Business Communications in the Post Covid World with Shelley Stuart, PR and Communications Expert
Business Communications in the Post Covid World with Shelley Stuart, PR and Communications Expert
With all the digitalization and the rapid shift to remote work in recent months, communications have surely been challenged. Shelley Stuart, the Director and Founder of PR & B2B communications company Stuart Consulting, shares that the Covid-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for a number of changes such as mental health support and more.

How have company internal and customer communications changed recently / since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic?

From my own experience and that of my network, companies have been focused on bringing their people together and keeping people motivated, but also having to deliver extremely difficult news. In the UK like many countries since the start of the pandemic, many have been furloughed or have lost their jobs. People have lost friends, family and co-workers. Small businesses and known brands have gone under. This virus is indiscriminate and the challenges presented by the pandemic are unparalleled, at least in my generation. In terms of communication, it has forced companies to ask how and why they are communicating, with a focus on the outcome.

I can’t think of a time when mental health has been more important. In England, a model from the Centre for Mental Health predicts that up to 10 million people (almost 20% of the population) will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the crisis (Oct 2020). Enlightened companies have put in place support systems for their employees and communicated these systems so that people feel they have somewhere to turn.

In terms of customer communications, the focus has been keeping customers and partners aware of trading status. When regulations have allowed them to open, businesses in consumer-facing sectors like retail and hospitality have needed to communicate the measures they are taking to ensure customers are safe when they arrive, interact with staff and throughout their premises. For customers, trust in the management of these businesses has been all important.

Those customer-facing companies who have not communicated adequately have stood out, likewise the businesses that have communicated proactively have emerged as leaders such as Richard Caring’s restaurant group (encompassing The Ivy Collection, Scott’s and Balthazar) along with its formation of the Caring Foundation. Smaller, niche businesses have also been leading lights such as a number of Savile Row and Jermyn Street tailors who began making scrubs for NHS staff during the first lockdown.

Of course there are instances where there is little time for businesses to react. This past weekend non-essential businesses were given less than 12 hours-notice to close as we went into full lockdown again in London. Communication at this point is less concerning than survival, as we enter the final week before Christmas.

What are the short and long-term effects of this change? Will the change accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic last?

Short term I think the pandemic has instilled a more empathetic, thoughtful and broad-minded view of internal and customer communications. In the longer term, my pragmatic side says some companies will go back to business as usual. However, those who choose to learn from the pandemic will view the future in a different way, more open to change, more adaptable and maybe even more compassionate. I only hope the positive changes carry on for the long term, such as Marcus Rashford and his campaign for free school meals.

And how will people interact with each other both at work and with customers?

In speaking with friends and experiencing the mood of the general public, I think it will be many months until people feel comfortable going without masks and being in crowded offices and public places, even when vaccines have been administered globally. People want to engage as they did before covid-19, but the comfort level will vary depending on how safe people feel. This comfort level will be influenced by how their own country has handled the pandemic. Now that we have identified a ‘second strain’, hopes of going back to normal are severely challenged. I try to remain positive.

Will video communication continue to shape the future of brands?

Hubspot says ,“Video has become the most commonly used format in content marketing, overtaking blogs and infographics”. Yes, I believe the power of video communication and technologies like augmented reality will become even stronger because of the pandemic and moving forward, driven by the need to communicate and influence digitally. People have also become used to and desiring greater personalisation and video has become a big part of this evolution.

What are future communication strategies for businesses?

As an overarching change, I think businesses will have to become better listeners, with their staff, prospects and customers. And act directly on what they hear. This has been evidenced not only by companies’ response to covid-19, but the Black Lives Matter movement where many business leaders have asked themselves hard questions about the diversity of their staff and their leadership teams. People are less patient with words now, they want to see action.

Stuart Consulting was set up to lead on strategic B2B communications and PR for companies in technology, telecoms, fintech and financial services, business services and digital. Specialising in strategic communications and positioning, executive coaching, business communications, change communications and stakeholder relations, the company also acts as a marketing hub, referring marketing specialists from its extensive network.