Leaders of healthcare systems have long understood the benefits of telehealth, and the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that healthcare systems have the capacity to rapidly adopt digital solutions. In just six months, we have seen a decade’s worth of digital transformation. For example, 46% of U.S. consumers are now using telehealth compared with just 11% in 2019. But will the benefits of telehealth be experienced by those who could benefit most?

With face-to-face interactions restricted, telehealth has allowed health systems worldwide to provide patients with access to ongoing care. Digital solutions such as remote patient monitoring (through devices or patient-reported outcomes) and video clinic visits have helped bring healthcare providers and patients both back in touch, and simultaneously, into unchartered waters.

The rapid reshaping of the way care is delivered and received has increased our reliance on the internet to access healthcare. In an ideal world, telehealth and other forms of technology-enabled care would improve access to healthcare in areas where access is limited. However, limited access to the internet has resulted in a healthcare “digital divide” – defined as the gap that exists between individuals who have access to modern information and communication technology and those who lack access.3

Recognizing the Digital Divide in Healthcare 

Those fortunate enough to have unlimited access to telehealth platforms may be surprised to find that 41% of the world’s population doesn’t have internet access.2 There are many reasons for this digital divide, including personal, socioeconomic and structural barriers, such as limited digital literacy and geographic isolation. With the continued threat of COVID-19, these barriers can mean the difference between life and death.

Unfortunately, these health inequalities are likely to worsen as we begin to rely more on digital services in healthcare. As health systems continue to be digitized, it’s important to understand barriers to patient access so we can address them:

  • Age: There is a wide disparity in internet use between people age 18 to 29 and those age 65 and older. Fewer older people engage with smartphones and computers regardless of whether the technology is easily accessible to them. Research has shown that generations that didn’t grow up with limitless technology solutions need more training to gain a good understanding of new technologies, especially those regarding healthcare.4
  • Socio-economic background: While 87% of people in developed countries use the internet, only 19% of those in developing countries do so.5Having a lower income and being of minority race or ethnic background not only impedes people’s access to health services but presents an added barrier to accessing telehealth. Recent research has shown that the proportion of non-Hispanic white patients accessing health services was approximately 40% higher than for Black/African and Latinx patients since the COVID-19 outbreak began.6 This represents a potentially life-threatening reality in a time of digital transformation.
  • Geographic location: In the United States, one in four rural Americans does not have internet access at home, primarily due to fewer telephone lines and internet cables in those areas.7 Reduced connectivity to telehealth services could lead to health complications for rural populations.

Bridging the Gap  

Addressing these barriers and minimising health inequality and ensuring digital health is inclusive is possible with the following:

  • Telephone consultations – including call-back or freephone telephone services that provide an alternative to online video consultations
  • Telehealth kiosks – providing accessible care in areas of limited broadband access. Such units can be installed at pharmacies, supermarkets and recreation centres.
  • Telehealth literacy training – promoting the use of publicly available services (e.g., community centres and libraries) to provide resources and training to communities with low digital literacy
  • Accommodating language barriers – providing translating capabilities for telehealth websites and applications in a variety of languages
  • Internet as a basic need – governments can work toward prioritising improved broadband access for the most disadvantaged populations

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues worldwide, it will be important to identify even more ways to increase access to telehealth and ensure that people with limited access to the internet aren’t left behind.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.


  1. Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality? 2020.
  2. Digital users worldwide 2020 .
  3. Steele C. What is the Digital Divide? | Digital Divide Council. 2020.
  4. Vaportzis E, Clausen MG, Gow AJ. Older adults perceptions of technology and barriers to interacting with tablet computers: a focus group study. Front Psychol. 2017;8:1687.
  5. Staines R. Digital divide threatens health and wellbeing during pandemic – UN -. 2020.
  6. Insights on racial and ethnic health inequity in the context of COVID-19, 2020.

Covid-19 exposes digital divide in healthcare. Direct Relief. 2020.

COVID-19 has accelerated a race to the middle for technology, engagement, connectivity and strategy, changing business forever  

One of the unforeseen benefits of this pandemic is an accelerated adoption of digital as an operating model for organizations and a behavioral mindset for customers and employees. From the elimination of silos to the seamless transference of work and ideation, we’re experiencing a more efficient system of productivity and excellence. Organizations are moving from transactional to sustainable relationships, utilizing technology and data to forge greater engagement and connectivity based on knowledge and newfound insight.

For communicators and marketers, this intersection is defining a new reality for:

  1. Brands – Digital is translating static brands to dynamic lifestyles.
  2. Innovation – Companies no longer own innovation. Rather, customers are dictating what comes next, sharing new ideas that defy the status quo.
  3. Knowledge acquisition – Digital accelerates the entire concept of idea creation and solutions, pushing companies and employees to new heights of value creation.
  4. Organizational culture – The way we work, interact, organize, recruit, develop and collaborate takes on new meaning as attitudes and values are shaped by a more focused view of purpose over profit.
  5. Trust and relevance – These will be the bedrock of company existence but ever-shifting as the marketplace and customers become more confident and able to better discern given the plethora of information and context available.

Given this upheaval, leaders are looking to devote time and capital to redesigning their approaches to marketing and communications, specifically employee communications and engagement, content and new technologies to understand influence, opinion, relevance and customer preferences. Less time and activity is being given to such legacy processes as long-term strategic planning, product development and employee satisfaction. Digital is rendering such time-consuming and limited activities obsolete. Agility and speed are now the north star for organizational success.

“Probably the most difficult decision a CEO makes is to disrupt a business model that once worked.”

However, there is one other area that is being dealt with as part of this seismic change: business design. That is, how an organization is organized and designed for optimum value to its stakeholders. Probably the most difficult decision a CEO makes is to disrupt a business model that once worked. Doing so means the very core of the enterprise is shaken. New pieces come into view. Priorities shift. Contradictions happen for a time. People’s lives are turned upside down. Losses may happen for a time. The company’s narrative may be lost.

But through it all, staying the course and redefining the business model in a digital world is ultimately what saves a company or brand from future demise.

The Digital Intersection is happening right before our eyes. To navigate through this landscape, we suggest you consider the following reference points:

  • Signal the Change – Be upfront about what’s taking place and what it means.
  • Adopt Technology – Don’t protect yesterday; forge ahead to what’s next.
  • Follow the Data – Insight will determine the direction.
  • Start New Conversations – Do this specifically with employees; be provocative; be contextual; be empathetic.
  • Recognize It Won’t be Clean – People won’t necessarily understand right away; keep moving forward.
  • Focus on Relevance – This is the balance of what you want to say and what stakeholders hear.
  • Be Forthright – Never waver in your journey. Ever.

COVID-19 continues to impact our lives and will for some time. Assimilating the changes we’ve experienced and enacted means developing a whole new playbook from which to operate.

Coming through the other side with our integrity and our efficacy intact albeit with a whole new worldview is the goal.


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

Last month, we spoke with Dr. Robert Fullilove, Associate Dean for Community and Minority Affairs, Professor of Clinical Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University and the co-director of the Cities Research Group, where he’s researched the health of people from ethnic minority backgrounds, with a focus on infectious diseases and HIV. An expert on racial inequity in health care, Dr. Fullilove comes from a family of physicians and was an integral part of the Civil Rights movement from 1964 to 1968 alongside Martin Luther King Jr., and his work has even earned him a place in the Smithsonian. 

