Global outlook – the strategic communication response to the pandemic

From a global perspective, Australia has fared very well in its management of the health and economic impacts associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

And while the Australian economy is recovering faster than originally forecast, and we feel somewhat protected simply by virtue of being an “island”, as a trading economy, our continued recovery will be heavily influenced by global sentiment and the way in which businesses around the world re-engage with global commerce.

So, what role has communication — and the professionals behind it — played in how businesses and countries responded to the pandemic around the world?

In partnership with our global affiliate FleishmanHillard (FH), Rowland recently brought together a panel of among the world’s pre-eminent corporate communication professionals, representing Asia, the UK, the US and Australia:

  • Rachel Catanach — Senior Partner and President, FH Greater China
  • Matthew Rose — Senior Vice President and Senior Partner, FH New York
  • Stephanie Bailey — Managing Director and Senior Partner, FH London
  • Geoff Rodgers — Founder and Chairman, Rowland.

We put forward two questions to our panellists — firstly, in your view and in your region, what would you say were the communication highlights of the 2020 global pandemic? Was there a turning point or memorable moment that defined how corporate communication professionals approached communication in 2020?

Secondly, as the world emerges from lockdown and the vaccine inspires great confidence, looking back at the last 12-months, what lessons have we learned as communication professionals? And how are these lessons shaping communication in 2021?

Some highlights from the discussion included:

  • Corporate communication professionals have shown their worth. There is a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, the link between corporate communication, issues and crises management, business strategy and execution.
  • The less corporate jargon, the better. There was an expectation for organisations to have an increased presence and voice, particularly at the height of the pandemic, and those who were able to communicate simply and with humanity, won the support of their stakeholders and the wider community.
  • Technology is here to stay, and will continue to define life and work experiences. With ‘work from home’ becoming the new corporate lifestyle, the technology boom ensured companies could still successfully operate while employees were at home. While this has resulted in new efficiencies and greater flexibility, it has also come with its challenges (how many new starters still haven’t met their colleagues in person yet?).
  • Make it a point to understand data. It has become even more critical for corporate communication professionals to listen to, understand, and know the numbers and their impact, as the foundation for informed decision-making and strategy.
  • Social justice is the great unifier. While rallies in the streets were discouraged, social issues continued to find their voice in a crowded pandemic media environment, and organisations in sync with their purpose and aligned to the issues of the day, found themselves actively participating in the conversation. But communicators take note — the public can smell a lack of authenticity a mile away.

Rowland: Global Corporate Affairs Webinar from Rowland. on Vimeo.

Short on time? We’ve summarised more from the discussion here:

Rachel Catanach — Senior Partner and President, FH Greater China

For companies and their corporate communication advisors, it’s really important at this point to know their communication and business bottom lines. What trade-offs are they prepared to make if things become critical? At a global level I think this is one of the biggest issues and challenges for communication professionals coming out of COVID-19, really setting the scene for the future.

Matt Rose — Senior Vice President and Senior Partner, FH New York

As the social justice movement got full steam behind it, corporations and leaders around the country all assumed they must talk and that led to some really interesting decisions. The corporations that did it well, are the ones that stuck the closest to their core business — they talked about what their beliefs are, what their policies were, as opposed to making grandiose promises that they would find themselves behind the 8-ball later when they weren’t able to live up to them.

One real challenge and opportunity for companies was in understanding the media environment that was created from COVID-19 and social justice issues. We helped companies parse words, getting down to — this is what you want to say, but this is how you have to say it, and that being quiet is okay if you don’t have anything to say.

Stephanie Bailey — Managing Director and Senior Partner, FH London

COVID-19 accelerated trends, whether that was technology or the power of the individual. Things that were bubbling along anyway, suddenly become all powerful. With this mass digitalisation, suddenly individuals discovered their voices and corporates discovered the power of the individuals — which forced corporates to respond.

Geoff Rodgers — Founder and Chairman, Rowland

Some companies used the pandemic as a time to get their house in order in relation to key communication planks, really accentuating company values, positioning, branding and the narrative. Those companies that acted quickly and efficiently were well positioned to hit the ground running when everything returned back to normal.


Stay tuned for more of our Corporate Affairs webinars in 2021. Until then, watch the other webinars in the series including: