How the pandemic is re-shaping corporate communications

By Ian Morris, Partner

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted internal communications, digital communications and overall strategic capability as the skills in greatest need of a boost in in-house communications teams, according to a new report we published today with VMAGROUP.

The report, Communicating through the Covid Crisis, which is available here to download, was debated this morning at a virtual panel event. Over 100 people joined the event, chaired by Newgate Chief Executive Emma Kane and featuring panellists Ian Wright CBE, the Chief Executive of the Food and Drink Federation; Helen Dunne, Owner & Editor of CorpComms Magazine; Russell Craig, Director of Communications at AO; and Julie Mazzei, Principal Consultant at VMAGROUP.

The panel covered a wide range of issues encompassing the challenges in-house comms teams have faced, how they have adapted to them and how their organisations’ communications will be impacted from now on.

Leadership communications

Business leaders have been personally affected by this crisis which has contributed to them establishing a greater connection with employees and consequently communicating in a more authentic and empathetic way. A new social contract has materialised between employer and employees, whereby CEOs are taking more responsibility for reflecting what their people feel or care about.

Internal communications

The pandemic has seen a rise in the perceived value of internal communications as businesses have begun to appreciate how important effective communications with their most important asset is – particularly as it has been such a huge challenge for many communications teams faced with staff on furlough, absent through illness or self-isolation and working remotely.

Influencing the top table

In a crisis, a good senior communications leader becomes one of the most important operational people in the business and one of those the CEO relies on the most, so the pandemic will have increased the value of many in-house comms leaders. However, to truly influence at the top level, communications must ensure they have complete familiarity with financial and operational functions of the business and be able to speak in the language of the Board and senior management. If they can do that, then communicators have a vital role in shaping how their organisations behave, not just how they communicate. 

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Despite a relatively high level of confidence in their departments to deal with the challenges posed by COVID-19, the crisis has highlighted the need to upskill or add resource in certain areas, with internal communications, digital communications and overall strategic capability the most in-demand areas.
  • Three in five respondents (61%) said they or their team have developed new skills to adapt to the crisis compared to 30% who haven’t; and 79% said they have learned important lessons or developed innovative ways of managing the challenges faced.
  • Over half of communicators (51%) believe business will respond to the end of the coronavirus pandemic by embracing a more ‘conscious capitalism’ and aiming to behave with higher ethical standards, compared to 29% who believe the corporate world will return to ‘business as usual’ with no lasting impact on their priorities or how they conduct themselves.

Commenting on the report findings, Emma Kane, CEO of Newgate Communications said: “From the outset of the crisis it was clear that communications would be vital in how we dealt with it, and communications teams have found themselves at the epicentre of their organisations’ battle to navigate it. Most have learned a great deal from it, adapted and will consequently exit the pandemic stronger for the experience”.

“The pandemic has given professional communicators a platform to prove their value to company boards and senior management teams in a way that they will rarely if ever have done before. The stock of those who have performed well will doubtless have risen as a consequence, and hopefully that will put them in a stronger position to influence their companies’ behaviour as well as their communications.”