Communicating in times of uncertainty


Jeff Perkins

UK Commercial Director


Man on Phone

Benjamin Franklin famously said, “in this world, nothing is certain, except death and taxes”. Earlier this year we joined a panel discussion at the Corporate Communications Conference in London, and this was updated to “the only thing certain is the uncertainty itself”.

Uncertainty presents a huge challenge for businesses and global organisations. From Brexit to the global pandemic, from extreme weather to the invasion of Ukraine; major world events place increasing pressure on PR & Comms professionals to communicate effectively to key audiences and stakeholders.

The media landscape is increasingly complex and constantly evolving. It is widely accepted that there is no shortage of data and information available. However, there is often a gap between the data and the insight…we might know what has happened but we are short on understanding why it happened and how we talk to that theme or moment. Brands are being asked to take a position on issues that were previously the responsibility of government and politicians. Edelman remind us annually that trust in government continues to decline and people expect brands to speak with purpose on societal issues and cultural trends.

In moments of increasing complexity, it is imperative that communications professionals have access to timely data in the format they need, so that they can make the best decisions for their business.


Here are our top tips to help you communicate in times of uncertainty and declutter the data.


Don’t ignore traditional media

Whilst we may think that the whole world is locked into social platforms, our Media Navigator Report (2021) showed that traditional media is still trusted and plays an important role in major news moments. At the Corporate Communications Conference, Lesley Wood, Chief Communication Officer at the Ministry Of Defence talked about the value of local radio in communicating the role of the armed forces during the pandemic, to regional audiences. Local radio was a key medium in informing and reassuring the general public at a moment of great anxiety.


Uncertainly doesn’t have to be apathy

Whilst Silicon Valley is yet to invent an app that predicts the future (I’m sure it’s in BETA somewhere!), uncertainty doesn’t mean that you can’t be prepared. Organisations can be proactive as well as reactive by ensuring that you have the appropriate data, monitoring, insight and analysis needed to make more informed decisions. The playbook still has its place but it should be constantly reviewed.


Mind the gap

There is a danger that PR & Comms. professionals, go to learned experience and instinct in times of crisis. This is obviously a good place to start but please mind the gap. There can be a gap between our perception of what we think is happening and actually how a moment is understood to be happening. It’s important to “stress test” your perceptions and challenge your assumptions. Stakeholder Insights are a great way to better understand which issues are affecting key audience groups and shed insight into which messages are landing well with policy makers, politicians, trade bodies, consumers, and NGOs.

Finally, take the time to be more human in your communication. Remember when we banged our saucepans in support of the NHS, we opened supermarkets early for our key workers and we checked on our neighbours? In times of great uncertainty, major events will impact people and audiences differently at different times. We should allow for this when talking to colleagues, clients and consumers. PR leaders can show more empathy in communications, and can be more human.


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