Dr. Fullilove’s passion for art, science, and international affairs brought us a unique perspective on health inequalities in the time of COVID-19. Dr. Fullilove shared his thoughts on racial disparities in the United States and abroad, comparing COVID-19 with HIV and explaining how pharmaceutical companies have a role in bridging gaps in care.

Read below for some key insights, which have been edited for clarity.

On Access

“The biggest issue that I see is the fact that now, we are at the point where we can manage COVID-19 quite well once it’s diagnosed. However, there are significant delays in diagnoses and results in testing centers that minorities have access to, which is really the difference between life and death. Not to mention the lack of hospitals in minority communities in the first place creates even more issues.”

“What’s more, a lot of what is occurring in minority communities with COVID-19 is because of the fear of high costs deterring folks from seeking out the care that they need.”

“Most importantly though, is the fact that it also comes down to political will or lack thereof. We have all the data and know about all the problems affecting these communities and how to solve it and it’s still not working out so well for us. The impact of COVID-19 on minority communities in America is a functioning tragedy.”

On Potential Solutions

“There has been so much ongoing dialogue and literature that describe in incredible detail obvious, easy solutions that can be implemented in less than seven shakes. However, in health and the health sciences, we presume that everyone is rational and logical, meaning that if we provide enough information, most people will make rational health-based decisions.”

“But that’s not the case: we have the information, we’ve already explained time and time again on how to wear masks, where to get tested, etc., but the science has failed. And that’s not a new thing; in the U.S. 96% of adults understand what HIV is, how to contract it, and how to prevent it, however, we still face around 40,000 new cases every year. Why is that? Because it’s not about logic; it’s about emotion. There needs to be an effort to share a message, to sell an emotion or behavior. This is where science and communications comes together.”

On the Difference Between HIV and COVID-19

“When HIV first hit communities of color, it no longer became a pandemic of national urgency. With COVID-19, it’s everyone’s problem. The disease does not care about race or class; we’ve seen world leaders and local government organizers get sick, making it clear that this is something that can’t be ignored by certain groups.”

On How Pharma Can Make a Difference

“Speak to the gatekeepers of the communities you’re trying to reach. Find out what would be useful and ensure that the representation on your end matches with the community you are trying to help. Additionally, work with charity hospitals in the respective communities who have an obligation to provide community health needs assessments under the Affordable Care Act. Work closely with these hospitals and a board of community advisors to create and vet a plan of action because that will truly make a sustainable and significant impact.”

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

Over the last five months amid this pandemic we have all been afforded the chance to realign our thinking, our schedules, our priorities, and in a few instances, our purpose. For me, this time has resulted in a journey of personal and professional change.

My family celebrated our son’s high school graduation with pride and then just recently we saw him off to college and a whole new life of discovery, knowledge and friendships. We experienced how our daughter continues to grow into a confident and caring young woman with hopes and dreams for her future. It’s been a time for my wife Audra and me to enjoy the present while envisioning the future.

During this time, I also made a commitment to get healthy. Walking, exercising, eating better, and adopting a healthier lifestyle has resulted in losing over 40 pounds to date. Not easy I can assure you.

So why am I sharing such personal things?

What does it all really mean? The common thread is: Change, Growth, Development, Discipline, Purpose and Performance.

My personal journey in many ways mirrors my professional travels. I’ve had many experiences and emotions seeing my colleagues adapt and adopt behaviors to not only survive but prosper. Before COVID and the Black Lives Matter movement galvanized us further, W2O was already moving at light speed, growing the business, acquiring new capabilities, bringing people together and delivering results for our valued and trusted customer organizations and brands. As such, it was rather difficult to see past all of that and focus on other more human aspects of the business. Similarly, on a personal level missing the little things, ignoring tenets of health and happiness and taking note of life’s nuances, actually impedes growth and the ability to scale as healthfully as possible.

These last several months have unveiled a new and richer chapter in my personal and professional evolution challenging, energizing and pushing me and everyone in W2O to be there for loved ones, customers and each other. It had made us view our ourselves and our business through a real and sometimes raw lens making us uncomfortable, proud and agitated all at the same time.

2020 will be remembered as the year the world stopped, literally and figuratively, allowing people to:

  • Appreciate their health
  • Respect each other always
  • Listen and hear again
  • Maneuver around physical and virtual barriers to achievement and relationships
  • Reach out and empathize with another’s reality
  • Focus on what matters 
  • Make life meaningful

We’ve been given an advanced education on many levels from a business and personal perspective. To scale properly — that is, become stronger, more resilient, and confident — it’s important to set your foundation right. To assign your time and resources to the most high-valued, high-return aspects of your life and organization. To get your relationships right. To be clear and forthright about your purpose.

Personal health and organizational health means being focused on the most important factors.  What I’m learning every day is that change isn’t easy. Never has been. But perseverance, self-awareness and discipline are key. Having fun. Being attentive. Poking fun at yourself and others. Being curious. Shaking things up. Sweating. Respect. Listening. Being Accountable. Seeing ahead. Creativity. And of course, love.

As such, we will come out of this pandemic stronger, fitter, more confident and better suited to address controversy and unexpected events. My personal journey is a great metaphor for W2O to transform itself for what’s next. For the future.


It’s always a unique pleasure when I get to chat with one of my colleagues for What2Know. W2O’s Global Privacy Officer, Dan Linton, joins the show to discuss how our recent survey serves as a data privacy playbook for healthcare companies, how our findings were impacted by COVID-19, and what this research means for the healthcare industry as a whole. Take a listen below.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

Don’t miss an episode of What2Know, subscribe to our podcast on iTunesStitcher or Spotify!

W2O study uncovers sentiment of internal dynamics and perceptions shaping organizational confidence in U.S.

 “Just tell me what’s next?”

If you can sum up the sentiment from today’s employees regarding COVID-19, then providing answers to that question is a start. W2O undertook a comprehensive study on U.S. employee attitudes and perspectives toward COVID-19 in order to understand overall perceptions of the pandemic from an employee standpoint including concerns, interests and beliefs. The study also examined how companies are addressing these issues and how they are shifting over time as society and business moves to the next phase of this public health crisis.

“Employee relationships and engagement have become front and center during COVID-19 as leaders discern the right balance of providing clarity, recognizing effort, maintaining performance and ensuring safety, said Gary F. Grates, Principal, W2O and a leading authority on organizational communications and change management. “Our deep-rooted analytics expertise allowed us to explore the multiple dimensions of employee attitudes and behaviors and how companies should recalibrate and design effective solutions to adequately respond to this new reality.”

View full study results can be found here.

Highlights from the study, conducted with more than 1,000 employees representing various business segments from the overall U.S. population, include the following:

Addressing Employee Concerns and Needs Improves Organizational Confidence

Projecting a strong, vibrant persona as a business is critical to stakeholder belief and confidence. Virtual working models, while efficient, raise issues of isolation and myopic thinking that, if not addressed, can negatively impact brand relevance.

