How does a pandemic raise the importance of Comms? PR lessons of the COVID-19 crisis (Part 2)

News & Insights / Tom Jenkin / 4 min read

The pandemic has elevated the role of PR & Comms as more business leaders look to prioritise reputation. Messaging and tone have become integral to organizations maintaining a good relationship with their customers and stakeholders, and Comms teams have stepped up to the challenge.

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

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

We’ve looked at some of the lessons from this report in part one of our analysis. Here’s the rest…

Comms and business led by authenticity and principles

PR & Comms teams are highly proficient in seeing business issues and decisions from a wider perspective and noting how they’ll be perceived by an audience. This ability to question how actions resonate has been of particular value during the coronavirus crisis. Business leaders have needed to keep the effect on reputation front-of-mind.

Not only does allowing Comms to offer this insight help businesses to avoid crisis situations, it also helps businesses to make good and responsible choices. It helps shape business to be better for the world and people.

The IHG demonstrated its principles during the crisis when providing financial assistance for hotel owners and accommodating frontline workers.

Diamond added: “This is how you add substance to a company’s principles and reinforce core values that extend beyond profit, to caring for others and the world around you.

“With many stakeholders now sharing an interest in a company’s understanding of its environment, social and corporate governance responsibilities (ESG), this is increasingly important.”

Being sincere and authentic is key. As Lis Field, head of leading communications agency Eulogy, told us in a recent Q&A: “If you have something important to communicate, deliver it with authenticity in human language that captures the sentiment of what your audiences are experiencing, not just what you think you ought to be saying.

“Above everything else, the most important thing is to be relevant. There’s no point wanting to be heard in a debate if you have nothing relevant to say. Be patient. And play to your strengths.”

Comms professionals need a C-suite seat

Extending beyond the crisis, PR & Comms need to take on the lessons learned and ensure they remain front-of-mind of leadership and decision makers.

To do this, Comms needs to demonstrate an impact on wider business objectives beyond delivering media coverage and protecting reputation. AVE and reach are not strong enough metrics to do this alone. A leadership position will only be retained by teams who continue to impress and collaborate internally and align Comms success with what’s important to the organization. For example, how has the latest campaign improved the perception of the business in a target region? What untouched areas of business can the company pivot to in order to get ahead of competitors?

“Ask ‘are we delivering for the objectives of the various members of leadership or are we talking about comms metrics that they might not fully understand?’”

In the GCS report, Mandy Pearse, President Elect, Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), said: “The COVID-19 crisis has put the communication professions under sustained pressure, month after month, and shown us more clearly than ever where we need to adapt to succeed in the future.

“PR needs better leadership, able to act with greater confidence, to lead remotely, and to engage at the top level to guide decisions with reputational impact.”

Francis Ingham, Director General of the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), added: “Communicators need to retain those top table seats, not out of vanity or self-interest, but to be the constant ethical and purposeful nudge at their colleagues’ elbows.”

You can find further discussion and insight around the increasingly strategic and high level role of Comms via our recent webinar: Empower the rise of the Chief Communications Officer through AI and technology