From sustaining livelihoods, PR agencies shift focus to sustaining lives this pandemic

From reducing workdays to providing medical assistance to employees and their kin, here's how agencies have been extending a helping hand to their employees

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Published: May 13, 2021 1:59 PM  | 6 min read

In the light of the coronavirus pandemic in India, organisations have been ensuring that empathy and purpose take prominence in their communications. Many have seamlessly adapted to the need by putting a pause on their marketing and promotional activities and steering more towards purpose, authenticity and ethics.

While public relations agencies have also been trying to gain lost ground in businesses due to the second wave, they have been grounded enough to have compassion and empathy at the core of their activities.

The surge in the number of cases and in fatalities among the fraternity has prompted agencies to take more meaningful and supportive steps in order to keep the PR community healthy, both physically and emotionally.

This ranges from shifting back to the work-from-home set up to providing medical assistance to their people. Certain agencies have also extended a helping hand to the kin of employees who have suffered in the pandemic.

Impact on the agency

In times like these, most PR firms are extending all necessary assistance and support to their employees with services like arranging for oxygen cylinders, emergency medicines, ambulance, food service, testing, beds at hospitals etc.

From a business standpoint, however, agencies are seeing a minuscule impact from the pandemic so far. Brands are not impulsively ceasing their contracts like last year. While it is difficult to predict what will happen two or three months down the line, currently brands are seeing PR as an integral part of their communications strategy and continuing their association with their communications partners.  

Under the PRCAI #SupportEachOther initiative, many of the member firms are pooling in the resources to provide support to the employee base and their immediate families. PRCAI on behalf of the interested members is tying up with a medical assistance organization to provide telehealth consulting to members. The members can have access to a pool of experts of Internal Medicine Practitioners, Pulmonologists and Doctors who are treating COVID patients and seek teleconsulting services. PRCAI has also collaborated with hospitals to hold vaccination camps for all the employees across the communication fraternity. 

Response by the agencies

Every stakeholder in the system is dialling up on empathy and compassion. Agencies have been proactively responding to the crisis by making policy-level amendments for their teams, supporting their family members while ensuring undisrupted work for their clientele.

Part of WPP, Hill+Knowlton Strategies India employees have access to a holistic medical support system, which includes the provision of 24/7 emergency ambulance services across 100 cities, as well as helpdesks with information about COVID resources like hospitals and testing locations in major cities.

It has started organizing vaccine education sessions and will reimburse any vaccination costs that may be incurred by employees and their dependents.

WPP has established a COVID Relief Fund which will be used to provide direct support for colleagues and their families in India. WPP is also match-funding employee donations to charitable partners in India to provide vital support and supplies to those in need, including oxygen concentrators and cylinders. Through the John W. Hill Foundation, H+K is making a significant contribution to the special fund for India established by Americares.

PR Pundit has given time off to the caregivers and talent afflicted by COVID-19 to take care of their families and to rest and recuperate themselves. It has also enlisted the services of a doctor-on-call for a swift telephone/video consultation. All PR Pundit team members are eligible for 2 days as “Vaccine Leave” to #StaySafe. 

AvianWE has moved swiftly to provide medical resources for its people and their families – from COVID-19 tests and free e-consultations with doctors to providing oxygen cylinders and supporting vaccination programmes. In tandem, the agency is also giving employees wellness days off. For employees suffering from COVID-19 and are not deducting their sick leaves from annual leaves. Vaccines will be made available free of cost for team members.

Genesis BCW has collaborated with a ‘24/7 COVID Emergency Support Team’  to regularly update and verify the information and help procure hospital beds, medicines, oxygen cylinders, concentrators, etc.

It has provided access to emergency healthcare services including ambulance, healthcare experts, mental healthcare experts and so on. Agency has given access to cover the cost of medical expenses of its employees and immediate family members. Genesis BCW will also cover the vaccination costs of its employees and dependents along with providing COVID leaves.

Ruder Finn has told all its teams to just pause and take a break.  The firm has announced multiple initiatives including Get Well Soon leaves (additional sick leaves), Take a Pause leaves (4 day work week with additional wellness leaves ) and Vaccination leaves (each team member can also avail for additional vaccination leaves while the company will bear the vaccination cost). The firm has also ensured that the employee insurance covers Covid-19 hospitalisation expenses.

Media Mantra has been managing the workload with flexible work timings so as to ensure that they can work at their own pace. It is also encouraging its employees to take leaves in case they feel unwell or mentally exhausted so that they can resume work with enthusiasm and a positive approach.

Value 360 Communications has implemented a rotational leave policy at the micro-unit level so that each team member works only 4 days a week. It is also implementing a 2-day leave for vaccinations over and above the existing leave balance. A dedicated COVID leave is also put in place for those affected by the virus. The agency has also effectively removed designated ‘work hours’ to give everyone the flexibility to work around their personal commitments. All three of the Founder-Directors are also actively working with teams to reduce their overall workload.

Regional agencies are also following similar protocols. Simulations PR has shifted back to ‘work-from-home' a few weeks ago keeping in mind the safety of its employees and their family members. Press conferences and interactions with stakeholders have also been made virtual. Total flexibility in terms of working hours and methods has been provided.

Addressing mental health of employees

Ruder Finn has been doing notable efforts. From providing ‘Pause De-Stress Sessions’ (weekly virtual group and 1-1 sessions with experts focussing on wellness and mental health for teams), curating yoga to setting up a 24-hour Group Support internally to support and find verified leads, including emergency services and insurance.

Hill+Knowlton Strategies  is also working to protect the mental well-being of its people, and WPP’s Global Employee Assistance Programme and other local schemes offer a range of services including counselling.”

AvianWE has launched an ‘Employee Assistance Program (EAP)’ to tackle the mental health fallout of the pandemic. This has been done in partnership with  1to1help.

Humanitarian initiatives by agencies

Not only are the agencies taking initiatives for their employees but are also working for a common goal of aiding the country in COVID relief measures. PR agencies like Adfactors PR, Genesis BCW, AvianWE and others are working closely with Government organisations as well as private and non-profit organizations to deliver aid to people in need of hospitals bed, oxygen cylinders, concentrators, food, blood plasma, medicines, and logistics and others. Agencies are also using their social media handles to collect and help people with COVID resources.

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