Communication that is Empathetic and Clear Impacts Attitude, Behavior

Improving and continuing communication of company plans and relevant information around the COVID-19 pandemic is important. Companies must establish expectations around working from home and provide daily/weekly updates from the CEO and higher level management. They must create awareness efforts surrounding plans to reopen, strategies to ensure safety, and updates about employees who have contracted the virus.

Clean and Safe Policies Are Expected Before Individual Decisions Are Made

Taking a number of actions that identify the needs and wants of employees and recognizing each individual concern over returning to an in-person working environment is necessary. Companies must utilize sanitation services and provide PPE to make employees feel comfortable returning to work.

Putting Employees First Garners Loyalty

Employees admire employers who set standards and a plan of action to move the company forward. Commitment to employees reassures them that their job is secure and ensures confidence.

Flexible Work Schedules Will Become the Norm

Flexible scheduling gives employees better options to balance home and work responsibilities. Employees want various options to adjust their schedule. They also want the ability to work from home whenever they want or have the option to go into the office when needed.

“We found numerous levels and dimensions of employee perceptions that define the character of organizations. These are extremely important to how employees think and operate, said Dave Johnson, Managing Director, Integrated Intelligence, W2O. “This foundation provides a basis for new and different approaches to policies, decision-making and communications during the pandemic to maintain or exceed employee expectations. As the pandemic continues to unfold, these findings and insights will prove to be more valuable than ever to leaders and communicators alike.”

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

As Americans continue to confront the realities of racial injustice during an unprecedented global public health crisis, communicators are being called on to bring relevant information to the public. As part of this action, W2O participated in a panel at PRWeek’s Convene event, discussing lessons for the communications industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the confrontation of racial injustices in the United States, which undoubtedly go hand in hand.

“Successful crisis communications must take on a level of cultural competence unlike ever before,” said Parris Bowe, Managing Director at EGAMI Group.

During our discussion, we considered communications as the new health imperative. From this, three critical themes emerged:

1. Data can be our most powerful tool in our quest for equity

As health inequities across the world continue to be exposed amid the current pandemic, communicators must ask hard questions, challenge the ways we’ve always communicated, and engage with both purpose and empathy. We have never had access to more information, more sophisticated data, and more tools to help us understand where gaps persist and how we can bridge them. Our industry can use these insights – from social analytics to real-world evidence to public health data – as a force for a new level of visibility and change.

2. Collaboration is the new “innovation”

“One of the silver linings of what’s happening right now is that the lines between competitor and partner are being blurred. Individuals and companies are coming together to see how we can get solutions to people faster,” said Amy Atwood, Head of Communications at Takeda’s Vaccine Business Unit. During this unprecedented time, collaboration is essential for the common good. As communicators, we must look for ways to partner in both conventional and unconventional ways. When we do this and communicate effectively, real innovation is born, enabling us to be a catalyst for change and drive real impact.

3. Relevance (vs. reputation) powers change

I noted, “Our counsel needs to be as dynamic as the environment we are living in.” In today’s world, relevance – the intersection of what the outside world cares about and what companies want to put out into the world – is the price of entry. Relevance is not easy and doesn’t just happen organically. Being relevant starts inside companies and is reflected in their external communications and partnerships with other businesses, which now more than ever need to mix empathy with real action and accountability that is quantifiable. Organizations must work together to figure out how they can adapt, listen and be actively engaged stakeholders offering novel and measurable solutions.

The public is looking to organizations to show how they are striving to make a difference for those affected by both the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice in the United States. Communicators have a role to play, and organizations must step up because communications is a health imperative.

See the full take on the panel discussion here. Registration is free but required with a valid email address.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

As we start to come out of lockdown with our own “4th July” in the UK, I’ve been reflecting on the last three months. Unless you had a critical job to perform, you were to stay at home and only leave to get necessary groceries or exercise. While W2O had a work from home policy in place before the COVID-19 pandemic began, which allowed staff to work one day at home each week, transitioning to working full time at home hasn’t been easy.

Despite some of the twists and turns we’ve had to overcome, I’m incredibly proud of the way W2O’s EMEA team has continued to perform in these challenging times. We’ve continued to deliver outstanding work for our clients, hired 20 new employees, won awards for our creativity, and helped our local community.

Here are a few highlights:

Giving Back

At the start of the lockdown period, we assessed a few non-client partnerships where we could offer our expertise in healthcare and communications pro bono to help make the world a healthier place. We chose the following groups and have been working with them as follows:

  • The World Health Organization Emergencies Programme, managing meetings with 200+ clinicians and researchers triweekly to support them in knowledge-sharing and prioritising research to combat the virus.
  • The AGILE research platform, supporting a clinical team based out of the University of Liverpool in their efforts to accelerate the search for novel effective COVID-19 treatments.
  • The Royal Free London Trust, supporting their communications team with social media strategy and creative during the COVID-19 crisis.

Keeping Our Culture

Going from two physical offices in EMEA to over 150 home offices has proved challenging in remaining together and aligned. It’s not just face time, it’s celebrating the small victories and personal achievements and battling the loneliness that can occur.

Before lockdown, we had a weekly office-wide meeting, which still continues today, just over Zoom. This meeting allows us to connect, share positive news and introduce our new hires. Each week, a guest host shares something interesting or personal. We book-end this meeting with a virtual happy hour on Friday where we give thanks to those who have delivered fantastic work or gone the extra mile or just simply share our gratitude for our colleagues.

To keep us closer together while working from home, we introduced a weekly Culture Club challenge, which involves a fun task, from participating in a TikTok video to coming up with something witty or sharing what we’ve been up to. The goal is to do something a little silly that everyone can participate in and have a laugh together, which is so vital to helping stay mentally well.

Finally, we’ve had to re-work how we do introductions to ensure our new hires get enough face time with their new colleagues as they’re not able to simply walk around the office and introduce themselves.

Supporting One Another

We talk a lot at W2O about our long hallway, which runs from Zurich to San Francisco, and how we’re able to connect along the way. I’ve always been impressed by how W2O is able to create connectivity among offices. But nothing has shown that more than now, when all of our colleagues have come together during the pandemic. I’ve heard so many great examples of colleagues reaching out to each other and making sure everyone is doing okay, especially those who live far away from their home or who live alone.

One of my favourite ways W2O has adapted is a global initiative created by staff members that provides parents in the firm with a selection of activities and experiences for their children. What started as a small idea has grown into an initiative that helps parents address the challenge of educating children from home while allowing them to volunteer and spend some time helping out their own community!

It’s very easy for people to use the word unprecedented. It’s become a cliché. However, there’s no better word to describe what a turbulent year 2020 has been so far. Despite the difficulties, W2O EMEA has come together and become stronger, unified in helping our clients, our communities and each other.

I’ve never been prouder.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Corporate Communications is quickly transitioning from Programming to Precision 

Corporate Communications plays a vital role in influencing and maintaining organizational health, setting priorities, establishing a clear direction for strategy execution, managing reputational efficacy, impacting decision-making, telling the business story, and directing competitive positioning.

