The Changing Face of Crisis Comms: A COVID-19 Retrospective

We are proud to announce the launch of our Crisis Comms Whitepaper in association with Halston Marketing – ‘The Changing Face of Crisis Comms: a COVID-19 Retrospective’ 

From the first glimpses of COVID-19 in Wuhan, no-one could have possibly imagined the extent this pandemic would impact people around the globe. It is a prime example of how quickly a crisis can escalate and how it can dominate for months on end.  

The report is an in-depth research piece that reviews the COVID-19 crisis comms strategies from a first-hand perspective. It includes accounts from leading comms professionals from a wide variety of UK industries. It covers all the multifaceted comms that were required and the huge variety of target audiences they had to accommodate.   

COVID-19 is definitely one for the history books and it was integral to understand how different businesses dealt with the crisis and what can be learnt from the situation. The comms teams are the heart of any business and are the interlinking component between all of the employees.  

The research includes 10 separate accounts from comms professionals, some of which are IABC board members and others are from our wider network. The report will follow a timeline, with each contributor given a dedicated time period for their account where they review their strategy during this point in time, including the mediums used, the messaging and delving into the challenges they were facing at the time.  

Then the piece will follow with a comparison between each of the accounts, understanding the differences and similarities between their methods and highlight any correlations between the impact on their sectors or when they experienced their peak in terms of output. It also explores predictions from the professionals in terms of their comms strategies and possible stories.  

If you would be interested in reading the whitepaper, then it is available to download on the Halston Marketing website here. 

Let’s Talk About Communications Measurement

I’ve noticed a wide range of confidence with measurement among the communications community.

Most of us know it’s important, but not everyone is comfortable and for some it’s a downright scary thing that’s always giving you the evil eye from your ‘to do’ lists. I’d like to help. I have a media degree and post grad qualification; I’m definitely not a mathematician.

In my view, measurement is less scary if you start to count outcomes and think about what the numbers are telling you, before someone challenges you. You may not have the time or the calmness of mind under such pressure if it’s a bit of a pet hate (you may also not have any of the numbers you need).

I recently joined the UK and Ireland Board of IABC to help me connect with others interested in the topic and general corporate communications.  Later this year, I’ll be taking part in an IABC networking event where we can share views about measuring communications. I hope to see you there.

  1. Look beyond vanity statistics

My point here is that we need to do more than just count clicks. Know what business outcome you’re looking for and what you’ll be saying to who. Plan beyond the number of impressions and engagements you hope to achieve. After all, we’re in businesses to help them achieve their objectives, not just to encourage likes of our posts. We need to measure in context.

To illustrate my point rather painfully, here is an example (it’s unlikely to be to everyone’s taste). Take a quick look at this short video and think about what they were trying to achieve:


This video achieved a reach of over 1.6 million views and 21,000 likes – hurrah you might think. However, they achieved eight pledges and no donations. The purpose of the campaign was to achieve donations from managers of sports centres and teams.

  1. Quantify outcomes to prove Return on Investment

Let me ask you a question: do you have plenty of budget and resources to deliver for the business?

If you’re feeling a bit squeezed, don’t despair! You can use measurement to not only justify return on investment in communications but also to consider what you may improve or even switch off.

For example, a cascade pack that takes 20 days’ effort across a team each month to create, which is opened by 15% of managers and clicked on by 10% of them. Even if all those 1.5% of your total manager population then onward cascade the pack, it’s clearly not worth the effort.

Save that time to focus on things that do have impact, like great story telling.

  1. Look at the bigger picture

What do the numbers actually mean and how do they correlate to campaign business outcomes? Where I work now, we’re a B2B business, so our focus is on how we want to be positioned in our markets rather than direct advertising and eCommerce with the public.

In my previous company, we were B2C, so the focus was really different. We had large marketing and media functions, with adverts across all platforms and a high street presence.

Tip: know your business type and its strategy and build your content strategy around that.


  • Media monitoring – measure share of voice, message reach, sentiment and key spokespeople.
  • Website and PR monitoring – what do people read, engage with, turn up to?
  • Social media – people trust ‘real’ people and subject matter experts more than they trust your company or top directors (search for Edelman Trust Index to find out more).
  • Internal digital – measure audience, engagement. What content do people like? Can you do more (if it’s of value)?

For a longer version of this article with many more tips and examples, click here.

Thank you.

Rachel Tolhurst

Head of Corporate Communications at Amey Plc

It’s time to see the writing on the wall

A few years ago, I was meeting a prospective client to chat about a potential opportunity to work together. I asked to talk at their offices, as it’s always helpful to meet ‘on their terms’ to get a better understanding of the organisation. They were running late, so I was sitting in reception on the client floor and people watching. I also noticed they had their company values stencilled on the walls. Among them were the usual suspects: integrity; trust; mutual respect; client focused; and so on.

As I waited, I saw a suited man emerge from a large meeting room and storm up to reception, loudly berating the receptionist because he had been provided with Pepsi for his client lunch, not the Coca Cola he had asked for. The way he spoke to the receptionist was appalling, but she seemed to take it in her stride. Not much mutual respect in that interaction…

For too long, organisational values have just been something written on the walls. Every company has them and they’re all more or less the same. But then the Covid-19 global pandemic hit and everything changed. Your values became apparent in your actions – it didn’t matter what it said on the walls. I’m sure we can all think of examples of organisations that stepped up and those that should, frankly, be ashamed.

Of course, most organisations – probably yours included – fall somewhere in the middle. So if you’ve been sitting there thinking that the values your leadership team came up with at an offsite three years ago don’t quite match where you are and how you operate, now is the perfect time to revisit them.

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

It’s behaviours that matter

To be effective, this isn’t something that can be palmed off onto HR teams. Nor should it be something done in isolation. The pandemic should have made it clear which values are important to you. Now’s the time to crystallize your thinking and get it out there. And no, putting it on your walls won’t be enough.

Values are just words. It’s behaviours that matter. And your values will generally indicate the types of behaviours you expect to see.

As communicators we have a huge role to play in making sure our organisations, customers, clients, stakeholders, and the wider public know what our values are, what we stand for and how we do business. So how do you get it right?

  • Test your values with people in your organisation. Do they seem right to them? If something glaring is missing, you can adjust. If not, then you’ve validated what you have. You can also discuss what behaviours they believe support delivering those values.
  • It starts with objectives. How you deliver is as important as what you deliver. Make sure your people are rewarded for demonstrating the right behaviours, as well as what they deliver. Your values should be woven into all relevant processes throughout the employee lifecycle, from job adverts and recruitment practices to the way you manage leavers and everything in between.
  • Incorporate your values into communication. Look for ways to show that you’re already living the values in the way that you work. This helps people to understand and adopt them. Can you categorise intranet articles by value, for example, or run a recognition programme that celebrates people living the values? Can your external communication campaigns incorporate and highlight those values, too? Is your public affairs team engaging with officials on topics related to your values?
  • Have patience, be aware and work together. It will take time to truly bring new values and behaviours to life. Be patient. We also need to be conscious of any bias that may present itself. We often talk of the right ‘fit’, but this can be an excuse for hiring in our own image. Hiring based on behaviours and values rather than some perceived ‘fit’ should help with this.

Organisations that see values as nothing more than wallpaper are missing a trick. The Deloitte Global Millennium Survey 2020 highlights the importance placed on values and purpose by younger generations, with many saying they won’t support businesses whose stated and practised values conflict with their own. 

Ignore them at your peril.

A blog by Simon Monger, IABC UK&I Board Member 2020-2021

Developing a Resilient Organisational Culture During Lockdown

The recent dramatic shift in the office paradigm has had a major impact on organisations’ culture, impacting employee morale and engagement. Working together in office can provide a sense of community and a network of support. For some companies that relied on their offices, remote working has caused a disconnect between employees, and some aspects of their culture may have been lost in the process.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way. Companies can see these changes as an opportunity to develop and re-address their culture and build an even more resilient team. Below are just some of the ways companies can become stronger while most of their employees are working remotely.

1. Open Communication

A lack of communication can lead to employees feeling lost and with that, a loss of motivation. It’s important to build various communication channels and express how an open flow of communication is always available. In a recent survey, remote workers said that one of the most important actions from companies was regular communication with 55% rating it as ‘Very Important’. There should a centralised place for top-level communication that continues to provide transparency over strategic decisions and a separate instant messaging platform for quick questions that would normally be shouted across a desk. Managers still need to ensure they have dedicated meetings with their team to continue the flow of messaging from top to bottom. Video calls are becoming a popular platform to conduct regular team meetings to continue the coordination between team members on various tasks.

2. Adapt

It would be foolish to ignore all the changes to our society that have taken place recently. Companies can either choose to recreate their office culture in a remote environment or create an entirely new style of culture. These changes can be an opportunity to develop a more effective culture that promotes good morale and trust in employees. Over time, a company may have developed a complacent culture, where productivity may not have been at its highest and in the worst-case scenario misconduct and bad behaviour could have started to seep in. If this is the case, companies can now choose to adapt and improve their culture, using this as an opportunity to eliminate behaviours that don’t reflect their values.

