COVID-19 – a global communications reset?

In times of global crisis, we’re forced to step back as an industry and consider what we stand for.

Staying relevant has never been so important, argues Annalise Coady
Staying relevant has never been so important, argues Annalise Coady

While around the country, an army of unsung heroes is battling to defend us from COVID-19 and keep our critical services moving, businesses are asking themselves questions about how relevant they are in these times of challenge.

With the key tenets of organisational relevance being sensitivity, empathy, collaboration and action, there are plenty of inspiring examples to learn from already.

And as we get deeper into the pandemic, we are seeing more innovative (and even surprising) partnerships emerge, highlighting how the path to relevance can evolve and bring new partners together.

In the healthcare industry, businesses are acting quickly to counter COVID-19.

We’ve seen Curetis work with BGI to produce testing kits and Incyte together with Novartis engage in Phase 3 trials to see whether cancer drug Jakafi is effective against COVID-19.

GSK and AstraZeneca (AZ) have recently announced a plan for a joint laboratory to help the Government expand its supplies for diagnostic tests, working together to pivot their efforts to test a range of different reagents, chemical mixtures and other materials, and to work with other specialist diagnostics companies to help scale the response.

The NHS has also announced a partnership with Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and Google alongside other companies to develop a data platform to better inform our national response.

At a global level, AZ, Medtronic, and Regeneron are all donating, expanding their facilities to help test and care for patients, and continuing trials.

Meanwhile Pfizer, Merck, Galapagos, and others have paused non-COVID clinical trials to ease the burden on doctors and facilities as they focus on treating COVID-19 patients.

In all these cases, the companies have rightfully met with positive reactions – not just because they’ve done the right thing, but because they’re collaborating to tackle the biggest, most relevant challenge the world faces.

Outside healthcare, we’re seeing companies pivot their services and products to increase their relevance – and to great effect.

A consortium of companies from the UK industrial, technology and engineering industries have come together to design and manufacture ventilators.

It was announced on Monday that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is working with some of the world’s most popular gaming companies to share its ‘Stay at home, save lives’ message.

Each of these examples of organisational relevance embody the values of sensitivity, empathy, collaboration and action.

What, then, should we be asking ourselves about our own businesses, to see whether we’ve adapted successfully or it’s time for a communications reset?

Try these questions for a start.

  • Does your approach still resonate with your stakeholders? What should you stop doing or start doing?
  • How should you adapt your tone, copy, visuals or channel strategy to reflect the rising virtual and video media consumption?
  • What’s being said by your audiences across the healthcare ecosystem, and how can you help more?
  • How do your employees rate you and what might they expect from you now and in the future?
  • Who are you partnering with, and how, for the benefit of the broader community?

Your answers can provide a strong foundation for your evolving business and communications strategy.

Ultimately, just selling an organisation’s narrative as part of a business strategy will be dismissed as rhetoric or worse.

As we navigate uncertainty, staying relevant has never been so important.

Annalise Coady is president, EMEA, at W2O Group

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