Covid-19: An opportunity or challenge for communications?

Insights from Brands2Life’s webinar: Communications in the time of Covid-19 – responding to the pandemic and preparing for recovery

We have all witnessed the disruption and havoc caused by Covid-19. For the past four months it has transformed the way we live and work, forcing us to make closer acquaintance with flexible working, home-schooling and our colleagues’ living rooms.

For communications professionals, it has been a time like no other. At Brands2Life we’ve worked with clients to pivot planned campaigns, switch focus to support COVID-related initiatives, and develop the right message, tone and approach for media.

While it is still too soon to catalogue the many ways that Covid will change communications and the comms function, clear outtakes are beginning to emerge.

For the first in Brands2Life’s Brands Transforming the World webinar series, our MD Corporate & Business, Harriet Rich, was joined by a panel of communications leads to reflect on these.

The below provides just a snapshot of the discussion.

We would like to give special thanks to the below panel for sharing their experiences with such consideration and candour.

  • Louise Fisk, VP Communications, Nokia
  • Beth Hurran, Head of Strategic Communications, Ricoh Europe
  • Adele McIntosh, Senior Director Internal Communications and Community and Inclusion, Arm
  • Rebecca Pullen, Corporate Affairs Director at HCA Healthcare UK

You can watch the full webinar by clicking the button below or click here.

1. The rise of the available and authentic leader

A common thread that quickly emerged between panellists was the new priority placed on comms by leadership teams. While all agreed that they had a direct line to execs before the pandemic, it seems to have catalysed a new closeness and sense of camaraderie between business and communication leads.

This is evident in the way comms leads are working with businesses heads to upskill them and find new approaches to familiar tasks. Panellists have had to educate CEOs on self-filming and become adept at delivering a stream of messaging via WhatsApp during media interviews.

Rebecca Pullen of HCA also links this new relationship to the expanded remit of communications. When business leaders are making high profile, often contentious decisions almost every day, there is a far greater opportunity, and need, for communicators to get involved in business operations. This naturally gives them more facetime with the leadership team.

But it’s not only heads of comms that are getting to know their leaders better. According to Beth Hurran of Ricoh Europe, one of the most impactful comms initiatives of the pandemic period has been the bi-weekly Town Halls held with the leadership team. These have provided a platform for open, uncensored communications, and effectively delivered the message that the whole organisation is in this together. Trust in leadership and engagement levels have rocketed as a result.

Panellists were also united in the view that that confused government messaging had intensified the need for clear and authentic leadership at an organisational level. More than ever, employees are looking to business leaders for guidance. This presents a huge opportunity for business heads who, working together with communicators, could emerge from this with a more engaged workforce.

2. Flexible working – bridging the gap

Panellists agreed that the pandemic has somewhat forced our hand as an industry, particularly regarding remote & flexible working. The expectation used to be that to keep a firm handle on the communications of any organisation, you needed to be on the ground – in the office – with your team. However, the experience of the last few months has turned that idea on its head, rather dramatically.

This has brought with it a new sense of freedom as well as increased engagement amongst teams. Technology has helped to connect people in the most intimate of ways, albeit in a professional environment. And as a result, there is now an expectation of choice amongst employees, who will be demanding continued autonomy when it comes to where, and indeed how, they work. For Louise Fisk of Nokia, the onus is on organisations to meet that expectation.

But as companies begin to make the shift back to the office, the next challenge will be the careful management of a blended workforce. As Adele McIntosh of Arm touched upon, if everyone is working from home, the whole business is on a level playing field. So, how do we navigate the murky waters of a hybrid structure in a post-pandemic world? Communications teams, with the helping hand of technology, will have a crucial role to play in bridging that gap and maintaining pandemic levels of engagement across the board.

3. Retaining an agile approach

The need to remain agile has never been more apparent and in tandem, communication teams have expanded their skillset to meet this demand, from running virtual events to hosting town halls remotely.

Things are moving at a rapid pace and we need to reflect that in our communications strategies. However, there is a fine balance to strike here. While it is crucial to remain current, you must take a calm and measured approach. Act quickly and responsibly but make sure that you have the evidence and data to hand to avoid any scrutiny further down the line.

What’s next?

As we move into the recovery stage and begin to take stock, one thing was abundantly clear amongst all our panellists; we mustn’t lose sight of the countless achievements – and advancements – of the last few months.

Covid-19 has expanded our horizons in terms of what is possible. It has proved that we can work effectively in a distributed model, learn new skills and pivot strategy in a heartbeat. It has also afforded brands the opportunity to do something with societal benefit, encouraging many to look inwards and examine their purpose – something they must not discount as we enter the much-hyped ‘new normal’.

Finally, it has shone a spotlight on trust. People are looking to organisations for guidance and reassurance during this period, providing a huge opportunity for businesses to strengthen bonds with stakeholders. However, the challenge will be maintaining this. Businesses must take the long view and not over-promise, because once broke, trust is almost impossible to regain.

If you would like to carry on the conversation or need help with a comms challenge please get in touch.