Written by Tony Langham, Chief Executive, Lansons, London & New York, Chairman, PRCA Global Covid-19 Taskforce.
Reading the contributions from leaders in 23 different countries, you’ll be struck by the spirit of positivity that runs through the report. “We must become change enthusiasts” says Mary Beth West from New York even though, according to Svetlana Stavreva of the IPRA, “the new normal may not be as comfortable as the normal that went before”.
So many of us want to be part of improving the world. “We must advise our clients and businesses to always be generous and do the right thing regardless of short-term discomfort” says the PRCA’s Francis Ingham. “ESG is top of the corporate agenda as organisations plan for 2021” adds Stephen Waddington. According to Natalia Popovych of One Philosophy in the Ukraine “We need to set a higher bar for expectations of the profession”.
Many of our industry leaders believe that the importance of what we do has been elevated by the crisis. “Let’s capitalise on the fact we now have a seat at the top table” says Jo Carr of Hope & Glory, while Amanda Coleman points out that “Communication can save lives, support employees and change behaviour.”
My strongest recommendation is that you set aside three hours and read all 18,000 words across the 74 contributions. I found that I learnt something from everyone who contributed and I thank all of you for the time and effort you put into this. I’ve tried to summarise all of the key themes into a potential agenda for an agency Board away day or a communications function offsite. This slide presentation covers this with direct quotes from everyone who contributed to the project.
In short form, that agenda looks like this:
THE BIG PICTURE
The four major global issues.
Untact. It is now a more virtual world. Forever.
We must embrace contradiction (and change).
We’re a positive industry: It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
It’s time to do the right thing. ESG. Sustainability.
Communication has saved lives and cost lives. What we do matters.
We should be more confident.
HOW TO SEE THE FUTURE
Humanity. Empathy. Reassure. Listen.
Brave. Bold. Confident. Creative.
Collaborate. Together. Co-create.
Test. Fail. Try. New. Agile.
We need to show up. Defend the truth. Integrity.
Find moments of calm.
Authenticity. Purpose. Values.
Internal is the new external.
The primacy of corporate PR is back. Issues. Crisis. Risk Management.
More integration. All stakeholders.
We need the right kind of leadership.
Relationships still matter.
Use data. Focus on audience.
Time for full stack content. More visual. Virtual events.
Follow the money. Bottom line. Results. ROI.
MANAGING COMMUNICATIONS AGENCIES AND TEAMS
Prioritise. Focus. Make decisions.
Improve our plans and processes.
People are everything. Culture matters.
New technologies. Digital innovation. Automation. AI. Investment.
Tackle inequality, promote diversity and inclusion.
Release our young leaders.
What is the office for?
Focus on cash. Reduce costs.
I hope this makes a contribution to our industry by giving a structure to think about the future. My own contribution is to focus on how we might make the right decisions. Most careers have three or four big moments where the decisions we make really matter and this is probably one of those career- and organisation-defining. As Lenin said, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” That’s where we are now.
I believe there are four keys to making the right decisions in the next few months:
1. Collaborate internally and take external advice. We don’t need to be told again that these times are unprecedented, so it is incumbent on everyone responsible for major decisions to seek help. This is a time for collaborative senior leadership teams and judicious use of external advisers. It is not a time for reclusive managers taking decisions in private.
2. Recognise this unique moment. This could be a major opportunity for significant and successful change. As David Gallagher of Omnicom says “Whatever you were before will be different.” This crisis should not be wasted and many organisations will be able to make changes in a matter of months that would otherwise have taken several years. This is a time for significant, open-minded strategic review. To many in our industry this means investment in technology. Nuria Vilanova of ATREVIA says that “We can’t create strategic communications campaigns without having Data Analytics.”
3. Take our people with us. Organisations need to take their employees with them during these times of change, so it is vital that people believe in their employer. Our organisations need to have a clear purpose and live it – and management decisions need to make sense within the corporate story, internally as well as externally. “The real winners will be those agencies that have sustained their culture through thick and thin” says Neil Hedges of Headland.
4. Send the right signals. An organisation needs to understand the importance of trust and reputation – and send the right signals in the visible day-to-day decisions it takes. This means that all decisions, particularly the small ones, need to be consistent with the bigger picture of change and longer-term vision. “We need to be very clear what we stand for, our very purpose” says Hill + Knowlton Strategies’ Simon Whitehead.
If we recognise the opportunity we currently have, we could change our industry, and what we do, forever and for the better. My favourite academic writer on our industry, Professor John Doorley of Elon University in North Carolina, says this “is one of the greatest opportunities of all time for communications – don’t mess it up”. Uwe Wacher of Klenk & Hoursch says “Companies that invest in technology and who manage culture change will be the winners.” To Fleishman Hillard’s Jim Donaldson, “It’s time for creativity in PR to take front and centre stage.” While to Amy Binder of RF Binder “Purpose-led thinking and quick innovation are critical to recovering fast from the pandemic”. However, I’ll leave the last word to Richard Tsang of SPRG, who says “In this bold new world there still remain endless possibilities.”
You can read the full report here. Join us at 13:00 (UK GMT) on 19th November for a special event featuring four of the contributors who'll be debating the results and discussing the implications of the study for communications professionals around the world. Book here.