Under this construct, Corporate Communications’ efforts drive demand for products and services, attract and retain talent, and build comprehension around purpose, mission, and values, thereby enhancing financial valuation, softening barriers to market entry, building critical relationship capital, easing governmental and NGO relations, and nurturing and growing stakeholder trust. Consequently, the Corporate Communications function spans an entire organization while simultaneously being tasked with bridging various agendas, priorities, and egos between and among other functions. This can be a daunting task for any Corporate Communications team, whether housed in a large, medium or small organization.

And now COVID-19 and the current racial unrest occurring worldwide are changing the purpose and effectiveness of Corporate Communications. Social awareness is high, cultural nuance is more acute, competition is intense, consolidation continues, media has become fragmented, customer skepticism is rising, and information dissemination is happening faster than ever. Against this backdrop, an individual’s belief in a company or institution is likely to decline. A corporation’s ability to present a sustainable, meaningful and authentic corporate reputation to consumers, customers, employees, shareholders, and other key stakeholders is critical. In the fiercely competitive global marketplace, marketing products, services, or consumer-facing brands alone is insufficient. Stakeholders, particularly customers and employees, want and need to know about the company behind the brand, including how it connects to the greater whole.

Organizations are migrating their Corporate Communications function from a programming mindset to a precision focus on building stronger relationships with individual groups and positioning messages to cater to their specific needs and/or interests. This is a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the use of analytics to assess the situation as a means to address stakeholder concerns and needs better. One way to increase involvement with stakeholders is to utilize the plethora of data tools and platforms available today to unearth insights and translate them into supportive actions, decisions, attitudes, behaviors, and positive word of mouth. 

For example, employees want to work for companies that “promote trust,” “empower,” and “inspire pride.” Given that, Corporate Communications should discern information, including contextual needs, for employees to understand and perform at a level necessary for success. From a customer standpoint, corporate relevance is critical to believing in and interacting with the company, products, and services at a brand or business level in a manner that makes sense to that customer. It signifies that the company behind the brand is doing the right thing from an ethical, moral, and operating standpoint. Given the social nature of business, communication should be tailored to reach individuals, not masses.

 Critical Path for Corporate Communications – Uncovering the Machinations of Stakeholder Behavior, Preference

Over the last several months, W2O has uncovered a number of important and consistent themes regarding how the Corporate Communications function can best optimize its efforts to deliver stronger ROI to its organization as we enter the next phase of the pandemic.

The major truth to better aligning Corporate Communications with company performance lies in ensuring that this function is well-defined internally, specifically as it relates to realizing that its mission has organizational connectors.

All organizations should constantly strive to make Corporate Communications a fully realized and integrated function. This can be difficult to achieve as it demands relatively universal organizational support. The hallmark of a successful Corporate Communications function is the team’s transition from simply occupying a “serving” role to that of “leading.”

This entails having a say in wider organizational decision-making and the clout to dictate strategy. To accomplish this, Corporate Communications must work to become a proactive catalyst, assert its own priorities, and leverage new technologies (such as analytics) to inform decisions. When Corporate Communications embraces these roles, it is more likely to result in substantial ROI, a more engaged workforce, and a leaner and more dynamic function. With this approach, Corporate Communications must have a deep understanding of employee and leadership opinion, brand narrative, current strategy, and a vision for the future. The result is a de-emphasis on programming and outbound activity and a concentrated focus on information gathering and insight to direct relationship-building.                                                        

What Are You Chasing? Undoing Programs for Stronger Connections 

For organizational communications professionals, the answer to “what are you chasing?” is a critical element in securing a viable solution to myriad workforce realities. The subtle but deadly outcome for not determining the specific goal or state you are aiming to accomplish is chasing symptoms that give the illusion of achievement through activity. 

Following are some of the ways Corporate Communications can transition its purpose and effectiveness to reflect the new reality: 

  • Start with Strategy

 If an organization’s Corporate Communications strategy and function are not directed toward the business strategy, then it is not of any value – period.

  • Find the White Space

An important area to explore via analytics is where the organization has the best chance to succeed. The strategy and tactics developed must elicit specific outcomes, or your approach needs to be rethought. 

  • Uncover the Nuance

Find out what’s behind stakeholder perceptions, concerns, interests, actions. Determine if there is an impetus for certain behaviors.

  • Precision is Realism

Precision is at the heart of addressing the ultimate goal or cause of your effort. Analytics now affords the opportunity to focus, clearly comprehending the priority at hand and establishing a reality check.

  • People (Behavior), Process, Perception

Bottom line: what you are chasing tends to fall in one of these three areas. Either you’re trying to change behavior (purchase a product, gain a new skill), improve a process (streamline customer service), or perception (reputation, brand).

In the end, “What are you chasing?” is about ensuring that the means lead you to the end result.

So, before you finalize your next program, ask yourself exactly what it is you’re chasing….you may be surprised!

The new Corporate Communications function consists of three levels:

  1. Insights on employee, customer and influencer behavior (in addition to media)
  2. Comprehension of how brands, products, policies, and leaders are being discussed and shaped
  3. Connection with story drivers inside the company to convey holistic solutions and a clear narrative

In this regard, the Chief Communications Officer’s value is wrapped around a directional view of the organization as opposed to a current state perspective reinforced by tactical activities. The implication is that Corporate Communications is evolving to address the new realities of the organization’s business, reputation management, marketing, and communications in order to be an accepted and trusted advisor and resource. To get there, you must consider several factors:

  • Environment: Comprehending the competitive and customer environment you are operating in
  • Communities and Stakeholders: Company shareholders, customers, community and employees are adjusting to the “new normal,” needing more real-time, high-touch communications
  • Organization: Respecting the management model and organizational structure
  • Positioning: What are your market positioning and communications challenges? What is your trajectory for growth/loss?
  • Operations: Balancing roles that have changed and those that have not
  • Rapid Change: Ongoing change in the market forces the need for new communications practices and procedures, highlighting areas for continuous improvement

COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in myriad ways. But for many professionals and organizations, the pandemic is a time to rethink, recalibrate, and relearn what it takes to provide value in a shifting world. Taking advantage of analytics and data to discern insight and address new expectations is the pathway to a new and better future.                   

In this regard, precision is the new programming. 


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

Health equity is at the forefront of the COVID-19 conversation. Cynthia Carey-Grant, Oakland Co-Chair for the AIDS 2020 Conference joins the show to discuss health disparities within marginalized communities. She also shares the parallels between HIV and the coronavirus and highlights what she’s looking forward to during this year’s virtual conference.

To be transparent, as we discussed health inequities in marginalized communities, I noticed my privilege as a straight, white man in some of my questions and responses. I appreciate Cynthia for being so direct and candid in her responses. Her willingness to engage and share the truth made me listen, reflect, and learn. I hope the same happens for you, and I’m grateful for her patience.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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Regardless of circumstance, change in all forms takes time but the results are game-changing….so why not continue? 

 The numbers are sobering. Over 70% of change efforts within organizations fail. The reasons are many. But recently, a troubling number of change or transformation initiatives that have gained momentum or traction among employees have stopped. Citing the COVID-19 pandemic and racial tensions enveloping society to organizational exhaustion, leaders have pulled the plug, so to speak, on change efforts. They have resorted to business as usual,  leaving people, process, and purpose in a state of uncertainty.

