Community News

The now and coming crisis: the marketing communications community group reflects

Start preparing now for the next phase of crisis – this key message emerged from the meeting of the GÉANT Special Interest Group on Marketing Communications (SIG-Marcomms) on 2-3 April. Participants explored the impacts, challenges and opportunities arising from the current Covid-19 pandemic, but cautioned that the global economic consequences will bring further challenges that National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) already need to start anticipating.

The sudden increase in people working and learning from home in many countries has caused a significant shift in work for NRENs and their marcomms teams. 88% of the meeting participants said their activities had changed since the pandemic started, with crisis communications and other Covid-19-related new work being the main focus in the past few weeks.

Crisis communications

It was a crisis that had not been well anticipated by the majority: 50% of meeting participants had only become aware within the previous 2-3 weeks that their organisation was making preparations for the new situation; 18% only within the previous 1-2 weeks.

Examples of Covid-19 crisis communications activities were presented by Belnet (Belgium), SURF (Netherlands) and WACREN (West and Central African Research and Education Network).

Some NRENs had benefitted from applying broad lessons from the GÉANT Community Programme’s ‘CLAW’ workshops on crisis management and communications, but, as these exercises all had a technical focus, their scope for supporting the current pandemic scenario was limited. A lesson learned: prepare for other kinds of crises too. With a global economic crisis looming as the knock-on effect of the pandemic, the meeting participants agreed that we must start preparing for this scenario as soon as possible.

Surge in community support activities

A large amount of the extra work by NREN marcomms and technical teams in recent weeks has been to support online learning and home working with relevant tools and services. The meeting participants heard quick updates about examples from GÉANT – eduMEET, eduVPN, InAcademia and openUp2U – and shared their own examples. Some NRENs, such as GRNET (Greece) and PSNC (Poland) are even helping citizens more generally, by supporting theatre and church activities, as well as community hackathons and 3D printing. Regarding the NRENs’ normal customer base, researchers in many countries have become aware that useful services are available.

Participants recognised that the new situation brings opportunities to show the value of NRENs, their networks and services in new ways. They shared ideas about the kinds of stories that can be gathered and told, but cautioned that the time is not yet right while the crisis is still unfolding.

Surprise positives

With many NREN staff now working from home, the meeting participants reported positive effects on their internal communications and company culture. Overall, the importance of internal communications, the value of marcomms work, and the company values had become more visible. Examples were shared by AARNet (Australia), GÉANT, PSNC (Poland) and SURF (Netherlands).

The question of how to sustain all the more positive effects of the current situation in the longer term, after the pandemic has eased away, is one that was raised in the meeting. Plans for business-as-usual marcomms activities have been significantly disrupted for many NRENs, and there will be a need to begin strategic planning afresh to take account of the new ‘re-set’ situation, as well as to harvest and publish stories that show the value the R&E networking community has provided during this period. The meeting participants agreed to keep existing lines of communication between NRENs marcomms teams open and active in the coming weeks.

Further information

The SIG-Marcomms Extraordinary Meeting on COVID-19 was held online in the afternoon of 2 April and the morning of 3 April. Around 34 people from 25 countries and 4 continents took part. The meeting was originally scheduled to be hosted in Cyprus by CyNet, but was shortened, re-focused and moved online in response to the pandemic and associated travel restrictions.

The agenda and slides are available via the SIG-Marcomms Extraordinary Meeting wiki page.

The next meeting of SIG-Marcomms was originally scheduled for 8 June as a side-meeting of TNC20. As TNC20 is now cancelled, the SIG steering committee will review the plans soon.

More about SIG-Marcomms.