How Covid-19 has impacted corporate communication priorities
By Sara Hernandez & Rowena Crowley
Covid-19 has impacted virtually all companies and operations around the world. We recently conducted a survey to understand how communications teams have been affected and what their biggest challenges are. We received 40+ responses from heads of communication and digital managers from organisations across Europe, and this is what we learned.
The biggest communication challenges
Three clear themes emerged in response to our question about what the biggest Covid-19 communication challenges were. It was interesting that these were common themes across a variety of sectors, including oil and gas, finance, health, shipping and retail, and across different countries and organisation sizes.
1. Internal communication and employee engagement
The crisis has meant that internal communication has become more important than ever. With many employees working from home or on reduced hours or furlough, keeping everyone in a company connected and informed is a considerable challenge. Some respondents discussed how working remotely has negatively impacted the morale of their teams and how they have lost the benefits of quick information sharing and decision-making that happens naturally during informal conversations in an office.
Employees need to be regularly informed about the situation, how their company is responding and what measures are being taken to keep employees safe. The information needs to be clear and empathetic. Many respondents noted that, on the upside, engagement with internal channels has improved.
The need for internal digital meetings, workshops and collaboration methods has also increased. For some organisations this is business as usual but for many others, it has been a steep learning curve.
2. Managing crisis communication externally
Knowing what to say to the outside world about the crisis and getting the tone right has been another significant challenge. The fact that companies are in unfamiliar territory and there are still so many unknown factors has made this more difficult. Examples of unknowns include how long will the crisis go on for, the daily changes in government policies, and the long-term affect on society and the economy. Companies operating in different countries where the timeline of the crisis varies depending on the spread of the disease and governmental responses is an added difficulty.
3. Continuing normal communication activities
Another big challenge is how to continue with business as usual during these times. Companies still have their services and products to sell, projects to plan, operations to manage and results to announce. However, some messages, campaigns and activities are no longer relevant, or even appropriate, during this crisis. Finding the right messages, tone of voice and timing for 'business as usual' communications has been a tricky balancing act for most communications teams.
How communication priorities have been affected
There is no doubt that the crisis has affected the communication priorities of most organisations. Long-term strategic planning has been put on hold in order to manage the crisis, and many respondents said they have paused proactive non-business critical communications and are instead focusing on short-term, tactical activities that relate to Covid-19. Some respondents said they have shifted their efforts from external communication to internal.
Most physical events have been cancelled, forcing companies to rapidly adapt and either rethink the need for the event or create digital experiences instead. Some companies said their video strategy has had to be ramped up, pushing them years ahead in their digital transformation.
When it comes to communicating about sustainability, many of our respondents said they have shifted their communications to talk about their social impact efforts related to the crisis. Topics and stories around volunteering and sponsorship have been prioritised, rather than other issues such as climate and environmental initiatives.
The impact on teams and budget
Falling revenue has impacted communications teams. In our survey, the majority of UK respondents said their budgets have been reduced and some teams have been impacted by reduced team sizes or furlough schemes. However, the impact has not been felt as strongly among our Swedish respondents, with the majority saying their team sizes have not been impacted and some even said they budgets and team sizes have increased. This may suggest that contrasting approaches to lockdown are affecting communication teams in different ways.
The communications priority when the Covid-19 crisis is over
As the first hectic weeks of the crisis have passed, communication teams have had time to reflect on life after the crisis. The most important priority when the crisis is over will be to assure customers, investors, partners and employees that the business will continue. Branding and building trust will also be an important cornerstone of communication.
Many respondents also talked about the need to reflect on the crisis and what actions were done to mitigate the effects. After the crisis, companies will need to learn from their experiences, looking at what positive learnings can be applied and what's been done in new and improved ways.
Where do we go from here?
We are still very much in the middle of this crisis and we don’t know when it will end. There is no single blueprint for managing the situation from a communication standpoint. The circumstances differ depending on business, sector, geographical presence and the nature of operations. Acting with transparency, empathy and a solution-oriented approach is always a good base for communication – but what to do and how to do it will depend on many factors.
A critical step is to gather insights and data. Like we did with this survey – take the time to ask your customers and stakeholders what their challenges and requirements are. Analyse your digital data such as website visitor behaviour, social interactions and online engagement. Don’t forget your own employees – conduct internal surveys to find out if they are satisfied with the level of internal communication and what their needs going forward are.
Do you need help analysing your digital data for more effective external and internal communication during this crisis? We can help you set up the right analytics and survey tools on your digital channels and help you analyse the results and craft new messages for your audiences.
Material from our Webinar on the 2nd of June
Staffan Lindgren, CEO of Comprend and James Handslip, Managing Director of our London office talked about the findings from the survey . Find the webinar material, presentation and recording here.