At Acumen we often say it’s our job to have a sense of ‘healthy paranoia’ – thinking through potential risks and having a plan. Turns out we could have been a little more paranoid – a global pandemic and subsequent nationwide lock down were not on our list!
And yet here we are in the throes of COVID-19 closely followed by a spike in social unrest as witnessed in the current #BLM movement and other geo-political goings on.
Reflecting on all of this, I thought I’d offer some observations.
It’s been emotional – even the most hardened optimist’s resolve has been tested in recent months. Fear, worry and stress for our own and others’ wellbeing takes its toll. People are feeling sensitive and with good reason.
Handle with care – from a communications point of view, tone and manner and demonstrating genuine empathy (that’s words and actions) are table stakes. Brands, reputations and trust take years to build and can be broken with a slight misstep, not to mention the damage a tone-deaf faux pas can do...
Inclusive, frequent communication – across diverse audiences, people want a source of truth, clarity and we’re seeing an appetite for more frequent communication rather than less (provided it’s engaging and relevant clearly!). The use of technology to share and collaborate has accelerated but doesn’t work for everyone.
Changes in behaviours and channels – there were a lot of first times during lock down. The way we work, shop and communicate changed and some of these behaviours will stick. This is having a huge impact on the way organisations are communicating with employees, how brands are connecting with customers. We are seeing even greater emphasis in our marketing communications on lead generation and sales support.
Invest in relationships – some of our clients have reflected that they had not invested enough in their relationships and they were not sufficiently in place when they needed them. As they seek to put this right, we are seeing an increased need for public affairs support. We do not advocate a ‘dark arts lobbying’ approach here, rather a ‘through the front door’ approach to help support constructive outcomes based on an understanding of each other’s perspective and the practical implications (intended or otherwise) of what can often seem like a sound, principles-based approach on the surface.
Check yo’self – the pace of change demands being highly attuned to the external environment and the risks and opportunities it can bring. Some clients have told us they have found our independence, objectivity and ability to challenge invaluable. It’s easy to get caught up in the here and now or just be too close to things to fully consider the opportunities and risks.
Park partisanship and partner up – our Acumen Edelman Trust Barometer shows that New Zealanders think institutions are doing a poor job of partnering and partisanship is getting in the way of meaningful progress. Business is seen as having the ability to get things done, although it is also seen as too self-interested and falling short on ethics. Government and NGOs are seen as trustworthy, but not competent. There is a clear opportunity for Business and Government to play to their strengths and work together.
At Acumen, we feel we have a valuable role in facilitating conversations that matter. A big part of what we do is connecting brands, organisations and people to have constructive conversations even when they are difficult conversations to have. You do not necessarily need to agree on everything, but honouring your stakeholders with clear, two-way communication goes a long way to building respectful, long-term relationships and protecting your brand and reputation. Investing in proper communications upfront can also save on lots of argy bargy down the track.
Many of us are facing challenges at the moment, but we share a vested interest in the recovery and wellbeing of New Zealand. It’s on us to work together to come back better and stronger.