s new to both of us, procure a bottle of the chosen scotch, and then schedule a FaceTime call to enjoy the new spirit and chat.

This has left me with a lot of open scotch bottles…so if anyone else wants to schedule a virtual tasting, let me know!

Celebrating Kindness

I love the Fred Rogers concept of looking for the helpers, but I actually want to be one of the helpers. 

I know the best medicine for me to get through COVID is to help other people get through COVID. I’m doing that with my own family and friends, through my work, and in my community, but I decided I wanted to step it up. 

I’ve partnered with one of the original cast from my all-time favorite play Come From Away (about kindness, BTW) to produce a weekly kindness suggestion. Each week, Tony-nominated Broadway actress Jenn Colella and I decide on an act of kindness we can suggest to people. She records a video with that week’s idea, and we both share it out into the world. 

We’ve been doing it for 20 weeks now and are still going strong. It turns out there are many people who need our support and help, and it’s been incredibly gratifying to put the spotlight on a new opportunity for kindness every week.  

Puppy Love

Despite my crazy life, I got a puppy (Heather) last fall and thank God I did. She fills me with joy when she’s not driving me insane by eating my socks or digging in the yard! She does crazy, goofy puppy things. 

She’s klutzy, affectionate, and that tail is always wagging. She makes me laugh out loud every day and forces me to get away from my desk, go for a walk, and toss a ball in the backyard. There’s a lot to be said about the unconditional love of a pet, and right now, that’s good for my soul.

We’re even conducting a semi-monthly contest where I’ll record something she’s done (like guess how many times she’ll retrieve a ball I’ve tossed down the stairs) and turn it into a guessing game for my FB friends. Winners get gift cards for take-out as prizes.

We’ve even gotten to the point of occasionally dressing alike because I have twisted friends who send us matching items. This needs to stop. But not quite yet.

Overall, I’d give myself a B- on coping through COVID. I’ve had some dark days, but I’ve also had enough days where I felt significant and helpful to balance that darkness. 

I pray that our country can get its act together so we can accomplish what the rest of the world seems to have done—reduce the risk enough that we can all move past this and get back to the lives we were meant to live and enjoy.

Until then, I’ll just take more videos of Heather.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich