FIDIC webinar highlights crucial role of communications in a crisis

18 May 2020

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The eleventh FIDIC Covid-19 webinar took place on Monday 18 May 2020 with an event looking at how companies and organisations have communicated effectively, internally and externally, during the current Covid-19 crisis, writes FIDIC communications advisor Andy Walker.

“Covid-19: Communicating your response both internally and externally” was attended by 346 attendees and explored some the challenging issues involved in communicating with staff, clients and customers alike during an unprecedented global pandemic.

Moderated by FIDIC CEO Nelson Ogunshakin, the speakers at the event included John Gamble, president and chief executive officer, ACEC Canada, Gina London, owner and managing director of Language of Leadership Ltd, Sara Lipscombe, group communications director at Costain Group, Henrik Garver, managing director of the Danish Association of Consulting Engineers, Chris Campbell, chief executive of Consulting Engineers South Africa and Andy Walker, editor of Infrastructure Intelligence and communications advisor to FIDIC. FIDIC president Bill Howard was also present at the webinar.

Speaking first at the event, John Gamble, president and chief executive officer of ACEC Canada, highlighted the need to cut through the ‘white noise’ of communications surrounding the current crisis and be absolutely focused with messages. He also spoke about the importance of advocacy and informing stakeholders about the effect of that work and reminded the audience to get news out by speaking plainly and clearly and in a timely fashion. Gamble also made the point that infrastructure was adding real value to society and that was a very positive message in the current climate.

Henrik Garver, managing director of the Danish Association of Consulting Engineers, spoke of the delicate balance to be struck between communicating quickly on key issues, while avoiding adding to the ‘white noise’ of information around the current crisis. Garver said that surveys were an effective way of gaining information from the industry which could then be communicated to influence opinion formers. It was also important, he said, to take a balanced approach that acknowledged that there were other industry sectors harder hit than the construction sector while highlighting the crucial role of the infrastructure industry in enabling countries to recover from the Covid crisis.

Group communications director at Costain Group, Sara Lipscombe, highlighted her approach of “structure, routine, agile and innovate” which had governed her firm’s response to the Covid crisis. Having a “single source of truth” from the company was also crucial and had led to a massive increase in staff engagement with the firm’s online platforms. Lipscombe also said that the company had also learned to communicate in a less corporate way with staff and indeed external stakeholders as it was important to show a more human side to the business. Communications with external clients have been challenging, she said, especially when the industry was being attacked for keeping building sites open. Many lessons have been learned during the current crisis that would stand the company in good stead for the future, she said.

Chris Campbell, chief executive of Consulting Engineers South Africa, spoke of the need to explain to staff why certain actions were being taken and to reassure people that they would be supported through the current crisis. Like John Gamble, Campbell also stressed the importance of getting the balance right with communications and highlighted the important role of the CEO in disseminating important information. Adopting a blended approach to communications, using SMS messages as well as emails to signpost to sources of information and advice, was also very helpful, he said.

Gina London, owner and managing director of Language of Leadership Ltd, said that what was interesting about a crisis was the indeterminate nature of events and how a crisis “reveals leaders” by what they do and how they react. Adopting an AIM-focused approach (Audience, Intent and Message) was a very helpful approach to adopt, London said and messaging was especially important in ensuring that communications were clear and precise and organisations were able to get these across to stakeholders. Leaders being seen to be “on top of a situation” was also absolutely critical, said London.

Infrastructure Intelligence editor and FIDIC communications advisor, Andy Walker, said that it was important to stress the unprecedented nature of the current crisis, which was affecting all those involved in communications, including journalists. A key challenge for FIDIC, he said, was to collectivise countries’ experience of the crisis when they were at different stages in the pandemic and the organisation had stepped up to the plate on this issue by communicating regularly and clearly during the recent period. Walker also said that it was important to understand that digital was changing everything and the way that organisations communicate in “the new normal” would never be the same again.

The discussion and questions from the audience covered many issues including digital communications, the role of engagement with government, leadership issues, how best to focus communications to key audiences, the importance of infrastructure in Covid recovery and what the new normal might look like.

Summing up the webinar, FIDIC president Bill Howard, highlighted the importance of building quality relationships in standing organisations in good stead during a crisis. FIDIC was crucial in doing that on a global basis and would continue to do so in the weeks and months ahead, he said.

The next FIDIC webinar in the series is Covid-19: Kick-starting the economy – lessons learned from what governments are doing around the world which takes place on Wednesday 20 May at 12 noon CET. Please register your place as soon as possible as we expect another healthy turnout for this event.

Click here to book your place on the Kick-starting the economy webinar

Click below to view a recording of the Communicating your response webinar.

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