Experts believe that the PR industry has been resilient and robust during the pandemic year, confidently combating all challenges
Uncertain, incalculable, unprecedented defined the last year of the decade. It was one of the most difficult times for the human race that grappled with health, economic and livelihood crisis- all at the same time.
On the business front, the pandemic rejigged the fundamentals of the PR industry and reshaped the working of the communication professionals and the industry at large. The PR & Corporate Communication professionals donned the cap of crisis managers, worked the extra mile and gave succor and strength to those in distress. They emerged as anchors that wired the whole industry together.
Giving credence to a report by BuzzStream and Fractl, nearly three-quarters (73%) of respondents felt confident about the value of PR amid COVID-19, and 59% felt confident about their effectiveness at work during the pandemic.
It was indeed amusing to see the industry shackle its assumed role of a supporter and become an integral part of board room discussions. With its resilience and robustness, it looks like the industry’s intent to establish itself as a strategic tool in the brand communication arsenal has succeeded and is already on its road to recovery.
Accepting Challenges & Leveraging Opportunities
It has certainly been a transformative time but transformation is not new to the public relations business. In fact, it’s been the theme of the last decade and a half. However, few were not prepared for the upheavals caused by COVID-19. “It’s changed our clients’ worldview and therefore how they function – and so it’s changed us too. More than radically transform, it has accelerated several trends such as digital storytelling, reliance on data and insights as well as a change in the way we measure the impact of our work,” says Jaideep Shergill, CEO and CO-founder, Pitchfork Partners.
“We have a seat at the high table because the budget cuts and battle for mindshare have underscored the need for genuine engagement. These are all opportunities,” he adds.
For Nikky Gupta, Co-Founder & Director, Teamwork Communications, the pandemic has been a mixed bag of challenges and opportunities. “As a PR organization, the situation required us to evolve and respond to the changing dynamics quickly. While traditional businesses were affected and many brands put work on hold or moved out of retainer agreements to short-term arrangements, the healthcare and digital industry brought forth a slew of new opportunities. The aftermath of the pandemic gave a fillip to sectors such as EdTech, AdTech, Digital Marketing, Pharmaceutical etc. that further gave new opportunities to us,” share shares.
Samir Kapur, Branch Head & Director North, Adfactors PR believes that the only way businesses could thrive was by managing their corporate reputation, being responsible to all its stakeholders, engaging with employees, and upholding its ethics, integrity, equity and salience – PR plays a significant role in all of these.
Highlighting the consequences that the industry faced, Kapur asserts, “Companies initiated budget cuts in their marketing endeavors to stay afloat. However, the need to communicate with all stakeholders was felt the most by the CXOs during these testing times and they found PR as the best route to deliver their messages, quickly and sensitively, therefore giving PR its space in the sun. Virtualisation of agencies and digital and social media outreach are some of the other opportunities.
There were challenges in remotely managing and working as team members were operating from multiple locations.”
Embracing The Irreversible Changes
Experts observe the decline of traditional media and the rise of new media as one of the prominent effects. This has led to brands’ need to communicate 24×7. “Conversations don’t stop at the end of the workday – digital platforms are buzzing around the clock. So, the industry needs to raise its listen-and-respond-now game,” comments Shergill.
The amplification of digital content consumption will get more entrenched. So, agencies that haven’t invested in SEO and SEM techniques, or content marketing, will find the going tough.
More importantly, PR will increasingly incorporate digital analytics to make sure the communication rests on a better understanding of the audience.
Shergill also advocates that a hybrid work model is likely to be the norm going forward. The key will be to keep teams engaged and feeling as if they’re part of a single unit despite being dispersed across the country.
Gupta & Kapur unanimously agree on the growing demand for comprehensive 360 degree solutions from PR companies. They believe that brands today are asking much more than traditional media coverage from PR, they are simultaneously looking for good digital and social media strategies. Hence, PR organizations today are feeling compelled to have dedicated digital and social media teams on board.
Kapur further adds on the advertising budget and expenditures getting pruned. “The role PR has also grown more decisive and multifarious in the given scenario. PR professionals now are closely working with brands in strategizing and executing all possible mediums of communication. PR now encapsulates an intelligent mix of paid media (KOL, bloggers, influencers, micro-influencers, YouTubers etc), earned media (print, online, third party influencers, webinars, virtual event participation as knowledge partners etc), shared media (social media campaigns), and owned media (website, blogs, newsletters, etc.),” he states.
All Game For A Fast-Forward Future
Undoubtedly, the PR industry has transformed fundamentally in the past year. In the come time, it will look to build capabilities around content marketing, community building and customised digital storytelling faster, expect experts.
Digital outreach has been fast-forwarded itself in a big way and is here to stay. The way brands used to influence has undergone a change and there is a healthy mix of earned, owned and shared media in it.
The data and insights from rigorous digital monitoring have real business value; they are rich in learnings about the audience’s mindset and where offerings are falling short. This constant listening will help agencies guide brands better through crises.
Also, brands now have no choice but to stand for something larger than their business. So, the industry will need to craft messages better to drive human connections.