New E-Book by Institute for PR and Peppercomm Shares How Communication Leaders are Looking Ahead Through COVID-19

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Third in a series of co-branded research reports on the thoughts, feelings and actions of America's most senior communications professionals

The Institute for Public Relations and Peppercomm have released an in-depth e-book, “Leadership Perspectives: Leading and Looking Ahead Through COVID-19,” focused on critical topics affecting the public relations industry while looking ahead to the future of public relations and communication.

The e-book features 30 profiles and interviews with communication executives and senior leaders from a range of corporations, public relations agencies, nonprofits, and universities. Topics include:

  • Impact of COVID-19
  • Return to work
  • Future of business and the industry
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and the impact of Black Lives Matter protests
  • Internal communication
  • Corporate purpose

“Organizations had to pivot quickly from external promotion to internal engagement when COVID-19 began,” said Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations. “Communication executives had to be more nimble, make decisions quicker, and not get stymied by the process as more stakeholders increasingly expect companies to be catalysts for positive change.”

Many leaders agree that business will never be the same as before COVID-19. Communication executives predict that more business will take place virtually, including more digital advocacy, transformative technologies, and telemedicine in the healthcare industry.

“I think this pandemic will undoubtedly catalyze change,” said Sarah Crawshaw, Managing Director, Asia Pacific, at Taylor Bennett Heyman. “Businesses will adjust to a new world that is much more localized. I think they will ultimately create more headcount in countries where they have local business operations, but they'll do so having slimmed down on their regional centers.”

Executives also said the traditional concept of “work” will change, including the physical office space and a flexible work approach.

“While it’s hard to predict the depth of the impact on the business world overall, one thing we all will agree on is that the pre-COVID-19 office as we knew it will no longer exist,” said Geoff Curtis, Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Chief Communications Officer for Horizon Therapeutics.

While leaders acknowledged the ongoing importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in their companies during COVID-19, the death of George Floyd and the global protests that followed were a “turning point” or catalyst for more inclusive programming.

“Our goal at Conagra is to work together in a peaceful and constructive manner, where everyone has a voice and must be heard,” said Jon Harris, Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer at Conagra. “We used our internal and external channels to underscore our belief that racial injustice is wrong and to promote our timeless values, which include integrity, broad-mindedness, and leadership.”

A vast majority of respondents said their organizations are improving or expanding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives. Some noted their companies still have some work to do to strengthen DE&I. However, some were skeptical about the long-term commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement due to the past performance of the industry.

“Within public relations, D&I has mostly been lip service,” said Jennefer Witter, CEO and Founder of The Boreland Group. “But let’s see what companies do. It’s easy to say you support Black Lives Matter now, and it’s easy to do the black square. But let’s see where you are in six months. Let’s see if you’ve taken the talk and made it into the walk.”

Corporate purpose and company values have served as a “North Star” for communication executives, serving as their primary guide for decision-making during COVID-19.

“As a purpose-driven organization rooted in CSR-based management, responding to global health crises locally and globally, and working to ensure access to health is at the heart of what we do,” said Moyra Knight, Vice President, Corporate Communications, Astellas US, President, at Astellas Global Health Foundation.

Thirty communication leaders from prominent companies and public relations agencies participated in a Q&A or provided stories and their perspectives in this new e-book. The contributors (29 are listed as one chose to remain anonymous) include:

  • Barbara Bates, Hotwire
  • Matt Bianco, Novelis
  • Jill Carapellotti, Macy’s
  • Rob Clark, Medtronic
  • Sarah Crawshaw, Taylor Bennett Heyman
  • Geoff Curtis, Horizon Therapeutics
  • Ray Day, Stagwell
  • Paul Gennaro, Voya Financial
  • Gary F. Grates, W2O Group
  • Jon Harris, Conagra
  • Catherine Hernandez-Blades, Aflac
  • Moyra Knight, Astellas
  • Mike Kuczkowski, Orangefiery
  • Brian Lott, Mubadala
  • Catherine Mathis, McGraw Hill
  • Jenn Mauer, Merck
  • Jamie McLaughlin, JWM Talent
  • Juan-Carlos Molleda, University of Oregon
  • Dominic Pendry, Bed Bath & Beyond
  • Doug Pinkham, Public Affairs Council
  • Shirley Powell, Cox Automotive
  • Linda Rutherford, Southwest Airlines
  • Michael Schoenfeld, Duke University
  • Erin Streeter, National Association of Manufacturers
  • Chris Talley, USAA
  • Jennifer Temple, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
  • Chuck Wallington, Cone Health
  • Danielle Ward,
  • Jennefer Witter, The Boreland Group

This e-book is the third co-branded report during COVID-19 by IPR and Peppercomm. The first two reports were quantitative. The first report, “COVID-19: How Businesses Are Handling the Crisis”, focused on how communication executives were handling COVID-19. The second report, “Special Report: How Companies Are Engaging Employees During COVID-19”, focused in-depth on how companies were communicating internally.

IPR has also compiled a robust research center focused on COVID-19.

To access the e-book, please visit


Methodology: This report includes interviews and written posts from 30 industry executives conducted through email and over the phone from May 21 to June 25, 2020. Due to the sample size and qualitative nature of this report, the results cannot be generalized to all communications executives.

About The Institute for Public Relations
Founded in 1956, the Institute for Public Relations is an independent, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the science beneath the art of public relations.™ IPR creates, curates, and promotes research and initiatives that empower professionals with actionable insights and intelligence they can put to immediate use. IPR predicts and analyzes global factors transforming the profession, and amplifies and engages the professional globally through thought leadership and programming. All research is available free at and provides the basis for IPR’s professional conferences and events.

About Peppercomm
Peppercomm is an award-winning strategic, integrated communications and marketing agency headquartered in New York City with offices in San Francisco and London. The firm combines 25 award- winning years of expertise serving blue-chip and breakout clients with forward-thinking new service offerings and the freshness of a start-up. This unique mix of experience and energy enables the firm to attract and empower teams with a creative edge, drive and passion for promoting, protecting and connecting clients in a fast-changing marketplace. Founded in 1995, Peppercomm has received numerous accolades, including The Holmes Report’s North American Corporate/B2B Agency of the Year and Bulldog Reporter’s Midsized Agency of the Year. The agency has been listed as one of Fortune’s 10 Best Workplaces in Advertising and Marketing, 100 Best Workplaces for Women, 50 Best Small and Medium Workplaces and 50 Best Workplaces for New College Grads. For more information, visit or follow us @Peppercomm.

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