Fireside Chat: Communications

Our third Fireside Chat held on Thursday April 9 focused on the challenges of communicating effectively in a world with hourly updates, changing priorities and general uncertainty. Edie’s recent survey of sustainability professionals found that the majority of us are able to work from home, but many have faced significant disruptions to their roles and ability to deliver key projects. In addition, announcements about new or milestone sustainability achievements are being put on hold.

Vic Taylor, Managing Director of Flag and ICRS Board Director, provided a comprehensive overview of how corporates are managing their communications in the short term. Vic said:

"It's very early days to understand the full impact of the virus, and that affects how companies communicate their responses internally and externally. Companies usually plan communications months in advance but now they are looking at daily and weekly content. They also have to consider that their people, customers, communities and suppliers around the world are at different stages of impact, response and recovery. Critically, companies are recognising that their stakeholders are people who are each having a unique personal experience of the pandemic."

In the discussion following, we noted that during these relatively early days, most organisations are planning their communications in much shorter time frames, sometimes only one to two weeks ahead, as opposed to monthly or quarterly. This is having a direct impact on the annual sustainability reporting cycle as companies are finding it challenging to talk about their responses as the true impact of the pandemic has yet to be fully understood. Consequently, companies are having to share what they are doing now, as opposed to reflecting on the year just gone and the year ahead. As a part of this more current view, communications are focusing on how companies are protecting their people and wider stakeholder groups.

What remains even more challenging is striking the right tone and balance, given the range of stakeholders with different needs, working environments, and personal situations. Responsible companies are conscious that they need to communicate sensitively about what they’re doing, and recognise that their responses should not come off as marketing. It’s more important than ever to engender trust and authenticity in tone and content. Therefore, there is immense value in being thoughtful and useful when defining actions and messages by putting oneself in the shoes of those you’re talking to and joining existing initiatives to maximise impact.

Overall, there is a realisation emerging around the importance of creating and promoting a ‘new normal’ post-pandemic that is more robust and sustainable, a topic which we’ll no doubt discuss further in the future.

Our next Fireside Chat on April 17 will continue our discussion on philanthropy and financial support for charities and feature David Logan, Founder of Corporate Citizenship and ICRS Board Director, alongside ICRS Patron Member The Charities Aid Foundation. In the meantime, you can find all the resources shared by our members on our Covid-19 resource area.

If you have thoughts on how the ICRS can support you, please email info@icrs.info. We’re encouraging our members to share examples of how they’re responding to the pandemic so be sure that you’re also a member of our members-only LinkedIn Group, The Exchange Online.