Communications in an altered reality: The post-COVID paradigm

The COVID pandemic came as a force of nature and almost overnight changed the way companies function and operate. Amidst the enveloping gloom and doom it is easy to miss an important trend which has been emerging in the corporate world- the growing influence of the Corporate Communication function across organisations. Upholders of their organisation’s brand and reputation, communications leaders have the responsibility of ensuring that the appropriate message and tone is struck at the right juncture to its diverse set of stakeholder communities. The pandemic has necessitated a fine balancing act at a time when the ramifications of COVID are keeping matters on a precarious edge.

Till as recently as March this year, it was largely business as usual for the Corporate Communication universe. From quarterly results outreach, media interviews, roadshows, to meet and greets and press conferences, the day in the life of a Communication specialist was both hectic and exciting. 

Now just three months later, it looks like we are operating in an alternate reality. While the “traditional” modes mentioned above still have a big role to play, crisis communications has assumed special significance as the unprecedented situation continues to throw unique challenges to those leading their organisation’s outreach efforts. Communication professionals across industries are today grappling with a series of challenges. How does one keep the brand immune from the disruptions in services and sales? How should firms convey the impact of the crisis to customers, shareholders, media and employees? How can business leaders go about convincing their various partner channels that a temporary blip in their business will not become permanent? Most importantly how does one engage with a workforce who are working remotely under unusual conditions and reassure them that the organisation stands with them through thick and thin? The situation calls for a mix of preparedness, team work and ingenuity to adequately deal with the fast-changing environment. 

Let us now look at the five main ways the role of communicators has changed in the last three months 

  1. Spotlight on BCP: The Business Continuity Planning is now Front and Centre in the Communications universe. The current BCP scenario is a far cry from the usual BCP Contingency plans seen during a political strike or labor unrest. Given its uniqueness, BCP charter for organisations had to be communicated with urgency, with the Communication Lead working in conjunction with the BCP Officer and their team. Client centricity in all communications became a must with Communications teams working 24/7 to update clients of important developments through multiple channels.
  2. Internal communications: The “step child” of Corporate Communications takes centerstage as organisations recognised the need to engage employees who were working remotely and often away from base locations. The unmistakable elevation of internal communications is reflected in the active interventions by the CEO and top management of companies who are engaging with employees on various internal platforms and lending a helpful ear to their varied concerns and fears. For Internal Communications to really build successful employee engagement during this stressful phase, the Communications teams must work in complete coordination with their HR counterparts and come up with out-of-the-box campaigns for the benefits of their workforce.
  3. COVID messaging has the edge: There is no rulebook on how marcomm  teams should spin their message during these highly unusual times. But one thing is for sure. Companies are weaving in COVID related messages in a relevant and useful manner for their respective target audiences. The internet is flush with news of organisations launching one-stop apps in their fight against COVID, tech companies making their campuses smarter and safer with IoT-enabled sensors and companies in sectors ranging from manufacturing to retail to finance issuing press releases on COVID-related innovations.
  4. Virtual becomes Real: With large scale people-to-people interactions all but impossible, organisations across the spectrum have accelerated adoption of digital tools and online platforms to engage with their target groups. Communication specialists have their hands full in organising video-based team meetings over skype, online webinars abound with an audience numbering into the hundreds and use of social media platforms such as Facebook@Work and Yammer have mushroomed with employees encouraged to pour their heart out. There is also (unsurprisingly) a proliferation of content across all external social media platforms from Linkedin to Instagram.
  5. Empathy-based outreach: Communicators have realised how important it is to communicate with empathy during this crisis. The common thread of understanding and solidarity must underline all messaging from client communications to media interviews and social media posts. A human approach to communications is not just useful to reinforce a brand’s core values, but also genuinely helpful for their intended audience, from employees stressed about retrenchments to vendors and suppliers worried about losing business.

These are undoubtedly unsettling times, but while it can be a challenging journey for communicators, a mix of experience, collaboration and the power to weave in empathy into their organisation’s narratives will help create a genuine difference for their firms and their communities. Communicators are emerging heroes in the post COVID corporate world, and the opportunity is ripe for us to make a positive change.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Aniruddha Basu
Aniruddha (Ani) has over 15 years of experience spanning Corporate PR, content strategy and journalism.

As a former journalist who worked with Reuters and the India Today Group Ani has covered important sectors including Aviation, Retail, Logistics and General News at a time when the India story was well and truly on the rise. He is also a former film critic having co-founded a Cinema news and reviews portal in the late 2000s.

He is currently Head of PR & Corporate Communications at L&T Technology Services Ltd. He is a consummate Bengali who in his spare time still enjoys watching and sometimes tweeting film reviews, loves reading and the occasional offline “Adda” in coffee houses with friends and colleagues.

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