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Why communications teams are more important in a post-pandemic world


If there can be one award for outstanding contribution over the past year, it must surely go to every in-house communications team in the country.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust communications to the heart of strategic decisions. What do we say to staff about returning to the office? How do we keep colleagues engaged remotely? How do we prep our CEO on our sustainability strategy for tomorrow morning on Radio 4?

At EMR, we've always known the strategic importance of communications teams to companies, but this was not always the case amongst Executive Committees, many of whom did not, and still don’t, have a senior communicator at the top table.

These were just some of the topics discussed at EMR's Q1 Communications Coffee Clubs hosted by Max Forsyth, which brought together communications leaders from across industries to discuss the future of communications in a post-COVID world. Read on to find out their views. 

There was a consensus amongst everyone who attended the Coffee Club that PR has become almost as important internally as it has externally for senior leaders. Never before have C-Suites been so accessible to colleagues at all levels. While this presents incredible opportunities for them to build rapport and trust with employees, it also represents challenges that communications teams have to address.   

Blurred lines between home working and leisure time can mean that leaders become more relaxed whilst running town halls, and they need to be conscious that just because a session is virtual, they should speak like they are standing up in front of employees in the office. Employees are often their harshest critics - embrace the challenge, inspire them, but remember there is no such thing as an off the record comment to an employee. 

We know that COVID has changed the future of work for the overwhelming majority of office-based employees. Flexible working is here to stay, and whilst some large corporates want colleagues to return to the office, flexibility will still have a place in even the most 'presenteeism' of workplaces. Internal Communications teams will bear the brunt of the heavy lifting here over the next few years, as Executive Committees invest heavily in digital technology. Managers will direct teams using a blended approach of face to face and virtual meetings. Employees will need to be engaged, inspired and retained, whilst spending more time away from colleagues. 

Executive Committees must start investing heavily in internal communications teams. Companies that do not invest will lose disengaged employees to competitors, and digital transformation projects will fail because poor communications will lead to little to no buy-in from colleagues.  

Externally, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) has rapidly rocketed up the agenda. Black Lives Matter, Net Zero targets, Sustainable Investments - the last year has brought companies' environmental, social and corporate governance to the forefront of customers', investors' and journalists' thinking. People want to know what businesses are doing to improve diversity & inclusion; they want to see companies investing in greener, renewable energy. The FTSE has responded - research from PwC and the London Business School's Centre for Corporate Governance found 45 of the FTSE 100 have ESG measures in their annual bonus targets or long-term incentive plans. PR and Media Relations teams must consider the broader macroeconomic picture when planning and delivering campaigns. Corporate stories that tie into societal issues will generate the most coverage and have the most significant impact. 

To finish, Max asked the communications leaders what impact they thought the last year has had on their teams and what the future holds. There was unanimous agreement that it was the most incredible challenge their communications teams had ever faced. They became overnight confidants to CEOs and board members, they tore up 2020 communications plans, and at times it was daily crisis communications. But all were incredibly proud of their teams, and the skill and effort delivered.  

With a nod to the future, they are confident communications teams will benefit from an enhanced reputation with increases in headcount and budget, as the economy improves, and life returns to normality. 

The Communications Coffee Clubs are run quarterly by Max Forsyth. If you'd like to attend one in future, you can email Max here

EMR's Communications Practice recruits communications professionals at all levels across internal and external communications on a permanent and interim basis. To discuss communications hires at your company you can email Max, above, or submit a brief here.

Thank you to all of the attendees for your contributions: 

 Naomi Jones, Communications and Marketing Director, SUEZ UK,  

 Zoe Shepherd, Director, Head of Media Relations, KPMG UK 

 Ed Dewar, Head Of Press Office & Corporate Communications, RSM UK 

 Danielle Dominey-Kent, Communications and Public Affairs Director, Landsec 

 Alastair Glenn, Senior Manager, Internal Communications, Liberty Global 

 James Russell, Group Head of Communications, Nord Anglia Education 

 Jo Perrin Senior Global Communications Lead 

 Brian Bannister, Global Head of Communications, BCG 

 James Banks, Head of External Relations, AECOM 

 Tom Goddard, Head of Communications, KPMG UK 

 Nina Suter, Head of Communications, Permira 

 Kathryn Nolan, Global Communications Leader, Mercer


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