The COVID hangover & what it means for 2021
We all know 2020 did not go as planned. COVID shocked us, disrupted life and business and forced many of us to rethink the lives we live and what we value.
2021 has already been a mixed bag, and sometimes it can feel like we’re waking up with a big hangover – tired and fragile after a year that tested our mental health, resilience and resolve.
However, there was a silver lining to this hangover for communications professionals – 2020 placed strategic communications at the forefront of conversation. Organisations needed communications professionals and advice more than ever, as each business grappled with the COVID crisis operationally, culturally and at an individual level.
So what were the key takeaways from 2020, and what do they mean for the year ahead?
- The value of internal communications and employee engagement: Internal communications and employee engagement has historically been seen as the poor cousin to external comms. Perhaps this is because there is a ‘mystery’ associated with the art of media and stakeholder engagement, and an assumption that anyone can do internal communications. While it’s agreed that internal comms and engagement has been more widely valued and relevant during the COVID-crisis, there remains a question on whether that relevance can be sustained through appropriate investment and headcount, as well as continued professionalism of the discipline, as we return to more of a BAU requirement.
- Creativity and innovation by necessity: COVID drove creativity and innovation by necessity – often outside the boundaries of what might have been thought possible in ‘normal’ circumstances. Rhetoric around working from home and remote working has been abundant for years – but scarce in demonstratable and practical application. Examples of this innovation by necessity included Dropbox’s launch of a Virtual First policy, and Healthscope’s launch of a Facebook page within 24 hours as a key crisis communications channel for its 18,000 employees. The necessity driven by COVID flipped a switch, which means that workplaces and people’s expectations of their employers have set a new bar which will need to be met.
- Creating the magic: With all this disruption in our roles as creative and strategic comms consultants, there is a question around how we create the magic. Without the ‘watercooler conversations’ (that is, glasses of rosé, coffee runs and random daily chats about politics, world issues, media stories and celebrity gossip), how do we come up with smart, creative, and strategic comms campaigns that create impact. At Herd MSL we tried different approaches. Initially trying inorganically to force opportunity for these moments to flourish through team building quizzes and meeting-heavy ‘camera on’ days, we learned that in a remote world we needed to rely on the one thing key to all great thinking – relationships. We adopted a behaviour of little and often, sharing ideas and thoughts on the phone and on Teams, asking smart questions, and investing in solid relationships. These key ingredients, which were missing during the initial stages of COVID, became the bedrock of creating the magic and ensuring continuity for the agency.
While we don’t know what 2021 will hold, it will be important to continue to develop and cement the relevance and professionalism of strategic communications; as well as keep our teams and culture central. If 2020 was the year of COVID, 2021 will be the year of connection.
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Herd MSL is an ANZ public relations and integrated communications agency that provides strategic counsel and creative thinking. We champion our clients’ interests through fearless and insightful campaigns that engage multiple perspectives and holistic thinking to build influence and deliver impact.
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