Amidst all the volatility surrounding COVID, many brands and companies have embraced the "new normal" resulting from the regulations and restrictions put in place when the pandemic first landed on our shores. Singtel recognised the need for an increased reliance on its digital systems, digital tools and connectivity, and shifted its focus on building a digital resilience strategy.
Against this backdrop, the telco managed to clinch a gold for Best Crisis Management Strategy and a silver for Best Campaign Pivot at MARKETING-INTERATIVE's PR Awards 2021. We speak to Lian Pek, vice president of group strategic communications and brand at Singtel on the team's proudest moments and resilience.
This interview is done as part of MARKETING-INTERACTIVE’s winners and finalists’ interview series for PR Awards 2021. To find out more about the awards, click here.
What would you say was the biggest accomplishment for the whole PR/ communications community in 2020?
Lian: The PR community has done well in terms of dispensing clear and compassionate communication amid the pandemic and the havoc its wrought on our lives. With everyone facing cycles of disruption and adaptation, communication professionals have had to be nimble and nuanced. The collective sense of displacement and loss also required the community to get far more personal in their communication, speaking simply to each other as fellow human beings rather than as customers or stakeholders. We’re all in this together, so how can we help?
The fact that we’ve gone back to a kinder, more down to earth and authentic way of communicating is a real accomplishment.
What would you say was your proudest achievement of the year?
Lian: In the initial throes of COVID-19, when everything was plunged into uncertainty, I’m glad we moved quickly to communicate with our 22,000 strong workforce and the public about the measures we were taking to keep our staff and customers safe.
Safety was our top priority and clarity of communication was critical. We didn’t hide the fact that we didn’t have all the answers to this developing public health crisis, and this vulnerability really helped engender trust in our communication. In fact, when the first of our colleagues got COVID-19, we made it a point to share this with our staff and public in the name of transparency and prevention. The openness with which we dealt with what was happening gave people the assurance that we were looking after their well-being and interests.
When offices, classrooms and businesses started shifting online due to safe distancing, the criticality of our services definitely hit home. The resilience of our business continuity plans had to be clearly communicated so our stakeholders knew they were well-supported in this time of disruption. As we extended care packages to the broader community, which included digital tools for SMEs and digital workshops for seniors unable to make the online pivot, we took care to communicate this clearly and widely so that these segments of society would know how to get the help they need. In the business that we’re in, we’re big believers in the power of technology to change lives and this was a valuable opportunity to walk the talk.
What are some communications trends you see carrying on post-pandemic?
Lian: The pandemic and remote working has underscored the importance of internal communications which will continue to be highly relevant going forward. If the exchange of information between two parties can be challenging under regular circumstances, what more communicating with a whole enterprise in a time of crisis?
Internal communications will have to get more digital and real-time.
Whether employees are working from the office, remotely or on the frontline, we need communication platforms that allow for real-time updates about COVID or discussions about other pressing matters.
The whole pivot online with virtual meetings, townhalls, conferences and even AGMs will likely stick in some way, shape or form, post-pandemic. As things ease up, we’d see more ‘phygital’ set ups where physical gatherings have a de-rigueur digital component. The pandemic has forced everyone to embrace digital and that habit is not going away anytime soon.
How will the role of communications professionals evolve as we move into a rather uncertain future?
Lian: Communications professionals will have to be far more agile as we move into the next normal. With the endemic nature of COVID-19, we’ll have to keep toggling between crisis and regular modes of communication. Within companies, we’ll have to address what has changed, what our new priorities are, and help broker conversations between leaders and staff about how we expect to move the organisation forward. External communication to our stakeholders will remain critical. We will keep communicating with our customers and shareholders about our business continuity plans and how we intend to reposition for recovery and growth.
What can we expect from your company in 2021?
2021 is a time for recovery and we’ll certainly be engaging and communicating with our workforce so that we can all move forward with purpose.
Given the resurgence of the pandemic, caring communication will be key to keeping our workforce healthy and motivated. We’ve recently gone public with our business imperatives to reset for growth in the 5G era, so we’ll be keeping everyone posted whenever we make a business-critical move. So watch this space!