With the Coronavirus outbreak wreaking havoc for businesses around the world, European Business spoke with Steven George-Hilley, founder of UK-based PR agency Centropy PR about how brands can maintain customer loyalty and staff morale during the global pandemic and the role first-class communications can play in helping companies survive and thrive during this difficult time.

European Business: With the UK entering even stricter lockdown measures to contain the surging Covid-19 outbreak and flights being cancelled, how can companies tackle this new and uncertain business landscape?

Steven George-Hilley: The Coronavirus outbreak has had a seismic impact on the way companies of all sizes operate, with many implementing remote and collaborative online working for the foreseeable future. The recent news that a tier 4 lockdown has been imposed upon London and the East of England means more disruption, more chaos and more uncertainty for millions of people from all walks of life.

For employers, the time to show empathy and understanding with workers is an absolute top priority, with many people likely to spend Christmas in isolation from friends and family members. For companies seeking to remain productive whilst keeping staff happy, having a clear

communications plan in place should be top of the agenda for 2021.

This should include regular online check-in services with HR, access to guidance and mental health support, as well as ensuring there are regular ‘online’ Christmas parties and engagement initiatives to ensure everyone feels included in this difficult time.

European Business: Many businesses have seen a sharp drop in revenue and productivity due to the pandemic, how can they use communications to keep customer relationships alive?

Steven George-Hilley: Flexibility is key. At Centropy we represent an array of leading UK employers including manufacturing companies, digital skills, and training businesses as well as cyber security providers.

Since the crisis broke, all these clients have been quick to respond, commissioning us to prepare crisis and communications plans to keep employees informed about the state of the business, potential risks and applications for support such as the furlough scheme.

The fact is that now most companies need to accept that remote working is here to stay and that the time to make long-term changes to business models is a leading priority. Yet these changes must be implemented with employee well-being front of mind, with clear and concise communications about new working patterns and processes to ensure nobody is left behind in the transition.

European Business: What are your top three tips for businesses during these challenging times?

Steven George-Hilley: Firstly, honesty is key. Maintaining trust with employees is critical so keeping everyone updated on the status of the company, its progress and challenges is essential for building a strong rapport despite a remote working environment.

Speed is also essential. The complexities of the virus mean that factories can be closed and working patterns disrupted within a very short space of time. It is therefore critical that companies have a clear communications pipeline in place so that workers are given the necessary safety tips and guidance about how and where to work to stay safe.

Finally, I’d say clarity is also important. Larger companies with substantial global workforces need to come armed to company update calls with the facts. There is nothing more disheartening that hearing office rumours about redundancies, closures and other problems from colleagues rather than official communication.

European Business: What does 2021 look like for Centropy?

Steven George-Hilley: We’re already missing our Shoreditch office and rooftop bar as well as having full team meetings together. The team has very quickly adapted to 100% remote working and so far, things seem to be running smoothly.

This year has been incredibly uncertain and disruptive, yet we are still growing rapidly and expanding our areas of expertise. We have been

selected as the global or European lead agency for several of our biggest clients and hope to expand these relationships further next year

There is no time to slow down, and we will work very hard to increase the size and scale of our client portfolio despite the problems posed by the Covid outbreak.

Steven George-Hilley is co-founder of Centropy PR