The Covid Communications Conundrum

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Although lockdowns are abating in some countries and economies are spluttering back to life, we are still living in unprecedented / challenging / uncertain / catastrophic (delete or insert adjective as you see fit) times. Reputations of many companies are on rocky ground; having to deal with layoffs, economic struggles and work force challenges like never before.

At the heart of the reputation management battle is the communications function, usually headed up by a Head / Director of Communications or Chief Communications Officer, but how are these professionals coping with these uncertain and ever-evolving times?

I connected with several leaders in the communications industry to investigate and gain their thoughts as to the future of the role and how they are adapting to the New World Order. Naturally the role will differ depending on the sector / location, but please see below for some thoughts and I would welcome your comments too:

  • Internal Comms has never been more important. Times are uncertain; employees are concerned about the security of their jobs and the company they are working for. Tough decisions need to be made and team members need to be kept up to date regularly with clear communication on business developments and what it means for them. If layoffs need to happen, it is vital it is handled sensitively and respectfully, and remaining staff need to be kept motivated.

Besides issues of job security / business performance, internal comms has become more empathetic with corporate practices and senior leaders (arguably) becoming more human, as people deal with working from home challenges and health and safety concerns etc.

Good example from AirBnb here / not so good example from scooter start-up Bird here

  • Job seekers in today’s world buy strongly into the Values and Ethos of a company when making career decisions and so how companies handle corporate social responsibility through the Covid-19 crisis can have a huge impact on brand perception. This function often falls under the Head of Communication’s remit, so is crucial to get right.

Good example from LVMH here / not so good example from Virgin here

  • If comms leaders weren’t experts in Crisis Management then they definitely are now or certainly should be. Barely any sector has been free from some sort of crisis management situation and it is vital a strategy is in place and senior leaders are well briefed by their comms team. However, robust messaging / media training needs to be in place not only for senior execs, but junior members of the team and in terms of sports and entertainment, the players, talent and management.

With the 24/7 news cycle and social media giving everyone a voice, a crisis can appear at any time and can quickly spiral out of control if not managed correctly. The ability to respond quickly, with cohesiveness of messaging is vital.

Good example from Twitter here / not so good example from (funnily enough) the UK Government here

  • Leading on from the last point, the crisis road map needs to be aligned with the company’s Social Media policy. Senior executives need to realise that no matter what they think, social media feeds are never ‘personal’ and they can’t say anything that will reflect badly on the business. Brands and companies need to pay attention to social listening and be ahead of the curve to nip potential crises in the bud.

Example from Tesla here

  • In these economically uncertain times ROI of certain functions will be scrutinised. PR has often been seen as ambiguous and hard to measure against business performance, but now a magnifying glass is being held up to functional impact and senior comms professionals need to utilise measures like data analysis and reputation mapping to demonstrate tangible commercial effectiveness.

Throughout my conversations it was clear there has been an elevation of the role of Communications Head; with companies facing challenges like never before, it’s time this function steps out of the shadows and has its day in the sun.


Tom Watterson

Head of Hong Kong
m: +852 9335 5915