Remember when all children went to school every day? When most of us went to our workplace five days a week? When we travelled to business meetings, conferences, exhibitions and events? When we went abroad – for work or holidays? When very few had experience of home schooling, working from home and Zoom meetings every day?
That was twelve long months ago before the first lock down began. Since then, through force of circumstances, we’ve had to test our unused resources and untapped skills, our ability to adapt and to adopt new ways of living and working, and we’ve had the chance to learn several valuable communications lessons and skills.
What have we learnt? PR and communications have played a prominent role in influencing how the country, the government and businesses have responded to all the changes and issues, in the public eye and behind the scenes. Looking specifically at communications and PR, here are five lessons we’ve learnt over the last twelve months.
- The importance of up-to-date crisis communications and PR preparation
A year ago, every organisation’s crisis communications preparations were suddenly tested. They were forced to test, under pressure, the effectiveness of planned emergency communications to inform staff, customers and suppliers how the company was protecting everyone against the risks of the virus and then how it will operate under lockdown.
How up-to-date and effective were the processes and did the plans work? What lessons were learnt and, most important, have improvements been implemented yet? How many bounce-backs came from the contact databases? Have they been updated since?
- National and local government must know and fully appreciate the value and contribution of your industry to gain their support
There has been great debate about the level of support that industries have received from the government. The business events, accommodation and meetings sector found that, historically, its data (SIC codes) understated its size and this was being used to assess industries. The sector has had to campaign hard all year to gain the recognition and support that it has needed. It’s an ongoing communications and PR challenge.
- Not every senior executive handles media communications and press conferences well, even when thoroughly trained
The quality of performances by ministers during the daily and later occasional press briefings has ranged from competent to ‘car-crash.’ At worst even senior ministers seemed like ‘rabbits in the headlights,’ or wooden or simply incapable of reading the numbers on the autocue accurately, while others overpromised and were later called to account. 12 months on, just a few proven regulars are now cautiously but professionally handling them. There is no substitute for thorough training and innate competence.
- The benefits, capabilities – and downsides – of Zoom, Teams and event technology
Before March 2020, most of us had never joined a Zoom or Teams meeting, and we had no idea what ‘pivoting to a virtual or hybrid event’ entailed or would be like as an experience. We now know all too well. Communications, keeping in touch with colleagues and clients, have been more important than ever, and much more difficult during lock down. We’ve learnt the tricks and the pitfalls, such as being careful what is going on around us when the video is on and to check what else is on our desktop before ‘sharing screen’. Virtual and hybrid options are likely to be with us for a while yet as an adjunct or alternative to live events and the investment in technology and learning how to make the most of them will continue to be valuable.
- The advantages and value of face-to-face communications and live events are irreplaceable
No matter how professional and sophisticated virtual event software and events are, there are so many elements of communications and the experience of live in-person conferences, meetings, exhibitions and live business events that they can never replicate or replace. Breakout rooms, for instance, can never match the chance to make new contacts over a coffee and to catch up with colleagues, to do business and enjoy social activities together in one place. There are so many unique features of being together with people that we have learnt to appreciate even more while he opportunity has been taken away from us.