Comms in the time of COVID: The key lessons from Lighthouse’s online event

Published on Thursday, July 2nd, 2020 by julian

Lighthouse Communications > News + Views > Comms in the time of COVID: The key lessons from Lighthouse’s online event

The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped both the professional and social lives of all of us, and resulted in significant changes to everything we did.

For organisations it was no different, with the need to pivot business strategies and completely relook at structures, systems and processes. Everything was and needed changing – including the way organisations communicated with their customers, suppliers, regulators and employees.

With no proven playbook to turn to, Lighthouse gathered a group of experts to discuss how, in this new world, we can better communicate, connect and remain relevant with stakeholders and audiences.

Featuring guest speakers from Corporate Affairs, HR, Marketing, Government, Media and PR (see full list and link to videos below), the event delivered real insights into the challenges their respective organisations and companies faced during these unprecedented times.

It’s safe to say that nobody found dealing with the pandemic a straightforward matter, but what stood out was the remarkable way people had adapted to the new reality and a rapidly-changing set of circumstances that posed enormous issues for everyone, no matter what sector they found themselves in.

For journalists, it was a deluge of news and announcements that forced a range of quick editorial choices.

For government comms people, assessing the risks and getting vital public health messaging out to the community became a matter of life and death.

For companies, working out how to serve your customers and promote the greater good at the same time became a top priority, with old ways of doing things dropped in favour of innovative approaches.

And for futurist Mark Pesce, the pandemic raised critical issues of what comes next – the advent of a sterile economy, the rise of contactless transactions and the importance of local supply chains.

While everybody’s experiences varied enormously, common themes emerged that showed how some key attributes, implemented and understood, could really make the difference between handling things well and handling things badly.

The first was adaptability. With the world falling apart, sticking to tried and trusted methods was not the answer. Instead, rulebooks had to be rewritten in very short order as the crisis threatened the viability or reputation of many organisations. Coles, for example, had to deal with panic buying, supply chain issues and social distancing all at once – which it managed admirably. Being adaptable and willing to change the way people worked, communicated and made decisions was perhaps the most telling aspect of the whole saga.

Transparency was another trait raised by the experts as a key enabler of successful crisis management. Outdoor media business (and Lighthouse client) oOh!media highlighted how communicating quickly and more frequently than ever with their hundreds of employees made a real difference. Staff knew what was going on, and understood the impacts on the business and the decisions that had to be made as a result – textbook internal comms. Telstra’s crisis team adopted a very similar posture, with openness and transparency flowing through their activities with customers and other stakeholders, and reflecting very well on a company that plays a critical role across numerous aspects of Australian life.

When dealing with a crisis, you have to watch your tone. That came across very clearly from everyone concerned, who were all aware that striking the wrong note could put everyone from customers to governments quickly offside, losing their trust and causing long-lasting damage to reputations. For governments themselves – especially the NSW Ministry of Health and the Department of Customer Service – this was a key issue as they were in positions of real responsibility, making decisions that affected millions of people. It was imperative to find the right information, connect to the right audiences, and use the vast resources at their disposal to deliver messages that were pitched correctly and would cut through a barrage of noise to be factual, informative and worthy of our attention – a job they did very well in what must have been a highly stressful working environment.

Finally, there was speed. Many people have drawn parallels between COVID and wartime situations, and there’s no doubt that decisions had to be made quickly. No time for long-term planning, lengthy committee meetings or multi-year forecasts – this was a situation that demanded decision-making under pressure. For both panellists from the media, the editorial choices available must have seemed endless. At the ABC and Nova, the difficult job of deciding what to follow, what to prioritise and how to cover late breaking news within either minutes or hours would mark this down as an unusually testing time for these experienced journalists. Australians have been well-served by their actions, and a media that helped enormously in spreading key health information while keeping the public up to date regarding local and international events.

For all their time, effort and exceptional insights, Lighthouse would once again like to thank:

A video series with key excerpts from the panel is available here.


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