SINGAPORE — While the perceived value of communications may be up post-pandemic, in-house comms leaders face continued challenges in solidifying the stature of the function as business grapples with issues beyond Covid, industry insiders said Thursday at PRovoke Media’s Asia-Pacific Summit in Singapore.

“The last few years was about Covid. Now it’s about profitability,” said Linda Lee, director of communications & marketing at Docquity, a networking platform for physicians. “The pressure is on.”

Lee’s comments were part of a panel discussion on the future of in-house communications based on the findings of the 2022 CommsIndex. Participants in the Ruder Finn-sponsored session also included Arnab Roy Choudhury, senior director and head of communications and enablement, information & cyber security at Standard Chartered; Elan Shou, executive VP & managing director of Ruder Finn Asia & Greater China; and Azmar Sukandar, head of communications & society of Diageo Asia-Pacific.

In the latest CommsIndex, nearly all respondents said they believe the events of the past two years have elevated the perceived value of communications — and that the function’s new stature will persist post-Covid. The CommsIndex also found that roughly two-thirds of communicators are happy in their jobs and expect to grow headcounts.
Nonetheless, half of respondents will be looking for new jobs in the next 90 days, the study found.

Panelists said that while they have emerged from Covid confident, they are still decidedly cautious in looking to the future, as the function, and business in general, faces a range of mounting pressures — profitability, consumer demands and reputational threats among them.

“Sustainable long-term change is happening. It’s not just comms. It’s how we do business. It’s how we interact with people. Everything is changing. And the pandemic has given rise to new norms,” Choudhury said. “But at the same time there is opportunity to change the way we are doing things.

“We do need to invest in our own skills and we do need to move forward with thought — being optimistic and at the same time prepare for these new challenges ahead,” he said.

Sukandar said she nonetheless believes the focus on internal comms that emerged from the pandemic will remain a constant moving forward.

"Because a lot of organizations are realizing you’re going to have to take care of your people, because your people are the ones that  are going to make sure you achieve the success that you need in terms of performance and the numbers you need to hit and the profitability. If you don't take care of that it's going to be problematic," she said.

"Comms has a different multi-layer role now within an organization. And where you lean more depends on the culture of the organization. But its something everyone is trying to better understand while also remaining relevant," she said. 

Panelists also discussed where measurement goes from here, and how to create and frame benchmarking that aligns with executives’ goals.

While the CommsIndex showed measurement is still widely tied to media clippings, using uniform measurement tools isn’t realistic at a time when companies are weighing everything from employee engagement to making societal impact, panelists said.

All of which, Shou said, requires communicators to be in lockstep with business leaders — key to being able to put communications to best use, be that internal or external comms or crisis management.

“The most important thing is whether you can put yourself in your boss’s shoes,” Shou said. “It’s very important to put yourself in his shoes, to understand his priorities rather than send him a briefing book.”

Demonstrating value also requires communicators to adapt to clients’ needs and wants, from using the measurement benchmarks individual companies want to packaging services in ways that are palatable to executives, she said.

“We have to be flexible,” Shou said. “If we can do all this, we can be changemakers. If you can be changemakers, we bring value to the boardroom.”