Avo sat down (virtually, of course) with our dear Pilar “Pili” Metzler of Avaya, one of Verb’s first customers, to talk about how news and events are changing because of the COVID-19 crisis.
Avo: How did COVID-19 impact Avaya and which of these effects will be long-lasting or permanent, especially when it comes to the company’s relations with the press?
Pili: Avaya was impacted like every other company. It’s just that Avaya has a major competitive advantage: Avaya specializes in remote work solutions and enterprise communications. It’s in Avaya’s DNA. It was also an opportunity to show its work for the community. It started to help a hospital in Wuhan and then it helped nonprofits and the community of educators, giving them licenses of its solutions in the first place. The company moved fast. Obviously, there is a business aspect to it, but there is also the humanitarian concern.
I did not notice any change in my relationship with the press. One thing that changed is that all interviews and events became virtual now, and I believe it’s going to stay that way.
In the same way they say that all politics is local, we can say that all coverage that matters is local. In your media relations work, how do you reconcile the global scope of a company like Avaya with that tendency in the media to gravitate towards local news?
I believe there is no longer so much division between one and the other. We are all a single universe now. There is no longer anything that is so unique. What happens in Central America is the same that can happen in Colombia, or in Argentina and Brazil. I don’t think that the coverage and the information we provide has to be local to garner local attention, not anymore, because I believe people can relate to foreign events.
Do you see that reflected in your work and the responses you get from journalists?
Obviously, there are local news that have a large local impact. I’ll give you an example: any story from Colombia or Mexico will be immediately picked up in Peru and, often, in Chile. We did a virtual event about the impact of remote work in Mexico: the story was first published in Peru and Chile, even before Mexico itself. This is a fact. The press is no longer interested in all things local. I believe we identify ourselves with what happens on a global stage.
Have you seen this reflected in the work Avaya does with Verb, especially with Central America and the Caribbean?
Yes. Again, there are instances in which what’s local matters and they possibly pay more attention to that. But that doesn’t mean that they will not mind or publish things that happen in other countries or of global importance.
How do you see the impact of this health emergency on journalism and media?
Firstly, I believe the end of print has arrived. In two months we got so used to the digital and virtual. All events became virtual overnight and nobody seems to be missing face-to-face events as much as we believed. I also believe there’s so much more journalists can do now. They have demonstrated how creative they can be.
As someone who comes from Colombia, what do you bring to your role at Avaya in the United States?
I enjoy speaking with all kinds of people, be around them. I think Colombians are friendly, we don’t care about social backgrounds, age, professions: we treat everybody equitably.
So that helps you put yourself in somebody else’s shoes or understanding people you disagree with.
I think it does. I empathize easily with people. I used to work in a bank, and I dealt with angry and happy people, the governor as well as the poorest beggar. And sometimes the most intelligent person was the one with the least education. And that taught me to have empathy with the people I talk to or be with.
Was there any particular piece of news that grabbed your attention the most during the coronavirus pandemic?
I read a report on the future of work that I loved: all the things and the businesses that were created since COVID-19; all the imagination people and companies used not to go under. So many businesses were created, and in so many creative ways that not even in 10 years would have come about. That despite the fact that we were all so down and that were reading only bad news in the beginning, you realize that there was a very positive aspect to it. It made a great impact on me. It’s what we were talking about media: how they reinvented themselves in a manner that they wouldn’t maybe in many years.
What’s next after COVID-19?
I would like to have an answer. The world will surprise us.