COVID-19: Tips for success in online communications

September 11, 2020

Teppei Tani
Dentsu Public Relation


With COVID-19 shaking up every area of society, all forms of communication have rapidly moved online. Corporate PR has been no exception to this trend, and we at Dentsu Public Relations have seen an influx in inquiries about how to move activities into the online sphere.

Following on from our articles on corporate messaging during the pandemic, this third installment in our series on COVID-19 explores how the media landscape has been transformed and offers tips for success in online press conferences based on our observations from supporting our client base over the past few months.


The rapid digital transformation of PR: a timeline

On February 26, the Japanese government urged organizers to call off events, leading many companies to postpone or cancel press conferences and other activities scheduled for March. Many events that did go ahead were scaled back and combined in-person and online elements.

After the official declaration of a state of emergency on April 7, press conferences moved almost entirely online. A major catalyst for this process came on April 8, when the Tokyo Stock Exchange press club (often referred to as the Kabuto Club) called for companies to refrain from holding financial results briefings or delivering physical copies of press releases.

In June, typically peak season for annual shareholder meetings, corporations looked to hybrid virtual solutions that allowed investors the choice between attending in-person at a physical venue or participating online. According to a survey by Dentsu PR’s internal think-tank the Corporate Communication Strategic Studies Institute, as of mid-April 2020 46% of companies were either planning or considering a hybrid meeting.

As more B-to-C communications moved online and work-from-home directives entered the long haul, a growing number of Dentsu PR clients began to seek advice on how to approach announcements such as managerial changeovers as well as internal communications. Other key challenges include tailoring messages to diverse stakeholder groups and devising online content that will keep customers interested.

As the below diagram shows, companies should be looking to move communications with all stakeholder groups online.



Communicating effectively during online press conferences

In the early stages of the pandemic, a key area of client interest was how to handle questions from journalists during online press conferences.

Many methods have been tested since, from video chat, to text chat, to submissions by e-mail, and even private messages directly to moderators. Some companies have also tried making use of the reaction feature of video conferencing apps to simulate the process of raising one’s hand to ask a question.

After several months trialing a variety of approaches, the main trend we have seen among our clients is taking questions via text-based chat.

At first, it was common for organizers to invite private questions from journalists and pick a few representative examples to ask. But more companies are now opting to make all questions in the chat public in an effort to keep everything fair and allow participating journalists to gauge areas of common interest.

And while some companies were worried that moving press conferences online might lead to a fall in coverage, that has not been the case for any of the projects that Dentsu PR has supported so far during the pandemic. Quite the contrary, in fact—footage and materials from online conferences have been widely featured in the media.

That’s not to say that the media were receptive right from the get-go. Initially many journalists complained that there was no point attending if they would not be able to do close-up interviews, and that they couldn’t make a good news story from online materials alone.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic shows no sign of ending soon, and more and more conferences are held online, the media have gradually come around to the idea. One news crew member with a Tokyo television station told us: “We’re really holding back on filming and gathering material outside of the studio at the moment. We’ve completely switched our focus to how best we can use remote footage.”


Inside the studio at an online press conference

How the conference appears online to watching journalists

Making your online press conference a success

A common issue with all forms of online communication, including press conferences, is the difficulty in gauging the reaction of those sitting on the other side of the screen. And when speakers can’t see how their audience is responding, they tend to end up proceeding too quickly as they focus their concentration on reading out the documents in front of them.

While behaving largely the same as you would in a real-word meeting is important, that is not the only key to success. Based on our experiences of supporting clients during the pandemic, we have put together the following tips for speakers, moderators, and PR managers in online press conferences.

For speakers
  1. Give the big picture: Start off with an overview of your speech.
  2. Be concise: Use short sentences. Speakers of Japanese should aim to keep one sentence within 50 characters, which is equivalent to roughly 25 words in English.
  3. Speak slowly: When explaining documents, try to speak at a pace no faster than 300 characters a minute in Japanese, or 150 words a minute in English.
  4. Look at the camera: It can be easy to end up staring downwards when reading a script.
  5. Be animated: Pay more attention than usual to gestures and body language to avoid seeming monotonous.
For moderators/PR managers
  1. Ask for confirmation: Don’t shy away from asking people to repeat themselves when multiple participants speak at once.
  2. Handle questions effectively: Read out the questions that have been selected, and make sure to respond individually by email to questions that could not be asked due to time restrictions.
  3. Keep to schedule: Act on the understanding that participants have their schedules planned out to the hour—some journalists may have filled up their diaries with back-to-back online press conferences.
  4. Send information beforehand: Upload documents and links ahead of time to allow participants to concentrate on the speaker’s presentation.
  5. Use visually appealing materials: Ensure that documents to be shown on screen are easy to understand, minimizing use of text and leveraging graphs and visual content to illustrate key points.


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About the author


Teppei Tani
Dentsu Public Relations
Executive Director, Information Design Division
Joined Dentsu PR in 2006 from Japan’s public broadcaster NHK. Worked in PR direction, issue management, and business development before joining the Information Design Division, which specializes in planning and PESO media promotion, in 2019. Has worked on numerous award-winning campaigns, including PR Awards Asia-Pacific (Campaign of the Year, Public Affairs category, BtoB category), and the IPRA Golden World Awards (BtoB category).


This article was adapted from original Japanese content published by Dentsu-Ho, May 25, 2020 (view original article)

Banner image by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash
Teppei Tani profile picture ©️Getty Images
All other images ©️Dentsu Public Relations




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