Author: Jeremy Maggs, Managing Director at BOLD

If you look hard enough, you might spot a pair of wide, unblinking eyes looking nervously over the corporate parapet. Under a sweaty forehead, they are scoping an uncertain landscape in preparation for doing battle on the business field once again.

Phrases like “the new normal” and “different operating paradigm” are now part of our clichéd commercial parlance. We know things have changed. We know we must think differently, take risk assessment more seriously – – and wear a mask.

We also know that we must communicate ideas and strategies in a markedly different way. The question is, are business leaders doing that? If in fact, they have the time to do so.

Never, I would contend, has the discipline of public relations and reputation management been more important, as organisations try to restart their engines (many still from home) and tell the market they are fully engaged, fired up and open for business.

Business leaders, and particularly those in the now echoey chambers of the C-suite, need to think about sharp, tactical, and beneficial messaging, that hits exactly the right tone, and instils confidence into their communication without sounding desperate or uninformed.

Now is the time for robust, flexible, and responsive communications, where being on-message can be vital to an organisation’s survival and saying the wrong thing can be brand suicide.

We all know we now work in the shadow of the so-called ‘cancel culture’ where the tone and nuance of any utterance by an executive is instantly and minutely scrutinised, and the blowback can be devastating.

So, in this mid-pandemic time, there are new rules for effective business communication – – and those who have a high internal profile, or a public face, would do well to take note of what is a new operating paradigm and recalibrate the way they talk and engage with both internal and external stakeholders. It’s not a radical shift, just a smart change in focus.  

We heard ad agencies banging the brand-purpose drum, long before COVID-19 infected us. But now, companies have no choice. They must take a pronounced stand against social evils that permeate our society and make their voices strong and strident. If they do not, their so-called stakeholders – staff and clients – will punish them. The secret, of course, is how to craft, articulate and disseminate that view.

Long ago in the then arcane world of public relations and advertising, those tasked with brand management would, once a year, develop a long-term strategy and then try as hard as they could to live by it. In athletic terms, it was a marathon. Now, corporate communication is a series of tough daily – – sometimes hourly – sprints.

Those tasked with communicating need to keep a constant eye on the changing landscape in their sector – threats and opportunities – and be ready to respond. The old system of long approval time simply does not exist anymore.

In times past, the media used to adhere to a twenty-four-hour news cycle, during which various media platforms rose and fell by the deadline clock.

Morning newspapers would frame the story, radio news would update it and television would broadcast the footage at the end of the day. The 24-hour news cycle has now been condensed into the 2.4 4-second news cycle, wholly-owned by social media.

If you have not responded almost instantly, someone else will fill the vacuum and, most of the time, your brand will be the first victim.

Just as risk management and revised protocols have taken a seat at the boardroom table, so too should communication. It is no longer just the preserve of a brand or public relations manager – – the CEO’s steady hand needs to be on the tiller navigating these new pandemic communications rules of agility, empathy, and authenticity.