Looking back at the year so far, spottydog’s Press Office Manager, Oliver Kirby, who leads the Mitchells & Butlers Outsourced Press Office, has shared some of his key thoughts on what companies can learn from the pandemic when it comes to delivering effective corporate communications.
As we re-emerge this week from the behind the closed doors of a second national lockdown across England, reflecting on the last several months and looking across at our neighbours in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, each forming their own paths through the pandemic, you’d be forgiven to question what direction is the right direction.
Now, I’m not here to explain the right route to take through the pandemic, not even close, but I am going to explore three key reflections the pandemic has taught businesses, specifically their corporate communications impact. These are:
- The need for clarity
- Understanding the right tone of voice
- Highlighting the importance of corporate communications
Delivering company messages has always been a staple for businesses. A very important cog in the larger corporate machine. It’s how companies share their direction, their thoughts, the message they’re trying to outline, reaching out to audiences through every medium, incorporating communications channels which target stakeholders, employees and customers.
Looking out at the puzzling landscape we have in front of us, trying to work your way through numerous tiers, curfews and social restrictions, the picture is anything but clear. What this does show, clearly, is a lack of clarity and consistency of message across the board, leaving the door ajar for confusion.
This is where corporate communications professionals must take stock and learn from the wider political environment. Delivering a clear and consistent message, one that provides absolute clarity across all channels and reaches all audiences is crucial, especially in a time of crisis.
Consistency of message across the board produces clarity. In May, when images appeared of an Aer Lingus flight packed to the rafters, at the same time they were reassuring customers they were putting on more flights to ensure people could safely social distance on their flights, caused a number of issues. Disgruntled customers, concerned members of the public, worried employees and a negative media story all spiralled out of this.
At a time when they were trying to reassure their customers that it was safe to fly, directly telling them this was the case, when in reality it was questionable at best. All Aer Lingus was going to achieve was this lack of clarity on what their customers should expect, giving the opportunity for consumer confidence to plummet. To their credit, in the days that followed they reviewed and updated their safety measures, addressing the concerns of customers, stakeholders and employees.
In offering clarity with your messaging it’s incredible what you can achieve. From quelling employee anxiety, reassuring stakeholders and providing encouragement to customers, delivering a message that is consistent and gives clarity on the situation, whatever it might be, is certainly a must.
Tone of Voice
In the past companies may have been forgiven if they get the message wrong, if the tone is slightly off and it ruffles a few feathers, whether internally or externally. That’s now become a bit more of a rarity.
During the depths of Lockdown V1, most of us confined to our homes, and the stories you would see and hear of people suffering, it was clear the message from businesses couldn’t remain the status quo, it had to change. The attention had rightly turned to key workers, celebrating their heroism, and we saw scenes of entire streets clapping one of their neighbours as they left for their shift as a paramedic, a change in the tone of the nation was clear to see.
The businesses who’ve recognised this have shone brightest. They’ve adapted their tone of voice across the board to reflect the national feeling, the feeling of kindness, respect and caring for people. You’ll now more frequently than ever see companies championing their employees, their people, whether that’s in advertising campaigns or across internal communications, this shift to recognising those who are most important to them will certainly pay dividends in the future.
It’s been a notable shift and it’s something which has certainly been reflected across corporate communications. Before when we may have seen a bigger push on offers, on products, on things that sell and make money, the pandemic has certainly reminded companies the importance of their people, and they’re ever so keen to make sure this is known.
Why is this important for corporate communications? Well, if a company can show that their teams are cherished, their employees are looked after, that’s a tone of voice that will resonate with on so many levels. It lands well with the employees themselves, the stakeholders and with the public, giving a boost across the board.
If a major decision is made, or an external situation is set to affect the business, why wouldn’t you want a team on hand to manage how this is communicated through the company? Yes, this is where I make my very biased argument that having a good structure to allow corporate communications to work effectively is important, but it is with good reason.
The pandemic has taught us that having good corporate communications from top to bottom is good for business. With it covering across many different channels, considering a variety of audiences, it goes without saying that if each group are singing from the same hymn sheet you will find some sort of manageable parity when dealing with a crisis like the pandemic.
On the other hand, if you have each section of the business making their own points, delivering a message that’s completely different, only considering their interests and not looking at the bigger picture, there will be chaos.
A prime example of a confused message, and not being clear across the board, was when the Government changed the ‘Stay at Home’ message and urged businesses and their employees to return to offices. In hindsight this wasn’t the best move, as just a couple of months later they were again urging people to work from home if they can, but even at the time it confused a lot of people, especially with devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all advising people continue to work from if they could.
Having effective corporate communications running through a business during the pandemic will have provided benefits such as keeping the media at bay when it seems the sky is falling. Having the conscience of mind to provide that reassurance to the public, to stakeholders and to employees, not to create panic when calm was needed, was absolutely vital to keeping the ship steady through choppy lockdown waters.
Companies have had to deal with huge social impacts, severe disruptions and potentially terrifying economic forecasts. If during all that a business has had the capability to keep stakeholders engaged, to manage customer expectations and provide some form of comfort for employees, in contrast to sounding the alarm and creating sheer panic, they will be in a much better place to recover when we come out on the other side.