3. Strong Leadership

One of the most important factors driving organisational culture is strong leadership. You need engaged managers who want to drive a positive culture and support their employees through internal comms and by leading by example. Managers should provide employees with clear information on business changes and how these impact the team. Remote working means managers cannot constantly oversee everyone’s work, so they need to trust people to work autonomously. ‘Demonstrating trust in employees’ was cited as being the most important action a company could take, according to a recent study, with 58% stating it as very important. Demonstrating trust can also build employees’ motivation, allowing them to be more productive in their work.

4. Productivity

In order to have a resilient culture, you need a productive workforce. Research shows remote working can boost productivity, in some cases leading to a 44% increase in client calls. However, some employees may be working longer than usual, with a study showing 35% are now working longer hours. Whilst this may mean increased output for a company in the short term, it cannot come at the cost of employee wellbeing in the long term. To continue this level of productivity over time, you need to be sure employees are still taking proper breaks and looking after themselves by promoting wellbeing as a core aspect of your culture. Many companies have taken the initiative to host fun group activities over video calls such as yoga, exercise classes, or quizzes to promote team building and maintain a sense of community and mutual support.

5. Transparency

Recent events have created a lot of uncertainty, whether in business outlooks or employment security which can be very daunting. The need for transparency is greater than ever. It is crucial to update employees regularly and reassure them where possible. With government policies changing daily, many companies have taken to creating a central platform to host all relevant changes, which is updated on a daily basis. Employees can access it at any time and get a full overview of recent policy changes and how it impacts them, helping to give them peace of mind.

Building a resilient and positive culture will not happen overnight. However, we can’t expect large-scale remote working to be leaving any time soon, so we should take the time to implement long-standing solutions. Building a more resilient culture will allow businesses to be flexible and adapt to the constantly changing environment, helping them withstand current economic pressures.

Next month, in association with Halston Marketing, IABC UK&I will be publishing our first Crisis Comms whitepaper, delving a little deeper into this subject with examples from communication leaders across some of the UK’s biggest companies. Keep your eyes peeled!

New research finds that organisations still undervalue listening as a leadership capability and often pay lip service to it.

This is especially important during the current COVID-19 pandemic when the need for organisations to listen to employee concerns is greater than ever.

Carried out by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC UK), PR Academy and Couravel, with the support of the IABC Foundation, the research explored the state of organisational listening through interviews with winners of IABC Gold Quill Awards.

Howard Krais of IABC UK explained the reason for the study: “We wanted to find out the best ways for organisations to listen and how listening needs to become business as usual.”

The report builds on research carried out in 2019: “Our earlier research found that organisations have lost the balance between ‘receive’ and ‘transmit’.  With the growing use of video, social media and an explosion of channels the danger is that organisations forget that good communication starts with the ability to listen,” says Dr Kevin Ruck of PR Academy. “In fact, listening is now more important than ever.  Leaders will be judged by how they listen to and care for their people.”

The report contains case studies and examples of good practice in listening plus a range of tools that leaders and communicators can use to improve the way they listen to employees.

Through the research, five principles for good listening were identified:

  1. Openness: good listening requires an open mind
  2. Planning: thorough planning across the organisation
  3. Distributed leadership: listening needs to be led at multiple levels in the organisation
  4. Empathic and creative: creating impactful and emotive feedback approaches
  5. Human: understanding how people think and feel

“We hope that anyone wanting to devise new and innovative ways to listen to employees will find inspiration here, as well as advice on the tools that can be used,” says Mike Pounsford of Couravel. “Although the case studies were gathered pre-COVID, many can be adapted for an online environment and the principles we identified apply whatever the method being used.”

The report also sets out how organisations can assess their maturity in listening against a spectrum of approaches:

  • Passive: more opportunities for passive listening to check what people are thinking and feeling
  • Active: leaders showing that they are aware and responsive to needs of employees 
  • Sensitive: opportunities for people to talk about how they are feeling
  • Deep: listening exercises that can result in a change in the way that the organisation does things

“Organisations that have processes in place to listen to employees right across the spectrum are going to experience better levels of engagement, advocacy, trust, innovation, resilience, learning and wellbeing,” says Ruck.

Download the report here:

The original report, published in December 2019 can also be downloaded below: