Corporate Communications in a Post-COVID World
By Danilo Maeda, Social Impact and Sustainability Leader at JeffreyGroup Brazil
We’ve all read stories about how the world will never be the same after COVID-19, but how will businesses communicate with their stakeholders in this new future?
Crises often trigger permanent changes. They speed up the course of history. Economic, social, political, and cultural spheres are redefined in times of difficulty, as occurred following the spread of Bubonic plague, Yellow Fever epidemics, AIDS, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Latin America’s many political and economic crises.
In the case of COVID-19, we have already begun to see significant changes—which may or may not become permanent—in diverse sectors such as remote work, e-commerce and delivery, travel and tourism, and the purchase of durable goods. Large economic shocks often produce long-term changes to how people consume and interact with brands.
For communicators, the current crisis illustrates how we can help guide positive behaviors by adequately informing individuals about the roles they can play in maintaining shared goals such as public health. Our nearly instantaneous ability to share information—for good or ill—greatly increases the need for responsible, transparent, and well-crafted communications. Many societal actors need accurate data to make far-reaching decisions. To fulfill this role amid myriad practical challenges, protecting our shared public interest—which is even more relevant in a hyper-connected world—remains our top priority.
Communicators are experiencing a paradigm shift, with increased levels of engagement, connectivity, activism and, above all, a higher valuation on transparency when building reputations. In this new “Era of Truth,” consistency and genuine engagement must remain foremost strategies, rather than afterthoughts.
Responsible communication, acting as a curator of the truth, must be established to increase business and stakeholder value and meet society’s new demands once it emerges from this crisis. To do so, we must adopt the following:
1. Understand that change is continuous. COVID-19 has taught us that addressing massive societal problems through systemic change is possible and worthwhile. Therefore, businesses may face increased pressure to address global issues such as climate change and rising inequalities will place increasing pressure on businesses.
2. Embrace genuine stakeholder engagement as an irreplaceable asset. The most successful and resilient companies during the pandemic will be those that establish good communications based on a deep understanding and appreciation of their stakeholders.
3. Use data intelligence combined with human intelligence. If consumers are more open to sharing information and accepting a higher level of privacy flexibility, they also demand deeper commitments from companies. Brands must know how to decipher these trends and respond with genuine campaigns that have legitimacy.
4. Adopt transparency as a rule. When we accept our weaknesses and ask for help, audiences tend to value such gestures of humility. These actions must undoubtedly be genuine because, as several recent brand reputation surveys demonstrate, empty commitments can easily be exposed and rejected.
5. Establish partnerships for the greater good. As we learned from recently developed public-private initiatives, these types of partnered solutions have a greater potential to generate shared value.
6. Put the real before the aspirational. During many recent crises, strategies based on “controlling the message” and seizing opportunities at any cost have rapidly backfired. Count on this trend to continue.
The responsibility for applying these lessons and building a future in which good communications play an even more strategic role rests with the entire sector. We all have a role in making the long-awaited new normal a more responsible, sustainable, and ultimately, more viable future for each of us.
Founded in 1993, JeffreyGroup is exclusively focused on serving multinational companies and global brands in Latin America, providing a full range of marketing, corporate communications and public affairs services with a full-time staff of more than 250 employees across the region. www.jeffreygroup.com