Charles Hartley
Charles Hartley

Back in December 2019—which seems like a lifetime ago—you may have been a chief marketing officer, vice president of public relations, or another high-tech communications leader for a corporation. Even then your job was tough.

But at least you had a communications plan in place and your teams were executing against those plans.

Then the pandemic hit.

It rattled the business world across the board: strategies, financials, technology investments and application, supply chains, operations, marketing, to name only a few. Your communications budget probably has been cut as revenues have plummeted.

To communicate effectively in this time of massive upheaval, you need to re-think your entire communications strategy. A world dramatically changed calls for an altogether new approach to communications. Your communications programs should focus on four major thematic shifts:

Shift One: Shareholder Capitalism

Amid this pandemic, communications professionals should be sensitive to the importance of a rapidly growing concept referred to as “shareholder capitalism.” Shareholder capitalism embraces the notion that there must be more substance to capitalism than making money.

Inform in a way that shows your company is attuned to the notion of shareholder capitalism. Make known how your company helps solve the pandemic’s problems—such as opening corporate office facilities for coronavirus testing or enabling your employees to take time off from work to serve people at food banks.

Communicate more about your company’s belief in a higher cause, the greater good of society. De-emphasize materialistic financial performance achievements.

Embracing this shareholder capitalism mindset, companies will likely be more successful in the long run because their brands will be associated with caring about people and their health.

This crisis is bigger in scope and importance than your company’s gains. Your communications strategy should convey that sentiment.

Shift Two: Sharper focus on corporate purposes

Reveal more about your company’s purpose and reasons for existing. Customers will resonate with stories about how your company is making your employees safer and putting their needs and those of society above your own self-interests.

Share less about how well your company is performing. People have more pressing and serious issues on their minds—nothing less than their own survival.

During this crisis, selfish bragging about how much money your company makes could turn off your customers and employees.

In a similar vein, unveil more about what your company believes and why you are in business to begin with. That’s what people want to know first and foremost.

You can tell them later what business you’re in and how you do it—after they understand your core beliefs.

Shift Three: New World of Work

In so many fundamental ways, the world of work is going to be different because of the pandemic. Communications should focus on the accelerating use of technologies and the growth in direct-to-consumer businesses.

With the pandemic dramatically increasing the number of people working from home, inform in much more detail about how your company is rapidly increasing the use of technologies to conduct business.

Be specific about the technologies being used—how, by which employees, and for what reasons. How is your company approaching this in ways that no one else has? Tell that story.

Bring to life the clever and effective ways in which such technologies as Zoom are being used, and the investments being made, including how much your company is investing in which technologies and why.

For example, if your company is taking advantage of artificial intelligence to help remote workers be more productive, communicate that story. AI is fascinating to many. It’s timely, fresh and inherently intriguing.

If blockchain has become a bigger part of how you do business, tell that story. It’s cutting-edge and would be well received by the press.

If your company has reconfigured your office arrangements, reduced the number of desks to allow for social distancing, or implemented other innovate ways to use office space, that’s fresh content you can communicate to show your company’s versatility, creativity, and concern for the safety of your employees.

This pandemic has also accelerated the direct-to-consumer business. Craft stories aligned with this growing trend in which more workers will be staying at home and ordering food and other suppliers for straight delivery to their houses.

Develop and pitch stories about how your company is investing more in high-tech driven consumer brand campaigns or encountering direct-to-consumer supply chain challenges yet overcoming them in original ways using novel high-tech tools.

Shift Four: New Corporate Strategies

With many businesses at a virtual standstill the past two months, many companies have re-assessed their strategic positioning, unique selling points, product portfolios and long-term investment plans.

Some of them have decided to overhaul their businesses in fundamental ways. For instance, they may have decided to no longer provide products and only services.

They may have decided to embrace a strategy that makes competitors irrelevant. Using this approach, illuminated in a stellar business book called The Blue Ocean Strategy, these companies may have decided that they want their products and services to be distinct and unique from everything else on the market.

Think about the iPhone when it first came out. There was nothing else really like it. There were no true competitors. It was a product sailing out in the clear blue ocean as opposed to the red oceans characterized by “bloody” competition fraught with devastating price competition. In the blue ocean no one is doing anything comparable to you so it’s essentially competition-free, liberating, and exciting.

As this pandemic continues, communicate more about these types of major strategic shifts. But don’t do this in a self-serving way merely touting the wisdom of your company’s blue ocean strategy.

Final thoughts

Whether producing news releases, blogs, byline articles, videos, podcasts or whatever other platform companies, the tone of communications needs to be more sensitive and less self-serving. Virtually everything about business must be re-imagined because of the massive impacts the pandemic will continue to have on the global economy.

In a typical time – meaning not now – companies would spend the majority of their time creating content about the benefits of their products and services, new contracts, and acquisitions.

We’re in a starkly different time than we were just a few months ago. It’s not an understatement to say the entire business world has been sent into shock and will never be the same.

As communications leaders, be more sensitive, selfless, personal, and emotional. Self-serving communications strategies won’t resonate.


Charles Hartley is the president of Carolina Content & Media Relations Corporation based in Davidson, North Carolina. The company improves the quality of writing, editing, media relations, and content marketing for high-tech and sports businesses. He can be reached at [email protected]