Having steered the company through four decades of business, Network’s chairman Dennis Lynch has spent time weathering – and helping others weather – many a national crisis. So with us all back in the office, I took the opportunity to sit down with him to ask what history might teach us as the COVID-19 dust begins to settle. Here are a few highlights ...
H: What’s the biggest crisis you’d experienced prior to this year – and what challenges did it present to the PR world, and Network in particular?
D: Nearly all the, well, what you could term ‘crises’ I’ve experienced through my working life have stemmed from global financial upheaval. In these instances, we’ve not only had to adapt our own business model to stay afloat, but respond quickly to help our clients embrace economic change.
The most striking example that springs to mind is the ‘87 share market crash. At the time, New Zealand had come out of a very controlled economy into the first Lange government, which had changed everything. New Zealand went on an entrepreneurial spree that lasted a good four to five years, over which we saw all kinds of new clients seeking communications support as the economy boomed. Then overnight the share market crashed, and everything changed again.
Some clients disappeared instantly. Others struggled to stay afloat. So at Network we had to act quickly to adapt, which we did by becoming more flexible, offering marketing communications to promote our clients and help them to stand out and keep their heads up in a struggling economy.
H: How did you find Network had to present itself to maintain client trust in the value of PR?
D: People will always have a need for communications in a crisis. In fact, it’s particularly in a crisis that clients find an even greater need for communications support. For local clients, several parts of a business can be cut in times of economic strife. But we have consistently seen our clients prioritise PR alongside such help as legal aid and accounting advice when under pressure, while other departments may suffer cutbacks.
We have spent a good deal of time honing Network’s crisis communications offerings to our clients, helping organisations protect their reputations through times of uncertainty. It is through having the ability to offer consulting advice, and the ability to action that advice, where trust is built and maintained.
H: We’ve heard many commentators say that COVID is far bigger than the GFC. Plus of course the communications realm is very different to 30+ years ago. Do you think this time will be different, and that we might see a downturn in the number of companies seeking communications support?
D: I would expect the economic fallout to be worse than the politicians warn us it will be, but I’m also optimistic that we won’t experience the economists’ worst-case scenario. However, it’s important to look at the international economic response. The different financial crises of the past while I’ve been running Network have all been triggered by international events – and if the global economy doesn’t come right, we could all be in for a tough time. It’s the next few months that will tell.
Businesses like ours have an important wider economic role to play in times like these. We are here to support clients who need communications support during these next challenging months, to keep businesses moving forward and keeping their workers in employment, actively contributing to the economic recovery. Our job is to look at how we can manage problems that arise – and to look at how we can help.