Pandemic and resilience in the PR industry

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exchange4media reviews the new normal adaptations and trends that kept the industry buzzing in 2020

Ostensibly, unpredictable and unprecedented defined the last year of the decade. The year 2020 has been one of the greatest and also the most difficult years for the human race. Shrinking economy and vulnerable industries dispensed challenging times for businesses across verticals to survive and sustain. And undoubtedly, professionals have converted these uncalled for crises into a blessing in disguise and have emerged not only as survivors but winners. Adorning the role of crisis managers for businesses were the public relations and corporate communications professionals who acted as the perfect sailors, the communications professionals aided in sailing through the tough times.

The year of the virus souveniered the industry with numerous offerings that shaped up the working of the communication professionals and the industry at large. The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the consumers’ view- impacting priorities, behavior, and trust; which has invariably impacted and changed the working of businesses, which in turn has altered the work of PR industry as well.

The road of change was of course not an easy one. The 2020 ICCO World PR Report, revealed that 62% of PR firms have had campaigns cancelled and 61% expected a drop in fee income. In addition, there was a dearth of new business: 46% reported a loss of earnings, nearly 40% of respondents said there had been fewer pitches, and 35% said they had fewer retainers. Payment delays have also been a problem for more than a third of the industry (38%). Other challenges faced across the board included hiring freezes (35%) and pay cuts (35%), while 15% of respondents were forced to make redundancies. Despite all these shortcomings, the industry was prompt enough in adapting to the new normal and delivering some exemplary work for their clientele.

Work from Home

The WFH culture would have been a distant reality but thanks to the pandemic, we got a bit early. The industry started working from home from the first week of March 2020 prior to the first phase of lockdown in the country. With initial troublesome days, many professionals admit that offline to online switch has enhanced the chances to collaborate more efficiently and effectively within the team. Communicating through different online platforms has also elevated the performance as it blurs the line between the departments. People have started giving priority to remote working, personalization of their space, energy efficiency along with reduced operational costs and few resources.

Virtual is the new reality

Zoom calls and Google Meets replaced Uber, Ola and Metro bookings this year. Communication professionals quickly adapted to the virtual mode of living and laptops became their work partners. From pitching clients on Zoom meetings to organizing virtual press conferences, PR professionals have embraced the transition seamlessly. Being virtually presentable became a norm in 2020. In a profession where meetups and face-to-face interactions are a must, the industry was hospitable enough to welcome the changed scenario with open hands.

Business Objectives aligned with PR Objectives

Businesses have repurposed themselves to align with changing norms and a health-first world. As we co-exist with this pandemic, the alignment of the brand message, sensitivity and sincerity have become absolutely critical. The communications teams have been helming the process of change in strategies and helping both the employees and businesses adapt to the new realities. A brand’s dependence upon their PR partners to communicate authentically has dramatically increased in the year.

Power of Technology and Big Data in PR

A rapidly evolving digital ecosystem that is multi-mode and deeply engaging has strengthened and amplified the use of new technologies in the communications diaspora. The concept of Big Data has been the most valued trend in modern technology. By mixing social listening with big data, the PR professionals have gathered more information about the sentiments of their consumers and tactically restructured the content. The analytical approach has resulted in faster and better decision makings and feedbacks. The massive shift to the digital world has made big data quantifiable with the impact of the campaigns on consumers in reference to the ROI (return of investment) acquired by companies.

PESO Model and Increased value of Earned Media

Changing news dissemination and consumption patterns have accelerated the importance of the Paid Earned Shared and Owned Media (PESO) model in the communications industry. Professionals have upskilled and scaled up their approach to reach media for more authentic and comprehensible and humanized stories for their clientele. The past few months have enhanced the value of earned media more than any other form of news sharing.

A strategic shift in campaign formulation

There has been an upsurge in strategic-led communications. Campaigns have been planned and executed to manifest purpose-driven communications that resonate with their target audiences and not sound over the top or opportunistic. Brands have been careful enough in understanding altered customer behaviors and targeting the changing needs and aspirations. This approach has made brands increasingly dependent on PR agencies and communications professionals. The Client- Agency relationship has become more impactful and meaningful owing to the incessant need for reach and engagement with the customers through effective communication.

Corporate Brand Custodians

There is no doubt that COVID has brought to the fore the interdependency between brand-building and public relations. So, among the various hats worn by communications professionals, story miners have become brand custodians as well. Playing a connecting role, communications professionals engage with both internal and external stakeholders to propagate the organization’s message to create awareness and let the brands alive in the minds of its consumers.

Content is the Undisputed King

The protagonist year has once again reinstated the fact that content is the undisputed king. With dynamic messaging becoming the cultivated culture, omnichannel and omni-form approach has become the ultimate goal of businesses. The industry has ventured into every form of content; be it print, digital, videos, UGC or podcasts; professionals have optimally utilized consumers’ ability to read, watch, and listen. This has proved to have performed in terms of improved ROI.

Personal touch with Storytelling Creativity

Personal storytelling continues to make an impact this year. By sharing the ideas and being candid with the customer, the brands were able to connect and enhance the identity with more personal space. Generating a transparent persona with a purpose-driven narrative ensured consistency in messages. Thus, this trend dominated the ideologies of PR professionals.

About the author / 

Nafisa Shaheen

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