From smoke & mirrors to Zoom in 500,000 years

From smoke & mirrors to Zoom in 500,000 years

Demystifying the case for quality corporate communication

From the evolution of mankind, the earliest forms of communication were recorded at around 500,000BCE, including making sounds, talking, drawing, dancing, acting, and using signals, fire and drums. Today we’re using Zoom and multiple apps to plug the gap in what these early conventions had on offer. However, the quality and value of communication remains the often over-looked critical lifeline to our humanity.

It is the main driver of progress or indeed regression on any level – from one-on-one relationships with others to how governments communicate to populations and amongst each other, all is won or lost on communications. It is little wonder then that millions of people around the world dedicate their professional pursuits to the art of communication – from academics and linguists to life coaches, counsellors and strategic communications advisors – all playing their part to promote effectiveness in this critical feature of all our lives.

Nothing highlights the important role that communication plays more than the Covid-19 pandemic, requiring levels of coordination and communication not usually required during peacetime. And although it is arguably too early to evaluate the successes and failures of the global response, the half-term scorecard certainly demonstrates that effective communications are key to a good grade.

A closer look at case studies from the corporate world demonstrate just how critical it is to communicate effectively with your stakeholders, especially through a crisis. Just think about the damage that poor communications have done to companies like BP during the Deepwater Horizon disaster and Boeing with the 737 Max; alternatively, think about the positive impact of effective communications during a crisis – think New Zealand and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern or Airbnb, whose CEO is known for his authentic tone and transparent approach.

We need to look no further on the impact of communication proficiency during this period than at recent polling concerning the UK government and their handling of the pandemic response. The YouGov poll (released May 17th) showed that 49% of respondents thought that the government was “doing badly”, versus a 72% approval rating on March 23rd.  The poll suggested that people wanted more detailed and clearer guidance regarding the current phase of the UK’s exit from lockdown strategy.

As many countries try to return to some semblance of (a new) normal, what key changes has this crisis brought to the field of communications, the advice its practitioners give and how organisations should adapt to these changes? Here are some examples which should shape how companies, organisations and governments plan for their futures.

  1. Reputation is your most valuable commodity: this experience has further solidified the importance of reputation. Building and managing reputation is a journey; you can lose it in a second, particularly if you haven’t put in the hard yards to build reputational equity before.
  2. Pre-digital age tactical PR is consigned to history: it is no longer fit for purpose. Your stakeholders are more active, aware and enlightened than ever. They all have a direct impact on your reputation thanks to the smart phone, digital age. Sweeping issues under the rug is no longer a panacea for even the smallest problem. Strategic communications, good governance and change management will help you mitigate and manage risk while building long term value.
  3. Strategic communications earned its position as a critical function of the C-suite and a permanent fixture on the Board’s agenda: it should be an essential function in the business model and strategic direction of any organisation. It is on the front line as a steward of reputation.
  4. Communications therefore contributes to and permeates all aspects of an organisation: from setting the tone of leadership’s engagement with employees to defining community relations and all in between.
  5. You must define your purpose, it must form part of your business model and go beyond the singular focus of shareholders: it will define your culture, your reputation and thus your long-term opportunities and success.
  6. Earning the trust of your full stakeholder universe is key to your future success and building long-term value: strategic communications is a critical driver of this effort.
  7. Organisations need to navigate to the best but plan for the worst: they MUST audit their crisis capabilities and develop tested contingency plans for how they will act and communicate during a crisis.
  8. Trust will be earned or lost based on your communications capabilities: without trust, you have no license to operate.

The demands placed on organisations to communicate and the way in which they communicate has altered dramatically in recent decades. The digital age has sharpened scrutiny and an awakening of consciousness has demanded greater authenticity and transparency. As these changes have gripped professional life, communications as an advisory service has matured away from notions of transactional, tactical PR to a far more strategic, meaningful form of critical counsel. It is time for organisations of all types and sizes to embrace the importance of strategic communications as a vital component of risk management, a significant driver of momentum and growth. Disregard this at your peril for good communications is at the core of our very being and key to progress.

In its never-ending search to provide clients with targeted, best in class expertise and counsel, THC launched a strategic advisory practise to support clients through complex decision making and execution, managing crises and building long term value. Strategic communications counsel sits at the heart of this practice. For more information, please contact