CorpComms Awards

Best leadership campaign

Winner 2021
Leadership communications during the pandemic
Springer Nature

Springer Nature is a leading research, educational and professional publisher that employs 10,000 people who work across around 50 countries. As a pioneer of open access publishing, it made all its Covid-19 related research available free of charge from the start of the pandemic, sharing more than 19,000 publications.

With a significant Chinese operation, Springer Nature was aware of the nature of the pandemic before lockdowns were even imposed in the UK. From March 2020, its global operations had transitioned into a virtual organisation, but the change necessitated a new approach to employee communications to manage the crisis and maintain engagement levels.

Without the demands of overseas travel, Springer Nature’s senior leadership enthusiastically adopted a new style of communications that instantly felt more inclusive and open. Having abandoned long-held beliefs about the value of ‘in person’, the company and its leadership appreciated the benefits of being ‘virtual’.

By opening ‘windows’ into their lives, the senior management team appeared to engage on ‘equal terms’ while also reinforcing a ‘we’re all in it together’ type approach. Springer Nature’s comms team launched new channels to take advantage of these emotions, which included ‘virtual tea or coffee webinars’, which allowed anybody in the organisation to request a virtual coffee with a member of the management board and up to ten colleagues.

This new initiative allowed chief executive Frank Vrancken Peeters to meet hundreds of colleagues, some of whom were new faces. It has allowed colleagues to feel connected with leadership while also providing valuable insight into their concerns and the state of morale.

A ‘virtual town hall roadshow’ series also launched, which took place across major locations and regions, creating an open forum with a local feel. These roadshows have contributed to improved transparency and connection on both company-wide and local concerns.

Early in the pandemic, Peeters’ monthly message to staff adapted into a short, 400-word weekly message tightly focused on supporting staff, offering business updates and inspirational messages, such as those explaining the company’s efforts to combat the virus. Other members of the executive team also shared personal stories, such as ‘A day in the life of…’, through vlogs.

From early 2021, Peeters’ messages evolved into a new series of video chats, no longer than 30 minutes, in which he chats with colleagues from around the business. These unscripted chats explore colleagues’ professional and personal backgrounds while asking them to share their experiences of the pandemic, inspirational stories, and recommended film or book.

On occasion, the chat takes the form of Peeters and his guest walking their dogs through their respective neighbourhoods. Each video is published on the company’s intranet with a chaptering tool, although most viewers choose to watch the full film.

The virtual channels look likely to stay at Springer Nature even as the world returns to normal, as employee satisfaction with its response to the crisis achieved 92 per cent and 91 per cent approval ratings in the first Covid-19 pulse surveys and now remain in the high 80s. Similarly, the weekly CEO videos attract an average of 615 views.