Remote Working: How can comms professionals maintain their worth during the Covid-19 outbreak?

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By Adam Harwood MCIPR

Adam is an accredited PR practitioner working in the skills sector with the Association of Accounting Technicians, the UK’s leading qualification and professional body for vocational accountants.

Since Boris Johnson’s announcement on Monday night (16 March) advising all non-essential workers to stay at home, the majority of workplaces have now entered a period of partial or complete shutdown. Britain is surely in the greatest state of paralysis it has known since the advent of the three day week in early 1974, and perhaps since as far back as the Second World War.

As comms professionals, we’ve undoubtedly been required to be at the heart of the company’s initial response to the coronavirus pandemic. Corporate messaging is being updated on a daily basis, with every area and stakeholder impacted. Already today I’ve been involved in updating messaging for our staff, about our staff (to media), our upcoming events, impact on our student assessments, the colleges and employers that we work with etc etc. No doubt you’ve been undergoing similar challenges.

However, equally, we’ve needed to postpone a number of upcoming campaigns. One set to highlight the benefits of apprentices to smaller businesses, which we were due to launch next week, has fallen by the wayside for the time being. It was hardly felt appropriate to encourage SMEs to bring in new staff when they may be struggling to staff their existing premises, and moreover at a time when they may be challenged to keep their business going at all.

So while it’s very much a reactive position as we continue to offer clarity to various stakeholder groups, how will comms professionals in the education and skills sector be able to keep themselves useful to the media while unable to meet face to face, organise big events or run various campaigns for the foreseeable future?

  1. The news agenda will inevitably evolve

Even if many of our places of work are kept on lockdown for weeks or months, precious few crises consume the entire news agenda for a prolonged period. Things have moved at pace in recent days, but specialist news sites in particular are even now continuing to search for alternative stories to Covid-19. Readers (and even journalists) will only maintain their full interest in articles related to the outbreak for so long, and pretty soon they will be looking to put other issues back on the agenda. So, while some campaigns and messaging may need to take a back seat for now, it may not be too much longer before they become of interest again.

  1. Journalists still require our expertise

Rather than simply cancelling all upcoming journalist meetings, we’re exploring whether the virtual route is possible. Zoom is a tool I only first learned of a few months back via the CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, but for whatever reason it seems to work better for me than Skype for Business and seems to have more of that personal touch – feeling more like a face to face over a coffee than a business conference. Connecting your experts and the media via tools such as this may be the way forward long after the crisis has dissipated. Many broadcast interviews are already conducted over these channels with less reliance on spokespeople travelling into studios. I’m even having a virtual meetup with friends via Zoom later tonight!

  1. Telling your story through advocates remains a powerful tactic

Most businesses are not likely to be able to use the crisis as a way of bringing in new business or clients (with some notable exceptions – energy companies, streaming services and delivery firms are likely to find their services in higher demand). But maintaining a strong profile for your organisation – primarily through the success stories that it creates – will hold you in good stead when the virus eventually passes. Amidst the near-total domination of Covid-19 related stories on the BBC News website, for example, a short video told the good news of Richie Wintle, who hopes to play for the England amputee football team three years after losing part of his leg in a motorbike accident. It’s a positive story in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, and useful for Wintle’s club West Bromwich Albion to discuss their charitable work. There’ll be plenty more stories like that in the coming weeks. Perhaps your organisation has one to offer?

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