The post-COVID business and communications landscape is sure to be fraught with unprecedented twists, but we can be sure that digital acumen will play a big role in solving them. A new study of communication professionals in Europe offers an overview of the key challenges facing the PR industry on the continent—and not surprisingly, PR pros here at home are battling many of the same issues and obstacles.
The European Association of Communication Directors (EACD) outlines those challenges in its newly released European Communication Monitor 2021, the world’s largest survey of the communications profession based on interviewing 2,644 comms pros from 46 European countries, providing valuable insights for public relations, corporate communications and public affairs.
As well as digital transformation of communications as the main topic, the survey explores the use of video-conferencing for stakeholder communications and changing roles of communicators when helping to create value for their organizations or clients.
“Communication leaders are looking ahead to the time after the pandemic. There will be neither a return to the old familiar nor a new normal that reflects today’s practices,” said Professor Ansgar Zerfass, lead researcher of the survey and chair professor at Leipzig University, in a press release. “Instead, communications will be transformed by digitalization on all levels and the pressing need to show its contribution to value creation. Communicators should be aware of key challenges and contribute to organizational success by enacting new roles.”
“Change is constant and communicators must be able to adapt as the world starts to transition from crisis to recovery,” added Kim Larsen, head of group brand marketing and communications at Danske Bank and President of the EACD, in the release. “The digital transformation of communications helps to address these challenges. We need to strengthen our ability to integrate software into our workflows and use digital tools in our teams as well as for engaging stakeholders. Change always comes with lots of opportunities. This edition of the European Communication Monitor (ECM) helps to reflect upon some of them.”
CommTech and digital infrastructure
Research results show that introducing software and digital tools is a necessity and a huge challenge at the same time. A vast majority of practitioners across Europe highlight the importance of digitalizing stakeholder communications (87.7 percent) and building a digital infrastructure to support internal workflows (83.9 percent).
The current level of digital maturity, however, is often disappointing. Three out of four communication departments and agencies are quite experienced in using external digital platforms for stakeholder communications and in providing collaboration platforms for their team members. But only a minority is considered mature when it comes to providing digital tools for support activities that are specific for communications like managing digital assets. Overall, digital maturity differs significantly across types of organizations: joint stock companies are clearly ahead and governmental organizations are lagging behind.
Video-conferencing for stakeholder communications
The pandemic essentially forced many communicators in a lot of instances to rely on video-conferencing. The pressing question remains about its application in a ‘post-Covid’ world. Interestingly, while most also expect significant pressure within their organizations to continue the use of video-conferencing (73.5 percent), fewer can see their organization actually offering continued support for such formats (62.0 percent)—which signals some interesting future tensions between the necessity to consider extant stakeholder practices, preferences, and expectations and organizational-level support and demands.
This study suggests that video-conferencing is here to stay. Three out of four practitioners intend to use it for stakeholder communications, even when the pandemic is over. However, country comparisons show striking and highly significant differences in the continuing acceptance of this technology across the continent, with comparatively less approval in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe.
Future roles for communication professionals
Communicators have a wide variety of tasks, ranging from aligning communication strategies and managing teams or departments to coaching employees in professional communication or advising top managers in decision-making processes. The results reveal that all respondents take on different roles simultaneously in their daily work. Based on a five roles framework, the traditional Communicator role is enacted extensively by the largest portion of professionals (42.8 percent), followed by the Manager role (31.1 percent), while less respondents spend a substantial share of their worktime as a Coach (27.7 percent), Advisor (26.2 percent) or Ambassador (23.7 percent).
More than half of the surveyed practitioners expect that Coach and Advisor roles will rise in importance in the next three years. Both roles are often enacted simultaneously. Communicators who perform the Advisor role most often advise top managers or heads of other departments on strategic business decisions. These advisors often have more than 10 years of professional experience and they have received specialized training in management concepts and strategic decision-making.
A strict selection of participants, a unique research framework based on established theories, and statistical analyses fulfilling academic standards are key features of the study which has once again been conducted and supported by a team of renowned communication professors from universities across Europe. Salaries, key strategic issues as well as the characteristics of excellent communication departments have all been researched with more detailed analysis for 22 countries.