Abdulrahman Inayat, Co-Founder of W7Worldwide, explains how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the communications industry in KSA and how his agency is helping businesses.
The global outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on economies around the world. Saudi Arabia was no exception, especially during the first stages of the crisis when difficult precautionary procedures – such as implementing lockdowns and travel restrictions – were necessary to contain the spread of the virus in the kingdom.
The Saudi ministry of health put the safety of citizens and residents at the center of its strategy, strictly applying various measures to prevent the gathering of people. This has had a direct positive impact on the private and the public sectors, with the World Health Organization (WHO) praising the Gulf states for their early response from day one and for preparing their systems at their countries’ points of entry in order to protect their peoples.
Responding equally rapidly, under its current Presidency of the G20, Saudi Arabia took the step of calling an extraordinary and first-of-its-kind virtual Leaders’ Summit to advance a coordinated global response to Covid-19 and its human and economic implications. Placing Saudi Arabia firmly on the international stage, leaders of the G20, representing 85% of the global economy, met via videoconference on March 26, committing to a number of individual and collective actions.
In-country, the communications industry was one of the sectors initially hit by the pandemic. Private and public events were cancelled; companies resorted to austerity measures; and the public was overwhelmed with the constant news stream about the virus. On the W7Worldwide side, we initially experienced a change in the business environment, as companies scrambled to find solutions to the instantaneous impact of the pandemic.
The pandemic-caused changes for us have stretched across several fronts: events were cancelled or organized digitally; meetings became virtual; and communicating with the media became digital. The media themselves focused much more on their digital platforms rather than traditional ones. Companies have either changed or completely halted their strategy to cope with the current situation. Journalists are working remotely, so we are getting used to organizing virtual press conferences, CEO interviews, webinars, and other digital engagements.
The top challenge for us now is to always stay one step ahead, in order to develop the right communications strategies for our clients in a constantly changing situation. There are yet many obstacles businesses face, such as cost savings, layoffs, furloughs, or other short- and long-term impacts. Right now, companies need to hit the ground running again and proactively reach out to their customers. As consumer behaviors have changed dramatically during the pandemic, many are re-evaluating their marketplace, target audiences, and messaging with us before embarking on major external PR campaigns.
We are collaborating much more closely with clients on internal communications to help them cope with health and safety messaging, as well as their return-to-work policies. A recent poll W7Worldwide conducted with communications professionals found that CEOs are expected to provide effective leadership to tell employees that their company will weather the storm, give them reassurance about their job security, and guide them through new company policies.
Greater use of technology and virtual meetings has become an acceptable way for us to support clients and conduct our business. As an agency, that means for us greater agility in working faster across the GCC region and borders. Going forward, we will maintain this much more flexible operating model, as it offers many cost- and time-saving benefits.
Each country across the GCC region is currently introducing its own lockdown easing measures, meaning a greater need for localization of communications that aligns with relevant and most up-to-date in-country public policy and messaging. In Saudi Arabia for example, government messaging is currently calling on citizens to be responsible and protect each other to successfully emerge from lockdown. Various inter-GCC travel restrictions are beginning to be lifted as the whole region looks to resume its economies post lockdown, so we are seeing an uptick in business across the region. Certain sectors are performing better, such as healthcare, technology, logistics, and financial.
At a time when companies need to be sensitive to public sentiment and adapt to new customer behaviors, effective communications are more critical than ever. How skillfully businesses navigate the recovery from Covid-19 matters. Realizing this, W7Worldwide worked to contribute to the communications industry as a whole, and support businesses in managing the crisis. We created a dedicated Resource Centre, with regular expert Covid-19 corporate communications guides, reports and articles. The guides cover topics such as crisis management planning, CEO leadership, employee engagement, media relations, public affairs and more.