The non-stop shifts that occur in the external world continually challenge businesses, posing multiple threats and opportunities, often without warning. The imperatives that result impose a sense of urgency internally for leaders who must accommodate and address them in a comprehensive way. We know the importance of new strategies in driving organizations – meaning people – toward the future as well as the sobering reality of how few do it right. Corporate change today and the strategy that underpins it cannot be as dry as dust or it will be a good prescription for insomnia. In order for a change strategy to be effective and executed successfully, the people within the organization must grasp it and be able to digest its components in a manner that shapes their roles and responsibilities.

In other words, employees must be able to draw a direct line of sight between themselves and the future that the strategy envisions. They must be able to see clearly how their actions can help assure the successful implementation of the strategy to drive the company forward. But why would leaders stop such efforts when they are seeing progress or even achievement? How do we communicate corporate change in such a compelling way that both leaders and employees are hesitant to end such efforts? We are finding that the answer to this frustrating question lies in two areas. First, change or transformation takes incredible energy and engagement throughout the enterprise. This means commitment must be rock solid at the highest levels of the company. Second, companies believe that people don’t want to change, and if you push them too much, the business will break. Let’s start with the latter point. Employees change if the rationale, approach, process, end state and purpose make sense. However, they often express change exhaustion because so many transformation efforts are the opposite.

From a communications standpoint, animating the change strategy is critical. This means making it memorable through meaningful and appropriate anecdotes and metaphors that help personalize, illuminate and bring it to life. This makes it “stick” in the memory, linking the strategy to the hearts and minds of individual employees. Put simply, making the strategy stick means putting people first, seeing the implicit change through their eyes. It means that communicating corporate strategy is not about PowerPoint decks, colorful posters, cute themes, e-newsletters, blog posts or highly scripted management meetings.

Change During COVID-19 and Societal Tensions over Race 

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely upended our lives. As a result, leaders have had to balance the tension between and among employees, customers, patients, government and suppliers. (See W2O Relevance Quotient COVID-19 Report #4). Stopping or pausing transformation efforts during such a time would appear prudent. But what better time to continue a change effort than when people are already in the midst of rethinking their methods, behaviors, attitudes, and actions?

Among the insights we’ve learned thus far is that working virtually has broken down silos, encouraged more collaboration, increased productivity in some areas, and forged a tighter belief network internally. With little effort, people are pulling together to seek information and solutions in order to accelerate a return to some normalcy. So why impede such growth? The changes harnessed through this difficult time can give rise to a new operating or business model – one that focuses on societal purpose – and better manage complexity. On a macro scale, organizations can better communicate about their strategy and direction to guide managers and employees alike in how to run their businesses, how to invest in their businesses, what is possible, and what people need to focus on to drive it toward that ultimate goal. As Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has said, this is a time of rethinking and learning. Everybody does it differently and approaches it in ways unique to their own personal style. Conviction, energy, passion, consistency and alignment are more important than the “right” message. The keys are to own it and make it part of how you change the business. To stop such efforts only places the organization and its employees at a disadvantage.

While there is no magic answer in all this, viewing transformation through a lens of learning allows you to begin seeing the organization in a new light – guiding it to define, describe and convey both externally and internally, the true meaning of its purpose.

The tension around racial inequity and social justice is a real example of change albeit a different type of change. Individuals and organizations are examining their conscience to ascertain beliefs, truths, bias and intent. It is here in the deepest part of one’s soul where purpose can be found. Diversity and Inclusion has always been a cornerstone of real change and efficacy. It means operating without blinders, taking in all around you and sharing knowledge, fears, concerns and interests to get to a better place.

Holding a Mirror to Your Heart and Head  

Corporate change forces people and companies to literally hold a mirror to themselves and the business to see what is actually going on. COVID-19 and the tensions emanating here in the United States and abroad have initiated real inspection of not just operating practices but basic tenets and principles. What’s behind the mirror? If there were ever a time to open your eyes and ears to the real impetus of your organization and discover its meaning with a focus on redesigning and reshaping its purpose, that time is now.

Harmonizing Your Story and Your Actions

People are naturally curious. They don’t just want to know the end point, the decision. In the case of change that drives an organization through and beyond the issues and challenges impacting that organization, people want to know more than messages. They are looking for the story, the meaning, the “why” – everything that went into the decisions that shaped the strategy and what people are doing to support it. If we can share with people, through anecdotes, examples, lessons, the inside story, we can help them see, hear, experience, learn and, ultimately, discover on their own. In extending messages to stories, managers and communicators alike should begin asking themselves questions to help shape their stories:

  • What do your people see?
  • What are they experiencing?
  • How do they respond to organizational initiatives?
  • What are you trying to solve? What challenges does your strategy seek to address?
  • What have people done in similar situations, either inside the company or from another industry?
  • What can or does success look like?
  • Are there personal examples to draw from that illuminate the premise?

Change is difficult. Particularly in a time of such disruption. As of three months ago, there is no rule book. There is a new playing field. A new way to manage, lead and engage people. A new set of customer expectations. New platforms. New ecosystems.

It is the right time to continue pursuing true change, not stop it or pause it!


Read our latest report, “Corporate Relevance in the Age of Social Unrest

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

Countless businesses have been forced to adapt, transform, and rebuild during this unique time. Jeff Davidson, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Camp Gladiator, discusses how the fitness platform has adjusted to COVID-19 and shares key organizational learnings gleaned during the pandemic. Take a listen below.

W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

Don’t miss an episode of What2Know, subscribe to our podcast on iTunesStitcher or Spotify!

Uncertainty pervades. Restlessness overcomes. When can we get a haircut? Nails done? Maybe a tattoo? Walk around without a mask? Work at the office? Work out? Travel? When will our kids go back to school? When will the economy rebound? When can we live again?

To help guide companies through the uncertainty of how and when best to engage with stakeholders, approximately 10 weeks ago, our firm refocused the W2O Relevance Quotient and examined how companies are maintaining engagement with key stakeholders.

Tracking the relevance of 240 companies for three years before COVID-19 and since January 1 specific to the pandemic, we now have a strong, longitudinal body of data to analyze. Unlike past reports, where we focused on shifts in a two-week period compared to the prior two weeks, this report takes a more aggregate look at patterns regarding what it means to be relevant throughout the entire crisis thus far.

For a copy of the full W2O COVID-19 Relevance Analysis, Vol. 5, click here.

Our analysis found four main determinants of COVID-19 relevance as the pandemic continues to evolve:

  1. Being a first-mover matters.
  2. Dormancy drives irrelevance.
  3. Engagement is fatiguing and, as a result, relevance is in decline (mostly).
  4. Relevance before the crisis has led to resiliency now.

Let’s unpack each of those.

1. Being a first-mover matters.

The difference between first movers and fast followers is clear.  First movers are those organizations that, mid-to-late March, announced a robust, multi-pronged, multi-stakeholder response initiative via multiple channels. This effort was focused initially on employees and customers. Fast followers fell short and struggled with timing and authenticity. For example, Delta CEO Ed Bastain’s decision to forgo his salary was an early initiative met with praise. Companies that waited several weeks to follow generally did so in the context of announcing furloughs or layoffs. These moves were seen as too little too late and inauthentic.   

