3 big communications issues that demand immediate attention

Here’s how the pandemic has reshaped the work of communications leaders around the world.


In early 2020, a Ragan Communications survey of almost 800 communicators found most of them upbeat and largely satisfied with their work.

Some were a little fuzzy about their budgets, and many had no plans to audit the state of their communications. Others could not recall when they had last updated their crisis comms plans.

They dreamed of more staff and better intranets. Their gripes were the classic ones: siloed communications, long approval processes, more order taking than strategic counselling. Some said they were looking at Microsoft Teams as a new tool.

Who knew what a difference a pandemic would make?

The last 18 months have fundamentally transformed how companies operate—and how they communicate. By March 2020, the issues at the top of a communicator’s to-do list were quickly jettisoned in favor of more immediate, pressing concerns.

Communicators were forced to “pivot”—a term that seemed really cool. Until we all began to loathe it.

That was certainly the case over here at Ragan Consulting Group. After all, we’re consultants and trainers. We come to you. COVID-19 made us all stay home. We got on the horn (Zoom/Teams/Webex, etc.) to tackle the big questions: How do you communicate effectively with employees who are working from home? How do you reach workers deemed “essential” that had to stay on the job, often at great personal risk?

Did our clients have the right tools? Most important, did they have the right message? Employee comms became a daily function—often, several times a day. Seemingly overnight, internal communicators became the strategists they always yearned to be, working side-by-side with their executives to keep their organizations moving.

But the pandemic did something else. It altered time. As much as life seemed to slow down, the need for communications sped up. And three vital issues pushed their way to the top of every organization’s priority list, and they have been there ever since:

1. Diversity, equity & inclusion. After George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, organizations scrambled to show their commitment to DE&I, though few knew what that really meant in practice.

Companies have been talking about diversity for years, but at a very superficial level—what an old boss of mine used to deride as “food, folklore and famous people” during FILL IN THE BLANK Month.

We developed an ambitious and precise methodology to measure a company’s DE&I “IQ,” only to discover that organizations didn’t want us to tell them what they already knew: They were bad at this. They needed immediate help, starting with the basics.

Our marvelous DE&I consultant, Kim Clark, started virtual trainings, teaching people about unconscious bias, how to handle microaggressions in the workplace and assemble an inclusive language guide.

But change doesn’t operate on the same timetable it once did. Saying you care about diversity is admirable, but today companies have to actually do something about it—and that includes the equity and inclusion parts. We’re working with them on that, too.

2. Environmental, social and governance. ESG seems to have come out of nowhere, though it has been with us for years. It is the newest must-do on every communicator’s plate, though many don’t even know it yet. That’s because ESG has been the sole province of the investor relations communicators, who don’t spend much time talking to their comms siblings.

ESG is about more than bulky sustainability reports and broad commitments to reduce your carbon footprint. It’s about your values as an organization. Tom Corfman, who heads our ESG practice, puts it this way: “Who cares about ESG? Turns out everyone does.”

If you’re paying attention to such measures as Edelman’s excellent Trust Barometer, you know that customers, employees and communities care deeply about sustainability, diversity and transparency.

We’re helping our clients translate all those numbers and technical jargon into compelling stories that resonate with all those audiences.

3. Culture. Company culture is one of those things people have been talking about forever, but in a fuzzy, feel-good kind of way.

Forget about employee engagement. We’re way past that. Culture is now a thing—and it may be the biggest issue facing companies today. This is about hanging on to the talent you have, and recruiting new talent to join your team.

In August, 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs, looking for new opportunities, better pay or flexible working conditions. Nothing fuzzy about that.

What makes a culture? How has the culture changed when the workplace has shifted to, well, everywhere? My colleague Kristin Graham is all over this one.

To me, these big honking issues tie back to what we do best: help organizations assess the state of their communications, both internally and externally; and work with their communicators to do their best storytelling to all their audiences.

If you’re one of our current clients, thank you for working with us. For our past clients, take a look at how we can help you in new ways. And for anyone else reading this, try RCG on for size. You know where to find us.


One Response to “3 big communications issues that demand immediate attention”

    Ronald N Levy says:

    Jim Ylisela’s excellent focus on what’s most important calls to mind five PR realities.

    .1. What’s the most important PR objective of all?

    ANSWER: Survival! The answers to questions of PR Daily’s educators—the reason it’s important to judge whether our clients have the right message and the right tools–is that at stake is the survival of our businesses, the survival of our managements running those businesses, and the survival of earnings opportunities needed for continuing survival.

    .2. What threatens our survival?

    ANSWER: Our BIGGEST threat may be not the pandemic which is abating, not the competition which we are beating, but politicians who try to sound like
    heroes by claiming that our leading companies are evil villains.

    .3. How can politicians threaten corporate survival?

    ANSWER: Two ways, one by (a) “tax the rich” revenue laws ignoring that when the rich must pay additional billions to the government in taxes, the rich must pay billions LESS to employees and stockholders and invest less in equipment and technology that creates jobs. The other threatening way is (b) to pass regulations that reduce corporate earnings as by saying that a company
    like Google or Facebook can make ten billion less a year from ad revenue or 20 billion less. But will a company charging billions less not have to pay employees and stockholders billions less? And charge more to consumers who can’t really afford more and shouldn’t have to?

    .4. How are big companies responding to the survival threat now?

    ANSWER: Incredibly, some are giving the public lawyer-like arguments “why we’re right and the critics are wrong.” But if the public doesn’t much care which side is right because of feeling “we have bigger problems of our own,” can legislation get passed that costs big companies billions a year and threatens their survival plus survival of millions who depend on our big companies?

    .5. How could big companies be safer from multi-billion dollar damage by politicians?

    ANSWER: Recognize that the public decides which side wins based not on debate points but partly on which side the public LIKES more. One out of every four people dies of heart trouble and one out of every five from cancer so if a company announces it will spend a BILLION or two over the next five years to find a heart vaccine or a cancer vaccine that protects our lives, will the public want government to stay the hell away from doing anything that could reduce that company’s financial ability to protect our lives?

    Jim Ylisela’s basic question is huge: “What should we do to be saved?” The answer may be to not just argue and write clever ads but (a) earn the public’s affection by sponsoring a massive health research program that wins almost the LOVE of over 100 million Americans, and (b) help the public see what Omnicom honchos say is at the very core of successful PR programs: the TRUTH.

    The truth, PR can help the public to see, is that what’s good for our great companies may be good for our great country. A political threat to a corporate survival and profitability can be a survival threat to not just them, our leading companies, but to each one of us. Our public and our companies are together in the same lifeboat.

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