Opinion: Global demand for communications

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THE Covid-19 pandemic has impacted every industry, profession and individual around the globe, writes Orla Clancy. It does not discriminate, it ignores stature, class, wealth or status and no one is immune. True, some are more directly affected than others and, in terms of business, the devastation on certain industries is more deep-rooted than others. For one industry in particular, dealing with a crisis is part of its DNA: communications.

What changes has the profession seen? During the summer, we conducted a survey amongst our readers on the impact of Covid-19 on business communications. The objective of the survey was to gain an international perspective on the industry during a crisis that became a pandemic. Over half (52 per cent) of the survey respondents were based in the USA, 42 per cent in Ireland with the remaining 6 per cent in other countries. 

Almost 90 per cent of those surveyed saw a higher demand for crisis communications and internal communications during Covid-19. Given that the function of crisis communications is to minimize risk and the fallout of a crisis, it is no wonder that companies embraced it globally. Similarly, as remote working becomes a necessity, internal communications now form a more integral element of team connectivity. 

A high number of respondents (94 per cent) believe that the way companies respond to Covid-19 will impact how stakeholders view their brands. Since March 2020, communications experts across the world have been advising companies to lead with empathy and understanding in both internal and external communications. Messaging unrelated to Covid-19 was termed “tone-deaf” as it appeared insensitive. This type of messaging adversely impacts brands and how companies are perceived by stakeholders. On the other hand, socially responsible organizations that focused on their relationship with stakeholders are emerging with strong brands intact.

When asked about proactive PR, 71 per cent responded that their approach changed and half of all the respondents said they now had a different approach to media relations. When it comes to securing media coverage and collaborating with journalists, many companies have been sharing insights about their industries in the context of Covid-19 rather than press releases specifically relating to the industries or their companies.

On the subject of remote working, 83 per cent of respondents said it will continue to be a long-term option for their team, 14 per cent said they don’t know and 3 per cent said it’s not an option. In recent months, many multinational companies, such as Twitter, announced long-term plans to continue remote working arrangements for their teams and more SMEs are embracing flexible working. This move suggests that pre-Covid-19 reservations regarding trust and productivity were largely overcome during the pandemic.

When asked, “Has your team expanded, reduced or stayed the same since March 2020?”, 7 per cent of respondents replied that their team had expanded, 21 per cent said it had reduced and 72 per cent said it had stayed the same. While many industries globally had to downsize their workforce, either temporarily or long-term, communications formed a fundamental part of business continuity plans.

Interestingly, almost three quarters of people surveyed said that they or their team are upskilling to adapt to the changing circumstances and the vast majority of them, 93 per cent, believe it will take more than six months to return to business as usual with 92 per cent saying that PR and communications are now more important now due to the pandemic. This shows the resilience in the industry, not least because communications is business-wide and connects a company to all of its stakeholders. 

The survey results are not surprising. The pandemic has elevated the status of communications. On a global scale, particularly during the height of the crisis, Covid-19 responses – from leaders of countries to company CEOs to local groups and communities – were underpinned by the quality of communication. As countries went into lockdown and businesses closed to keep their people safe, everyone, everywhere, without exception, relied on communications to know what to do next. Nations the world over depended on, not only what was being said, but how and when it was said. 

In some countries, restrictions are easing and many businesses are reopening, yet change is constant. As we gradually begin to emerge from crisis mode, communication continues to be integral to global economies and society at large.