Communicating During COVID: What Changed and Why

By Julian Rea, Managing Director at Liminal.

2020 will be remembered across the world as the year that, for a time at least, changed everything. Our lives were altered in ways both trivial and profound, as society reset on a planetary scale.

But what has really stood out for me is how quickly the “new normal” became simply normal; how effectively people and organisations adapted to these famously unprecedented times and found new ways to work.

The communications sector has been no exception and, speaking to my colleagues across the Fincom Alliance of independent, financial sector-focused agencies, it became clear that all our clients were busy testing out novel ideas and revaluating established assumptions.

So, we set out to get a better sense of what was changing and why; how Covid-19 has affected communications strategies for financial services brands and what this means for the future.

We surveyed 67 senior executives and in-house communications leaders from organisations representing more than $20trn of assets, with participants hailing from Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, United Kingdom, Spain and Switzerland.

Despite the geographical diversity of responses, some clear consensus emerged early on.

When asked about the biggest challenges faced by their organisation during the pandemic, respondents overwhelmingly focused on client-related issues, in particular the lack of airtime with existing customers, and the difficult and uncertain environment for attracting new customers.

It will come as no surprise that many organisations looked to digital platforms to help bridge this gap, with 85% of respondents accelerating adoption of digital tools, among which LinkedIn was the biggest beneficiary, being used more intensively by 68%.

But what might be less expected is how the perception of traditional media changed last year. Three-quarters of respondents said they felt the media gained influence during the pandemic as news organisations became more important.

The same proportion revealed they increased their own media activity in response, with 42% experiencing greater interest from journalists in their news and insights.

Anecdotally, this closer collaboration between financial sector journalists and organisations has been driven in part by an increased appetite for content to feed an ever-more relentless and changing news cycle, but also by a clear need for quality insight from trusted experts about what the latest developments mean for markets, investors and the economy.

This is good news for a media sector that has been challenged by issues of profitability and perception in the years leading up to the pandemic, with the 2019 Reuters Institute Digital News Report noting that international levels of trust in the news in general sat at 42%.

And it is good news for communications professionals too.

Two thirds of participants in our survey said they believe a dedicated corporate media strategy will remain ‘vital’ in future, with 28% saying they expected media to play a greater role in stakeholder communications than it does today.

So, while the gradual shift towards new communication channels continues, it’s clear that those who have loudly predicted the death of the media will be waiting for some time yet; our survey shows that traditional news organisations are very much alive and kicking when it comes to the financial communications landscape.

And the pandemic has also highlighted the important role played by PR agencies, calling on them to be even more creative and proactive in building effective links between journalists and businesses.

This has been especially crucial at a time when newsrooms were saturated by constant and changing news flow, but looks set to continue as we all look forward to embarking on the post-pandemic era.

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