Reaching Stakeholders in the COVID-19 Era: The “New Normal” for Communicators

Weeks into the crisis, we are realizing certain aspects of communications have likely changed for good. Here are some of the ways:

  1. Employee engagement is a bigger priority than ever before: CEOs who realized the COVID-19 risks early and moved employees home, addressed worker health and safety before profits when speaking, and are communicating transparently and frequently, are realizing the payoffs in terms of enhanced employee engagement and morale. As a result of seeing the benefits, strong employee engagement programs will be a bigger priority for corporations as we move through and out of the crisis.
  2. Crisis plans have become even more important: Companies that went into the crisis with strong crisis plans -- crisis team roles assigned, escalation protocols and scenarios plans, good contact lists and proven channels for addressing stakeholders -- were and are able to respond more nimbly to unfolding events. Communicators must now have a seat at the table as businesses determine short, medium and long-term risks, and ensure communications plans are put against potential events. As the COVID-19 threat recedes, we anticipate that having strong crisis plans in place will be a necessity not a “nice to have.”
  3. Front line workers won’t be overlooked in terms of communications training: Call center and customer service employees are on the front lines as millions of people cancel reservations and inquire about policies. Having training and support for these employees will be an area in which companies continue or start to invest much more heavily.
  4. Remote media interviews are here to stay: While Skype, Zoom and WebEx media interviews were born out of necessity, they may be here to stay. The value of high-quality information, from trusted authorities, may continue to be more important than who can get to the studio. We are seeing TV news that includes a greater number of third party interviews, and the interviews are generally shorter in length to compensate for the format. We believe this is a trend that won’t go away with the end of social distancing.
  5. Virtual meetings are the new normal: As entire offices have shifted to remote working, and many meetings have gone virtual, there has been a collective realization that meetings we used to assume needed to be done in person are just or almost as good when done remotely – and the positives include significant time and money savings. Executives will face choices about which meetings can stay virtual as we head back to our offices, and which will need to be done in-person. But all of us can take away from this crisis that the webcam meeting is here to stay, and we must all be proficient at meeting and engaging people online.
  6. ESG efforts continue to be imperative: Recent WSJ and Barron’s articles brought to light the growing importance of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors to investors, particularly as they relate to corporate response to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Putting in place and communicating strong disaster preparedness, continuity planning and employee treatment through benefits such as paid sick leave are critical not only to employees and customers, but also to investors.