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By Professor Ralph Tench, Research Director at Leeds Business School, Leeds Beckett University
The Covid-19 period has transformed the way we live and work. The technology has proven to be a domestic and professional liferaft during the crisis. We all use technology much more in our leisure time, to access critical news and information, and to facilitate our personal and business communication. Together with my colleagues across Europe, I have been studying the role of professional communication in organizations every year for 15 years. And in 2021, we have seen significant changes underlined by three things, on the one hand the rise of CommTech (communication technology i.e. increased application of digital technologies used to manage internal and external communication of organizations); second, the reintroduction of video conferencing into organizational life; and third, the changing roles of communicators as they strive to create value for their organizations or clients in response to our new environment.
For the 2021 edition of the largest global study on strategic communication and public relations, the European Communication Monitor (www.communicationmonitor.eu, # ECM21), we surveyed more than 2,600 communication professionals in 46 countries , producing the following highlights:
- Digital transformation is progressing, but few communication departments or agencies have reached maturity
- Video conferencing is here to stay – used more frequently for communication with employees and customers than with journalists
- Practitioners simultaneously take on different roles in their day-to-day work – a trend to watch out for is the role of advisor – the communicator who helps senior management make better business decisions
- Professionals working in excellent communications departments are more engaged in coaching or advising executives and colleagues at all levels of the hierarchy
CommTech and digital infrastructure
Recently, in public relations and strategic communications, there has been increasing debate about how digital technologies are changing communication processes throughout the stakeholder journey – this is the notion of CommTech. Our results show that the introduction of software and digital tools is both a necessity and a huge challenge. A large majority of practitioners across Europe stress the importance of digitizing communications with stakeholders (87.7%) and building a digital infrastructure to support internal workflows (83, 9%).
However, the current level of digital maturity (the process of embracing, integrating and increasing acceptance of the social and technical dimensions of digitization in the way organizations communicate with stakeholders) is often disappointing. Three out of four communications departments and agencies are fairly experienced in using external digital platforms for stakeholder communications and providing collaboration platforms for their team members. But only a minority is considered mature when it comes to providing digital tools for specific communication support activities such as digital asset management. Overall, we find that digital maturity differs significantly across types of organizations: publicly traded companies are clearly ahead and government organizations are lagging behind.
Video conferencing for communications with stakeholders
We’ve all joked about being ‘Zoomed-out’ or ‘Teams (ed) -up’, and it’s clear from the community of practice that the COVID-19 pandemic has essentially forced many communicators to trust almost entirely by videoconferencing. Our study suggests video conferencing is here to stay. Three in four practitioners intend to use it for communications with stakeholders, even after the pandemic is over. But questions remain about the implications and impact of these developments. Will the style, tone and casualness of organizational communication change? We have become accustomed to the disguised world of senior management communication with children and animals in the background, creating a more “human” side in some organizational communications. Will it continue?
The future roles of communication professionals
Today, communication professionals devote most of their working time to the traditional role of Communicator (42.8%), followed by the role of Manager (31.1%). While a quarter of those surveyed spend a substantial part of their working time as a coach (27.7%) or advisor (26.2%) at present, more than half of the practitioners surveyed are expect these two roles to grow in importance over the next few years. three years. Practitioners who play the advisory role more often advise senior managers or heads of other departments on strategic business decisions, rather than middle managers.
So it’s clear that communications officials are eyeing the post-COVID-19 pandemic, and our results suggest there will be neither a return to the old familiar nor a new normal. On the contrary, communication will be transformed by digitization at all levels associated with the imperative need to show the contribution of the function to the creation of value. To respond, communicators need to be aware of the main challenges we identify and ensure that they contribute to the success of the organization by playing these new roles.
The full report and more details available at www.communicationmonitor.eu.
Professor Ralph Tench is Research Director at Leeds Business School and President-elect and Head of the Board of Directors of the European Association for Public Relations Research and Education (EUPRERA). EUPRERA is the leading academic association for public relations and strategic communication.