Let’s be honest, it’s not exactly ground-breaking to say the past 18 months have been somewhat transformative across the board – from healthcare to the economy and everything in between. From a PR perspective, whatever sector you were operating in, it’s also fair to say that most annual planning went out the window and a lot of predictions have either been revised or become irrelevant.
However, staying with PR and communications, one thing COVID-19 has done is accelerate some of the systemic changes that were already happening across the sector. An obvious example is the migration to digital – often a feature of every planning session, its role has changed as relationships with technology changed the way we work, live, and interact with the world.
Another area affected, perhaps more acutely than others, is corporate communications.
Traditionally, corporate comms was a relatively underutilised resource, compared to other areas of business. The past months have dramatically changed that, as organisations and brands realised the need for proactive communications to support themselves. As the weeks turned to months, the importance of reputation rocketed up the list of business considerations, with more and more organisations realising the need to reflect the beliefs of their users and customers. At the same time, communicating effectively internally with employees became a top priority, especially for larger businesses.
With all these elements in play, the real shift in corporate communications has been an acceleration of purpose-driven communications. Whether engaging and supporting an increasingly burned-out workforce or re-defining the tone and actions of senior leadership, empathy, transparency, sustainability, inclusion and ESG – all of these have become key attributes of corporate communications, with the ultimate goal of humanising companies.
It’s this goal – brands wanting to be seen as human beings and looking for personal relationships with their consumers – that has driven a dramatic change in the expectations of corporate social responsibility and, subsequently, communication. The murder of George Floyd and the resulting global Black Lives Matter movement is just one example of many companies deciding to take and communicate a public position on issues; shifting the focus of their communication from a tool to support profit to one that adds meaningful contributions to society. Additional issues such as stakeholder capitalism, wealth distribution, immigration and voting have all meant companies needing to communicate greater empathy, leadership, and vision.
This effect can also be seen internally, as effective communication, teamwork and transparency with staff have never been more important. Business leaders and corporate comms organizations have had to fill the void of uncertainty by providing compassionate, transparent, and clear communications to their employees, as well as the world at large. In part driven by the evolving COVID-19 updates, there’s an identified clear need for more structured employee communication towards all staff members and the use of apps to stay informed in real-time. Whether it’s how their company is performing during these difficult economic times, or what changes are coming – employees want to hear the truth, and they want to hear it straight.
Purpose driven comms can also be seen in the growth of employee advocacy. As organisations have increasingly realised the importance of purpose, especially given the unprecedented and multiple challenges society is currently facing, they have acknowledged the importance of building a more powerful sense of purpose with their staff. During a period where many employees will have lost touch with their companies’ purpose in the current environment of disconnect and constant change, the re-establishment of company culture should be a priority for both employees and employers; not only from a morale-boosting POV but also its impact on the company bottom line. According to data, almost 64% of companies with formal employee advocacy programs credit advocacy with attracting new business. Additionally, 45% attribute new revenue streams to employee advocacy. With purpose-driven comms delivering the message, employees can often be an organisation’s best salespeople, with more influence over the products and services their friends and family buy than any piece of marketing material.
With the global and societal changes over the past 18 months, it seems that the change in corporate communication is here for the long haul. Companies and brands are no longer solely identified with their products and services; they are much more than that. They, now more than ever, embody the human stories and narratives that we associate and empathise with. As we come out of COVID, the rise in purpose-driven coms will be vital for them to show that they have changed too.