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HEALTH | 04.30.2020

COVID-19: Journalism and communication are also changing

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In these complex times, when everything everywhere is changing at a dizzying rate, our sources of information can also prove destructive. But in every crisis, well-managed communication can provide opportunities: This is a time for communicating truths, sharing value, promoting social awareness and humanizing brands.
Never before has a crisis provided so many headlines and front pages for the history books. A Google search for COVID-19 presents over 3,5 billion results. The origins and spread of the virus, scientific research, the search for a vaccine, socio-economic impacts, business actions, leadership, innovation, technology and people’s stories—big or small—of solidarity, suffering, hope and recovery. News and research, precision journalism, interviews with celebrities, experts and leaders, chronicles, reports and posts. All types of communication join forces to satisfy the legitimate appetite for information of people around the world.

Yet the drastic fall in advertising revenues due to the uncertainty stemming from coronavirus has never before been so apparent in the media, especially traditional media. And these declines in advertising activity reflect the plummet in global consumption. In Spain alone, marketing experts believe that advertising investment will fall by more than 20 percent in the coming months.

Every day, the news is shifting its focus at dizzying speeds, in stark contrast with the confined stillness in which the world seems to move. Online streaming and entertainment platforms such as Netflix and YouTube, social networks such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and digital media platforms are benefitting the most in terms of audience given the need for users to stay informed or escape reality, whereas traditional media is missing out.

In the UK, the National Union of Journalists recently warned that many titles will close and thousands of journalists will lose their jobs as a result of this pandemic. Aware of the threats facing journalism today in the face of this unprecedented global crisis, organizations such as UNESCO and Reporters without Borders (with its new Tracker 19 tool) are monitoring the situation worldwide in terms of the safety of journalists, the protection of free speech and the fight against disinformation.

A recent World Economic Forum report on Value in Media recalls “the indispensable role that media plays” that goes beyond the search for information to satisfy citizens’ legitimate curiosity, as it is capable of providing cultural stories and content to “ignite the imagination to overcome the challenges ahead.”

José Fernández-Álava, General Director of Dircom, stresses the importance of traditional media, “which has managed to win back the attention of many people who previously relied on social networks to stay informed,” although he admits that its business model is still taking its toll.

Beyond proactivity from organizations, the source of origin and the truthfulness of the information provided are key, warned Ignacio Jiménez Soler, author of La nueva desinformación (the new disinformation) and corporate communication expert. “Going out and telling stories is not enough, you have to know what is easily identifiable as truth,” he explained in an interview published by La propagadora. “Journalism has never been more necessary and never has it been worse (…) in terms of the basics, like objectivity and truthfulness,” he cautioned.

Emotion and value 

Big business communication focuses on being more reliable, transparent and empathetic, “not just as a strategic tool to boost business performance, but as an ally where the business can provide all its stakeholders with additional value, paying special attention to the most affected groups during this unprecedented crisis,” as suggested by the consultancy firm Llorente & Cuenca.

Fernández-Álava believes that companies will resurface from COVID-19 stronger “because they have managed to emerge in front of society’s very eyes, especially those that are showing solidarity and a social footprint that, from now on, will be an integral part of the value chain.” In his view, one of the key takeaways is the resurgence of more vocational professions, such as healthcare workers and teachers, who have been able to translate their transformational work into helping others. 

Corporate communication expert, Ricardo Gómez, explains that the main challenge at the moment is to be able to convey emotion—a fundamental aspect—through virtual tools and especially in the field of internal communication. One of the main requirements in any crisis communication, he recalls, is to be able to manage the situation. In his opinion, this crisis certainly provides a great opportunity for corporate communication to grow in organizations.

In this sense Gómez advises professionals to focus on “taking, but not abusing, opportunities.” “All companies that focus on providing value within their brand territory, from what has so far been ‘normal’ in their organizations—while avoiding being perceived by the public and their own interest groups as carrying out senseless actions within the framework of business as usual—will be the ones that succeed,” he says.

An opportunity to set an example 

One of the trends emphasized by Llorente & Cuenca is the “positive impact on consumers of companies making donations.” They are perceived as showing greater solidarity and being more trustworthy. Jiménez Soler expects the reputations of large corporations to improve because they “are demonstrating their resistance, taking action and providing solutions.”

“I don’t think there will ever be another event like this, but I do think this is truly a turning point where the business world will become more connected with society, more supportive and show greater concern for others. Thanks to brands, we’ve gained in humanity,” professes Fernández-Álava.

MAPFRE’s Group Chief External Relations and Communications Officer, Eva Piera, believes that, now more than ever, a large global company such as MAPFRE, along with its foundation, has the ability to come closer to people, prove its commitment and be useful to society. This is its responsibility but above all its ideology. “It is part of the DNA of our group. We’re people who take care of people,” she explains. “We must do so audibly, because, unfortunately, many people need us.

“In addition to ensuring the health and safety of our employees and collaborators, and continuing to provide quality service to more than 30 million customers worldwide, at MAPFRE we are helping and supporting society, addressing the needs arising from the health emergency, but also implementing significant support measures for those most affected, SMEs, the self-employed, our providers and our clients. As our Chairman and CEO, Antonio Huertas, said recently in an opinion piece on this crisis, giving is the only option at the moment.” Piera assures us that “we are doing the right thing.”