How the global pandemic affected communications professionals and the industry: Insights from the 2020-2021 North American Communication Monitor

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 global pandemic has generated an ongoing and possibly long-lasting impact on many aspects of communication, working environment, and multiple sectors of the world. It is critical to explore how communication professionals adapted to COVID-19 impacts and led to successful communication and transitions during this challenging time.

We designed a section of the 2020-2021 North American Communication Monitor (NACM) focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact to gather information on several key issues related to communication professionals’ responses and challenges in communication practices. These key issues include the perceived impact of the pandemic on communication professionals’ daily work and working environment, trusted sources they used in keeping up with the pandemic, and COVID-related information used in planning, preparing and responding to the pandemic. Professionals’ satisfaction with their organization’s communication and management during the pandemic also was assessed.

Communication professional’s attention to COVID-19 news

Overall, clear evidence is found that the COVID-19 pandemic is a heavily discussed topic in the United States and Canada (83.2%), and communication professionals in both countries have given attention to the news about the pandemic (75.0%). The comparison between professionals in the U.S. and Canada reveals attention is more prominent for professionals in Canada. Although professionals in general agreed that the pandemic affected their daily work significantly (65.8%), those in Canada acknowledged a much higher level of impact from the pandemic (70.9%).

COVID-19 affects men and women differently

Gender comparisons reveal that women perceive the pandemic as a heavily discussed topic, but men report a significantly higher level of perceived impact of the pandemic on the daily work of their communication department/ agency (70.0% vs. 62.3% based on frequency analysis, Chi-square test, p < .01). Professionals working in communication departments at public companies report a significantly higher level of direct impact. Results also show a significant correlation between leadership and perceived direct impact. For example, those holding a top leadership position as head of communication, or as CEO of a communication agency, report the highest impact of the pandemic on the daily work of their communication department/agency.

Diverse sources were used for COVID-19 information

Communication professionals also use diverse sources to gather COVID-19 information. The top five common sources for COVID-19 information include public health organizations and officials (72.0%), national news outlets (69.2%), local news outlets (61.9%), state and local elected officials (59.9%), and international news outlets (57.3%). Consistently, public health organizations and officials are the most trusted source for professionals to acquire information.

COVID-19 communication and the satisfaction level

Overall, seven out of ten communication professionals are satisfied with their organization’s communication and management during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the satisfaction level significantly decreases as the scope of the leadership responsibility decreases: four out of ten team members are neutral or unsatisfied. Professionals in governmental organizations report the lowest level of satisfaction.

For more results related to the topic of COVID-19 and communication professionals’ responses, please download and read the NACM 2020-2021 full report by visiting The Plank Center’s website.

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About North American Communication Monitor 2020-2021

The North American Communication Monitor (NACM) is a biennial study organized and sponsored by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. The NACM is part of the Global Communication Monitor series. As the largest regular global study in the field of public relations and strategic communication, the Global Communication Monitor series aims at stimulating and promoting the knowledge and practice of strategic communication and communication management globally. The series covers more than 80 countries with similar surveys conducted in Asia-Pacific, Europe and Latin America.

About The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations

The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations is the leading international resource working to support students, educators and practitioners who are passionate about the public relations profession by developing and recognizing outstanding diverse public relations leaders, role models and mentors. Founded in 2005, the Center is named in honor of Betsy Plank, the “First Lady” of PR. Betsy’s legacy and vision continues on in the Center’s programs and initiatives to advance the profession and public relations education. For more information, please visit www.plankcenter.ua.edu.

Study Report

Results of the NACM 2020-2021 is published as a PDF report and can be downloaded here:

Meng, J. Reber, B. H., Berger, B. K., Gower, K. K., & Zerfass, A. (2021). North American Communication Monitor 2020-2021. The impact of COVID-19 pandemic, ethical challenges, gender issues, cyber security, and competence gaps in strategic communication. The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations.

ISBN (electronic): 978-0-578-90837-3

For more information about the Global Communication Monitor series, please visit www.globalcommunicationmonitor.com.

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