2. Dormancy drives irrelevance.

To be relevant is to be thought of, sought out, talked about, engaged with, and believed in. Organizations can hardly be relevant if they are conspicuously absent on an issue. If they aren’t visible, vocal and engaged with stakeholders, relevance is at high risk. We noticed companies that played too small while stakeholders were craving big and bold suffered. Companies that were dormant, inconsistent, disproportionately focused on too few stakeholders and too few channels either maintained low levels of relevance or dropped significantly. Relevance is hard to gain, hard to keep, and quick and easy to lose in the absence of an always on, multi-channel, multi-stakeholder engagement.

3. Engagement is fatiguing and, as a result, relevance is in decline (mostly).

As stakeholders have engaged less with COVID-19-related news, relevance for healthcare companies has been in decline, after peaking in April – but we predict this is temporary. Highly engaging media coverage of company announcements surrounding COVID-19 vaccine development and testing has begun to slow among the Top 20 Healthcare companies.  However, companies that are extending the narrative by providing updates on potential vaccines, safety precautions, back to work protocols, and partnerships via multiple channels are continuing to drive relevance. There are two notable exceptions to the trend of stakeholders engaging with less COVID-19 news generally: an uptick in engagement on topics related to the economy and the disproportionate effects on minority populations.

Non-healthcare companies have experienced a minor increase in relevance in the last two weeks given technology partnerships around testing and tracing. Big tech companies have led the way with extending work from home policies until the end of 2020 or forever in some cases.

4. Relevance before the crisis has led to resilience now.

The strongest predictor of relevance amid COVID-19 is how relevant companies were before the crisis. Of the 19 of 20 most relevant healthcare companies in 2019, the same are among the most COVID-19-relevant in 2020. They have remained relevant for all of the reasons outlined above, operating with an engagement mindset and empathy in all decision-making.

From our data, it is important to note that Relevance leaders are:

  • Not necessarily the most revered
  • Transparent and open to some risk
  • Emboldened to take a differentiating stand on issues meeting stakeholder expectations
  • Focused on values and purpose
  • Sharpening their narratives and aligning narratives internally and externally
  • Leveraging all stakeholders to help
  • Employing always-on, integrated cross-PESO content, storytelling and thought leadership strategies

W2O will continue to refresh the Relevance Quotient data to identify new trends, determine how these trends evolve and uncover key themes related to moving forward beyond COVID-19.

In the meantime, stay safe and healthy.

Contributions to this content were made by Gary Grates, Chuck Hemann, Katy Hagert, and Justin Harris of W2O.

Interested in additional COVID-19 content? Sign up to receive updates directly to your inbox or check out our full COVID-19 coverage on the blog.

This week’s guest, Dr. Sir Michael Jacobs, Infectious Diseases Physician & Clinical Director of Infection at the Royal Free Hospital joins the show. Dr. Jacobs was awarded a knighthood for his work on Ebola and continues to do incredible work around infectious diseases.

During our time together (virtually of course), he outlines what is being learned about COVID-19 and how these learnings impact treatment. Take a listen below.

W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

Don’t miss an episode of What2Know, subscribe to our podcast on iTunesStitcher or Spotify!

Coming out of COVID-19, organizations, brands must redefine, clarify themselves to establish relevance

One of the biggest, most important outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic will be how organizations and brands redefine, reposition and describe themselves. For both companies and individuals, the last three months have been a myriad of experiences with everyone fixated on the virus and its implications. Lost in this haze of uncertainty and fear has been clarity around the purpose, direction, value and meaning that organizations provide to the marketplace and society at large.

Reintroducing your company and brand(s) provides a pathway back to relevance and trust, propelling efficacy in the minds and actions of key stakeholders. It’s a bridge from nowhere to making a great first impression…again! Like everything else, it’s never about the “what.” But in this case the “how.” It all starts with a new story that captures the business as it looks forward, retaining what it has learned.

To prepare for a new prism through which to view your organization, take note of the following considerations to inspire and engage a more motivated set of behaviors and actions:

  1. It’s all Digital NowCOVID has made the digital experience and digital technologies commonplace in enhancing the customer and employee journey.
  2. Always Start Inside…The most affected group during this time has been your employees. Involving them in the process of reimagining the business is essential to authenticity and sustainability, not to mention retention and recruitment.
  3. Never Make It About You…Reframing your organization must start with your stakeholders. How has their reality changed? What are you doing to support, change or mitigate it?
  4. Base Your Narrative on One Thing…Giving people the chance to comprehend and digest your story begins with presenting one key element of your purpose and value proposition. Attempting to tell everything only confuses and obfuscates the organization’s promise.
  5. Make Sure You’re Empathetic…When you empathize with your stakeholders, you create trust and belief.
  6. Rediscover Your Stakeholders…Now is the time to truly uncover what motivates those important to you. Data and analytics provide deep insight and direction.
  7. Determine Their Relevance…Knowing what concerns, interests, needs and wants drive people and marrying it with your strategy, value and purpose puts in focus relevance. Relevance is the new Reputation as it enables engagement.

What we have been dealing with is unprecedented. Over the course of a few weeks, the entire world stopped. Personal safety became job #1. Company goals, objectives and imperatives blurred. Brands were pushed to the back of one’s mind. A sense of unity and kinship prevailed. As we find our way back, it is imperative that organizations once again stimulate innovation, empower employees, and address expectations.

The first step is recognizing the climate they are returning to…and provide a fresh face from which to be seen, heard and known.

“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

Dr. Joseph Habboushe, Emergency Medicine Physician at NYU and CEO of MDCalc, shares his experience of combating COVID-19 from the ground in NYC. Take a listen below and thank you Dr. Habboushe for all the important work you’re doing to combat COVID-19.

W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

Don’t miss an episode of What2Know, subscribe to our podcast on iTunesStitcher or Spotify!

For a copy of the W2O COVID-19 Relevance Analysis, click here.

It seems like we’re coming out of the dark.  That the curve is largely flattened and we’re now on the road to recovery. Some Governors are easing restrictions to reopen the economy in phases. Yet many of us are not venturing out even with masks.

All this creates tension.

Tension both of the challenging and productive sort is defining the differences stakeholders are addressing with regard to government and private sector response initiatives. 

At the intersection of how companies are behaving and what stakeholders expect in the midst of COVID, is where Relevance resides.  Approximately eight weeks ago, our firm refocused its Relevance Framework and Model to better discern how companies are maintaining a connection to an engagement with key stakeholders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The result is a strong covenant of data that shows company responses to COVID-19 and the evolution over time as the pandemic continues to unfold and our knowledge becomes more acute. Among the most interesting findings are the tensions resulting from maintaining relevance:

Relevance Peaked Two Week Ago

The data indicates that relevance peaked two weeks ago and appears to be plateauing as fewer articles are being written on the subject and people are sharing less. We’re finding that relevant companies are embracing the following tensions not as diametrically opposite but something to be balanced.

National vs. Local

Relevant organizations are recognizing and engaging within the tension between national, state, and city-level leadership. They are doing so by providing a point-of-view on the resulting differences and engaging especially employees in a discussion. Trust has shifted away from the federal government and toward state leadership and local media.

