Large Companies Plan Higher Spending on Communications Post-Pandemic
New research from Proof Strategies reveals large businesses were unprepared for the communications challenges of COVID-19, spent heavily and plan to continue
Toronto, November 16, 2022 — According to new research by Proof Strategies, Canada’s leading independent communications agency, despite heavy investments in communication when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020, almost nine out of 10 (87%) leaders of large businesses in Canada and the US are planning to spend even more in the post-pandemic era. The research also reveals that large organizations were unprepared for the communications challenges the pandemic would bring, and scrambled to re-deploy and hire staff, build new in-house functions and hire outside consultants and agencies. The results are based on a survey of senior executives in Canada and the US from organizations ranging from 500 employees to over 10,000.
When asked to reflect on their organizations’ level of preparedness to meet the communications needs of the pandemic, leaders initially expressed confidence, with 92% claiming they were “very well prepared,” “prepared,” or “somewhat prepared.” However, when probed further, fewer than one half to one third could say that prior to the pandemic they had established basic protocols such as a formal crisis communications plan, pre-identifying communications channels, running crisis simulations and pre-identifying and media training spokespersons.
When asked to rate the importance of various stakeholders through the pandemic, leaders overwhelming viewed the media, government, customers and employees as “critical,” “important” or “somewhat important” with 80% or more saying this for each audience. However, only about half of those surveyed felt leaders at their organizations were effective at communicating with these audiences (fewer than one third when it came to government and regulators).
“Proof’s research reveals that while leaders say that stakeholders like employees, government and the media were very important during the pandemic, communicating with them hadn’t previously been their priority,” said Josh Cobden, Executive Vice President of Proof Strategies. “This blind-spot collides with what we know from our annual Proof CanTrust Index, which is that clear and regular communications from business leaders is a powerful and important driver of trust in society.”
Proof’s research reveals that as the pandemic took hold, about one third of Canadian and US leaders rushed to hire external contractors and agencies offering employee communications, customer communications, government relations and media relations with similar percentages saying they re-deployed or hired new staff. As many as one third of leaders say their organizations created entirely new, dedicated in-house functions to support employee communications and government relations, and four out of 10 increased their communications budgets overall.
More spending predicted
Notwithstanding a return to some degree of normalcy, on average, almost nine out of 10 leaders surveyed plan to continue investing across employee communications, media relations, government relations and customer communications post-pandemic. On average, their post-pandemic spending levels are predicted to range from small increases (14%) to moderate increases (36%) to substantial increases (37%).
Did it Work?
Proof’s research reveals that leaders do not have buyer’s remorse. Almost 100% of leaders say their pandemic communications measures were effective and they cited a variety of benefits including better understanding of their business by government, increased employee engagement and satisfaction, and improved media coverage, among others.
When reflecting on the most challenging aspects of communications through the pandemic, “measuring effectiveness” was mentioned most frequently by leaders. Other common challenges included managing uncertainty, lack of preparedness, finding time and having the right resources.
“The potential to measure the effectiveness of communications has significantly evolved from hunch to precision, yet many leaders still struggle to confidently assess the value of their investments,” said Cobden. “At Proof Strategies, we harness both human expertise and AI-powered tools to measure the effectiveness of our approaches, and this is particularly important in dynamic, evolving crises like COVID-19.”
About the survey
The survey was distributed May 10-12, 2022 via an online panel, targeted to executives of companies with 500 or more employees. Valid responses were received by 80 US executives and 59 Canadian executives. The project was supported by Elizabeth Williams, Doctoral Candidate & Associate Faculty Member at Royal Roads University and received funding from Mitacs, a nonprofit national research organization that, in partnerships with Canadian academia, private industry and government, operates research and training programs in fields related to industrial and social innovation.
About Proof Strategies
For leaders responsible for managing, protecting, and building organizations and brands, Proof Strategies is a public relations, government relations and communications partner that “asks better questions” to create insight, grow trust and support clients. Founded in 1994, the independent agency has earned more than 300 awards for client work and industry leadership, including Best Workplace in Canada in 2010 by Great Place to Work™, Agency Team of the Year in 2020 by the Canadian Public Relations Society and Caring Company Certification in 2022 by Imagine Canada. Proof has been carbon neutral since 2008. Follow Proof at getproof.com and on Twitter and Instagram at @get_proof.