With the global recession, most of the industries are trying to survive. The PR industry is no exception. Due to the economic slowdown, and all the concerns and uncertainties in mind, should companies go ahead with a PR plan or should they just hold on for a bit? Rhena Bunwaree, media relations consultant looks a bit deeper.
What’s the current state of the Public Relations sector?
It’s not surprising that COVID-19 has hit the public relations industry in Mauritius and beyond. Businesses are thinking PR is not an essential service they can afford right now even if the budget that goes into it is just a fraction of the marketing and advertising budget. The direct impact of the pandemic on small PR agencies can be disastrous, especially for those with a limited portfolio of clients. Much will depend on agencies’ ability to organise work remotely without losing performance and delivering the same exceptional service to clients.
Nonetheless, there is an increasing demand for PR services specialising in certain sectors less affected by the pandemic such as heavily-focused Business-to-Business (B2B) technology, telecoms, and of course crisis communications.
How should PR agencies communicate with stakeholders during the pandemic?
Clients have withdrawn their proactiveness towards continuing PR activities and most of them have put their PR partnerships on hold until the pandemic situation gets better. They are thinking PR is not an essential service they can afford right now even if the budget that goes into it is just a fraction of the marketing and advertising budget. This creates a stalling scenario in the industry. In this unpredictable situation, stakeholder trust and engagement becomes an even more critical task, which means we have to identify different ways to get their messages across to their target audiences.
Many business leaders are probably spending every spare moment thinking about how to adapt and stay ahead in a rapidly changing environment. We get it, as we are in the same situation. For us communicators, this means adjusting our strategies to meet these new and evolving objectives and prepare for the “next normal”.
This is a great opportunity for PR practitioners to lead the charge by questioning their PR strategies and setting a new course.
What are the PR essentials to remember?
For us communicators, every crisis is an opportunity to test our PR strategies. We’ll need to get more creative and adjust some of our PR tried and tested press releases and media pitching formats. Our PR activities should not only meet our audiences technically with regards to the platforms they use but more so to connect emotionally. In the past weeks, a lot of brand campaigns were about assurance and we start to see brands getting a bit more daring as the post-pandemic world out there takes shape.
How can organisations protect their reputation during this period?
From a reputational perspective, times like these are a potent reminder to focus on why your brand matters for your stakeholders. Consumers, partners, and employees are constantly in front of their connected devices. Brands need to be visible and relevant in this “new normal”. PR professionals need to prioritise budgets around online discovery and awareness more than ever.
Communicators need to think about how to keep content informative, aspirational, and engaging. For example, they can promote their clients’ real-life experiences and the positive efforts businesses are adopting.
How should organisations communicate with their employees during Coronavirus?
Given business and employment uncertainty, keeping up internal communications is crucial. PR is built around creating and nurturing two-way relationships. It’s very important to ensure message clarity, address genuine concerns and keep communications channels open with the very people who drive and make your business what it is.
We can also learn from the Singapore Government on consistently sharing accurate, timely and relevant updates on the current health and economic situation. Businesses need to ensure that they share updates with their clients and employees using all available channels, and ensure that they only refer to official and trusted sources.
Can you share examples of positive community-led during Covid-19?
There are global campaigns celebrating healthcare workers and other essential professions. For example, we watched Italian policemen singing to people in lockdown, food donations, and countries globally clapping and cheering for their heroes. These signs of togetherness and solidarity are great in reminding people that we are all in this together.
How will Covid-19 impact the way communications professionals work in the long term?
The coronavirus crisis has had a devastating impact on the job market, with increasing redundancies and uncertainty that has left livelihoods at risk. The PR industry is no exception.
After the imposed lockdown, it would be very difficult for PR agency leaders to turn around and say work-from-home didn’t work at all after a whole industry just did that! The other thing is a stronger focus on mental wellbeing for staff; a topic that is pretty much neglected for a profession that is frequently seen as one of the more stressful ones.
Any final thoughts?
We all are familiar with the term ‘no risk, no gain’. These are tough times for businesses that need to float and for that, they need to prioritise their services. But, this is also the time to grab the market by the scruff of the neck and thrive. No one knows what a post-Covid-19 world might look like, but this expectation from brands to be clear about what they are doing to support jobs, communities, and societies in rebounding successfully, will be with us for quite some time.
PR agencies will soon feel a desperate need to act boldly, especially if clients’ brand perceptions have been badly affected by COVID-19. Clearly, this nasty virus did not hire any public relations agency yet and it handles its negative publicity quite well so far.