Public Health vs. The Economy

Relevant organizations are mindful of the tension between public health and the economy and civil liberties by indicating their policies for returning to work and protecting jobs during this time.

Societal Good vs. Long-Term Business Sustainability

Relevant organizations are stepping up providing goods and services for free or at significantly reduced prices for the common good and, thinking ahead about the long-term sustainability of their operations. These efforts are being down without much fanfare.

New Type of Marketing

Relevant organizations continue to empathize with and support stakeholders more than marketing to them. Some organizations have significantly curtailed or completely suspended advertising.  Some have donated their ad space to small businesses.  Consumers seem to be indicating that it’s OK to market to them on something outside of the virus.  In fact, 90% of ads on Google are non-COVID-19 related and performing well.

The New Normal vs. the Next Normal

COVID-19 has put a magnifying glass on pre-existing macro trends such as organizational digital transformation and innovation.  It’s accelerating those macro trends. Organizations that are seeing a relevance bump as a result of accelerated transformation are thinking about how to sustain it post-COVID-19.

It’s taken some time for stakeholders and organizations to embrace these tensions as an ‘AND’ not an ‘OR.’  As we observe that consumers are engaging with less news on COVID-19, it’s ever-more important that companies continue to recognize that:

  • Empathy is key
  • Actions speak louder than words
  • Response initiatives must account for all stakeholders and be long-term-centric
  • Transparency is a not optional
  • Partnerships drive faster innovation
  • Agility is essential
  • Stability is expected

Maintaining Relevance in a time of uncertainty is incredibly difficult as stakeholders are more demanding holding organizations, brands, governments, leaders accountable for action. We will continue to refresh the W2O Relevance Index and Model to identify new trends, determine how these trends evolve, and uncover key themes related to moving forward beyond COVID-19.

In the meantime, stay safe and healthy.

Contributions to this content were made by Gary Grates, Chuck Hemann, Stephen Yoon, Marianne Gollub, Katy Hagert, Becky Vonsiatsky, Barbara Pinto, and Justin Harris, of W2O.

Interested in additional COVID-19 content? Sign up to receive updates directly to your inbox or check out our full COVID-19 coverage on the blog.

In this time of COVID-19, there is a real chance to separate the pretenders from the contenders and ask yourself what’s really important.

It’s the moment to change your reality. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that right now is a moment of truth.

If you want a voice in Washington or Westminster, engage! If you want to improve your performance, engage! If you want a better relationship with customers, patients or employees, engage! If you want to know your organization’s vision, purpose, efficacy, engage! If you want a more meaningful experience at work, engage!

Not long ago, the way we conducted business was still fairly linear. All of that has changed. Today, you have to be more mindful than ever of the immediacy of information. Information sharing and analysis today is not only immediate, it’s also democratic in the sense that everyone can be an “expert” with the “right” to provide assessments. That’s both exhilarating and, admittedly, a bit disconcerting. We are using new technologies and platforms to access, respond, share and inform ourselves and our stakeholders.

However, in some very meaningful ways, if we don’t take this content and use it to bolster our confidence, we won’t truly engage in solving the issues and challenges before us. What will happen is that we either become apathetic to the situation or, worse, a victim of its impact. The bottom line is this: we have a wealth of information at our fingertips, so there is no excuse for not becoming involved and making a difference.

Re-consider your purpose…

As a student council president, an entrepreneur and now a CEO of a global firm, I’ve always looked at the world “glass half full.” This attitude is reflected in addressing challenges head on and engaging full throttle to achieve the right result. It all begins with purpose. What are you here for? What do you believe in? What are you willing to fall on your sword for? How are you going to work together to achieve it?

There’s no rulebook to rely on here. It’s in your heart. And in your hands.

Don’t hesitate….

The key to engaging rests with speed. The faster you get involved to solve problems, take a stand, offer new ideas, close a gap, and make a difference, the more successful your actions.

It’s about what you Do, not what you Say…

The need for action has never been more critical for business sustainability and societal impact. People who go full in and engage will be viewed as essential – not waiting for hand-holding or a push but, rather, driving the business forward.

Cause vs. symptom…

In the end, it’s about offering solutions that attack the cause and not merely providing a bunch of activities meant to address only the symptoms. It means moving beyond the message right into the types of actions or decisions necessary to achieve the desired outcome.

Despite everything we’ve learned about organizational and individual behavior, COVID-19 is rewriting how business and government operates in a time of crisis. If there was ever a time for all of us to stand up and engage fully in shaping the future in a positive manner, it’s now. There is no room for complaining. No room for indifference.

“The future belongs to those who believe in their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

And, I might add, who are willing to make them happen!

Stay safe and healthy!


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

As we look to shift from the here and now to coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic in a measured way, we predict two themes will dominate not only the way we think of marketing communications, but also business overall: (1) COVID-19 will accelerate and intensify the “digital transformation” of the healthcare industry and (2) we will see a significant swing toward all things local. Let’s look at both predictions in more detail and assess what they may mean for our future work.

Digital Transformation is Finally Here

Without a doubt, the need for digitalization has never been more acute. Medical meetings cannot be staged in their traditional format and are moving to virtual platforms. Dozens of companies have advised their sales teams to suspend physician visits and use virtual technologies instead. Video conferencing is replacing face-to-face activities, and research indicates a rise in the use of telemedicine. This is bigger than healthcare, as many consumers embrace online shopping while stores are closed, connect with their families via videochats, and celebrate religious holidays (e.g., Passover, Easter and Ramadan) virtually. Yet, even in the current situation, we witness a digital divide. Not every job, not every event, and not every interaction can be made virtual. And like with many significant events, we all notice a desire for meaningful, human connection in this crisis.

The Resurgence of Local Connections

This is where the second prediction comes in: Behavioral science suggests that, in times of crisis, people will turn inward to their immediate social group and their environment. What’s close and familiar provides a sense of reassurance. Many people, especially in big cities, have been able to get to know their neighbors for the first time, while in lockdown. Shared experience has become more important, as well as meaningful, and we expect that people will continue to engage in and volunteer for their community. And with supply chains seriously impacted by current constraints, interest in locally sourced and produced products has grown and is going to stay high in the future. Travel restrictions and the loss of income will also have an impact on holiday plans, with people deciding to stay local rather than exploring other countries.

Going Digital and Local at the Same Time

What does this duality mean for marketing communications professionals? We believe that the current situation has accelerated the duality we’ve observed for some time: Stakeholders will embrace both – a strong acceptance of digitalization coupled with a sustained focus on a shared reality and experience. We need to go digital and local at the same time. While digital might imply that everything is going global, it actually provides the opportunity to tailor and hyper-target our content to smaller and more defined audience segments.

For our work, this means that organizations need to be fully immersed and comfortable in a digital environment. The digital experiences we offer need to take into account insights about our audiences and their behaviors, preferred formats, content and channels. This will make virtual interactions truly valuable to our stakeholders. The information we provide needs to be hyper-targeted where possible and reflect local preferences and differences. At the same time, personal interaction will not be replaced by digital experiences. People will continue to need human connections and to be interested in what’s familiar and close to them. Both channels, digital and live communications, will complement each other and, while we all see right now how incredibly successful virtual communications can be, we need to become more skilled in determining when a meeting can be virtual and when our audiences will prefer a face-to-face. As we transition into a post-COVID-19 world, we need to plan the appropriate balance between digital and live experiences and rethink when and how we “go live” to make it truly meaningful for our stakeholders.

