How does a pandemic raise the importance of Comms? PR lessons of the COVID-19 crisis (Part 1)

News & Insights / 3 min read

PR & Comms teams have had an integral role to play in organizations during the COVID-19 crisis – perhaps more so than ever before. Business leaders realized that messaging and tone were key to navigating the challenges posed by the pandemic, and embraced the skills of comms teams to ensure they got it right.

“The communication function has risen to the top of the organisational agenda during the COVID-19 crisis,” a UK Government Communication Service (GCS) COVID-19 Communications Advisory Panel report said.

“If it was not previously an executive management role within a leadership team before the crisis it is likely to be now.”

As Comms continues to support their clients and businesses through the crisis, there are already lessons that can be learned and areas where communicators can ensure they continue to deliver value and retain a voice at a leadership level.

There were some solid learnings highlighted by the GCS analysis.

Digital and local media took center stage

The pandemic accelerated the already growing shift towards digital media due, in part, to distribution and retail issues impacting on print media.

Consumption of news via apps and websites doubled and local newspaper websites remained the top source of localised information, according to the GCS report. Local newspapers and their websites reached four in 10 consumers while social media was used by a third.

Alex Aiken, GCS Executive Director, said owned media (such as newsletters, blogs and an organisations’ own social media platforms) also took center stage.

Harnessing digital PR skills and remaining up-to-date is vital for marketing and PR & Comms professionals and never has it been more apparent. Managers need to not only focus on continuous professional development for themselves, but to remember that more junior members of the team may have more advanced digital skills than anyone else.

“You could now be at the very early stages of your marketing career and know more about digital than your marketing director.” As Sarah Ellis, author of The Squiggly Career, told The Chartered Institute of Marketing.

Spreading messages of hope and help

During the pandemic, Comms teams were utilised to spread messages about the help businesses and organisations could offer people. Organizations realised that they couldn’t and shouldn’t be focusing inwardly on their own aims and achievements at this time but should, with a renewed focus, look to see what their clients and the wider world needed and how they could fill the gap.

Spreading those messages was good PR, but, more importantly, it was necessary to ensure help got to where it was needed, such as restaurants who laid on catering for health workers and children in poverty.

Comms can demonstrate their abilities to provide strategic value by using their media monitoring tools and skills to provide insight to the wider businesses on all matters of relevance and help shape decisions.

For example, teams may be able to broaden and tailor media monitoring to enable competitor analysis. How valuable might it be for the leaders of your business to hear if a competitor diversifies into a new space or faces supply chain issues that could also impact their organisation?

The CGS report had plenty of lessons. You can read part two of our analysis here.