It All Starts with Knowing our Audiences

This begins with genuinely understanding our audiences and their experiences and what matters to them as individuals and as members of their group. This also involves learning how their mindsets have shifted and are continuing to shift and determining what is relevant to them and how we can make a positive impact as we enter into the next normal.

If you’d like to hear more about how we’re combining our experience in insight-led strategic planning and solutions to help clients make sense of the quickly-changing environment and their audience needs, please get in touch!

W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

How COVID-19 is forcing CEOs to rethink the importance of internal communications

A subtle but very important outcome thus far from this horrible pandemic is just how critical employee behavior, trust and engagement are not only to organizations and business but to society in general. Maintaining a level of confidence in the workforce is essential to productivity, innovation and balance. Unfortunately, for decades, the strategic mechanism designed to influence and drive operational success has been internal communications.

In the past, internal communications mainly consisted of newsletters, summer picnics and Friday casual days. It was a C-Suite level function intertwined with corporate decision-making to hold together the organization from an employer brand, culture and overall health standpoint. In today’s COVID-19 reality, CEOs are now dealing with the consequences of antiquated internal systems, irrelevant content, cumbersome models, and disengaged people.

The pandemic is leading executives to realize that companies can’t grow, prosper or even survive without a knowledgeable, engaged and aware workforce. We are finding that internal communications is evolving to a new level, where the focus is accelerating decision making, challenging people’s knowledge, and providing information that leaders, managers and employees utilize to frame arguments, illustrate situations, make decisions and launch initiatives. Working in a virtual environment is opening up avenues of innovation, ideation and more interesting managerial techniques. However, it is also causing anxiety, fear and loneliness. In this unprecedented time, internal communications systems, methods, content, cadence, feedback, tone and frequency can make a difference.

With all the complexities of today’s society, we are faced with constant clutter and information overload. As communications professionals, we wrestle with similar complexities in our day-to-day roles. In a time when information is abundant, competitive advantage lies in our ability to affect the behaviors, attitudes and actions of our employees through relevant, authentic and contextual information and dialogue. The end result is a workforce that can make decisions quickly, accurately and consistent with the business strategy – a workforce that, on the whole, believes in the purpose, values and goals of the organization.

As organizations evolve quickly due to COVID-19, the true transformation of internal communications, from necessary function to critical organizational priority, and from a disciplined process to a philosophy, is underway. Put succinctly, organizational effectiveness is defined as an institution’s ability to operate profitably, functionally, socially, strategically, innovatively and humanely. A management model focused on improving organizational effectiveness must bring together the right mix of communications, leadership and team-building to create an openness and an exchange that is fostered by the right technologies and the right skill sets. What’s more, organizational effectiveness is a behavioral-based model, embedded in a belief that sharing the right information with the right people will result in the ability to make decisions for the organization. As communicators, we must serve as the “invisible hand,” guiding employee behavior based on organizational priorities and strategies intertwined with people’s view of reality and need for purpose.

As CEOs continue to elevate internal communications, we, as practitioners, must be able to articulate our priorities and roles to organizational leadership. This involves defining the scope of our roles and responsibilities within our organizations, and how our function will ultimately help improve organizational effectiveness.

We have observed the following as it relates to internal communications, organizational confidence, and CEO enlightenment as a result of COVID-19:

  • Although the CEO ultimately drives organizational stability and culture, internal communications must help shape and guide CEO actions and decisions so that they are clearly understood, actively engaged, properly discussed and debated.
  • Internal communications must be funded, led and measured like any other corporate function…management and communication are inextricably linked. Communication must be viewed as an important component of a company’s management model. It can no longer be viewed as a separate and distinct function.
  • Internal communications must consist of facts and empathy…this isn’t about balance. It’s about sensing how the workforce is feeling and operating at any given moment and providing the proper narrative that respects the need for information and context, prudence and sensitivity.
  • It’s a game of analysis and insight…data now pervades business including marketing and communications.From an internal perspective, understanding employee information habits, concerns, interests and perceptions is important to ensuring relevance and meaning.
  • In a virtual working environment, connectivity is the glue that bonds emotions and attitudes. From video, webcasts, conference calls and phone calls, reaching out and conversing with people trumps social and digital. Never substitute social for personal!
  • Make it “important.”Someone once said if it’s not important then it’s not worth doing. Half the battle in organizational effectiveness rests with leadership’s ability to be disciplined and committed to its goals, strategies and purpose. Adopt a philosophy for how to manage, how to communicate, and how to operate and stick with it.
  • View employees as a public constituency, not a captive audience. We are seeing some leaders still treating employees as a captive audience and, to a lesser extent, a necessary activity. The result can often be compared to viewing employees as the least common denominator − spoon feeding them information vs. engaging them in the facts and potential decisions to generate a strong dialogue, discussion and debate. Other leaders are involving employees in the facts being provided by experts, recognizing that employees are smart, knowledgeable human beings running households, raising children and being actively involved in their communities and the world around them. The latter tend to be organizations with strategic internal communications processes operating with a workforce that is seen as a public constituency capable of opinion-shaping, decision-making and, ultimately, organizational success. This means providing facts, interaction, discussion, debate, dialogue and open communication.
  • Discover versus sell. The classic mistake most management and communicators make today is the belief that they need to “sell” employees on everything – from a new benefits program to the corporate strategy. But people “smell the sell” and turn off to the very thing that is being endorsed. The right approach is to base communication on a “discover” model − one that allows people to find the answer or truth themselves. In the era of COVID-19, leaders have embraced this new type of thinking and approach. It means a provocative tone, a more authentic method of discussion and debate, and a more pragmatic view of human behavior.
  • Time to re-invest. Leaders recognize they need to reinvest in internal communications and provide their businesses with the most effective risk mitigation solution in their business model.
  • “When am I going back?” “What will it look like?” “What’s my value?”…These are the questions on employee’s minds today as they continue to search for meaning and contentment amid a new reality. Keep these questions in mind in your management and internal communications efforts consistently and respectfully and the results will be significant.

A New Frontier

A glimpse at a post-COVID-19 future reveals that strategic internal communications can and will facilitate a culture of learning, where:

  • Internal platforms are more important than external channels
  • Budgets reflect the complexity of human interaction and performance
  • Agility and flexibility become the dominant outcomes of a highly engaged workforce
  • Data and insight drives decisions
  • Content is based on fact and emotion – not rhetoric and themes

This new frontier represents a brave new world for the internal communications function, presenting us with a unique challenge and opportunity to make the quantum leap from necessary function to critical organizational priority.

COVID-19 has been a powerful and sad experience for all of us. The loss of life and impact on society continues to be unimaginable. Perhaps what we can glean from this experience is a deeper and more enlightened comprehension of the human condition and, with it, the means to prevent and overcome what may come ahead.

Stay safe and healthy!


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages