How are young PR agencies weathering the COVID storm?

From upskilling to bonding with clients, millennial-led PR firms are taking all the necessary steps to ensure work goes on as usual even during these trying times

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Published: May 4, 2020 8:51 AM  | 5 min read
Corona crisis

Public relations industry has emerged as the silver lining for firms in these dark times of the pandemic. But with reduced corporate budget allocation on the PR services, the job has become more demanding than ever before. The nascent agencies are not leaving any stone unturned to beat these odds. Led by highly enthusiastic millennials,  these young agencies are ensuring that work goes on as usual.

E4m interacted with some of the key players in the category to understand the challenges. Bushra Ismail-Founder at Confiance Communications said, "Some of our clients have requested to temporarily modify the terms of engagement and for trimming off of the PR budgets, as they'd still like to maintain continuity in the brand's communication while also being mindful of the spends."

She informed: “There are also a few others who have taken a PR hiatus for a period of 3 months to recover from the COVID-19 aftermath, especially the clientele based in Singapore and the Middle East.” However, Ismail also said that the agency has so far not witnessed a single termination of contract.

Jai Kewalramani, the founder of Jaibo, also agreed that the lockdown period has impacted the business. He said, “Many of our clients have had to pause their marketing activities given a halt in their businesses, leading to a significant loss in revenue.”  

Independent PR consultants have also been coping with the changing times. Reva Malhotra- Independent PR Consultant for The Dialogue said, “Like every other professional, we learnt to make peace with work from home is the new normal. Our approach to the communications industry, media and client has changed, we have substituted in-person meetings with Zoom calls and mails.”

She added, “ Though the industry has seen a re-calibration in terms of the pay scale, KPIs and the industry, which requires PR at the moment, there has unarguably been an increase in best internal and external communication practices and the need for PR people to step in and help their clients/ organisations.”

The cascading effect of the pandemic is palpable, with less influx of business and operations being temporarily shut. The extension of the nationwide lockdown being repeatedly imposed in the country has added to the attrition and will continue to bear the brunt post the lockdown too. Corporate budget allocations for public relations have reportedly been reduced owing to the unprecedented losses in businesses.

On being asked whether the PR budget has been reduced by clients during this period, Kewalramani replied,” At Jaibo, we haven’t really witnessed a change in budgets. Either clients businesses are operational or they have been forced to pause. The ones that are operational continue on existing budgets, while the latter has had to pause their marketing activities. “

“Some of our clients have requested to trim the budgets by 25-40% for the next 2-3 months, and we have managed to work this out in a way that is truly symbiotic”, informed Bushra Ismail. She added,” I also feel that during these past few weeks that have been challenging for all of us on different levels, we have developed an even stronger bond with each of our clients and the essence of partnership is so much greater now. “

Apart from keeping their businesses running, these young entrepreneurs have the responsibility of keeping their employees motivated to bring out the best in them. From fun virtual meetings to exchanging OTT watchlists, these millennials are optimally utilizing the lockdown period to keep their colleagues and employees boosted up.

Komal Lath, Founder, Tute Consult strongly believes in the saying "When a fisherman is not in the sea, he mends his nets". She said, “As a team, we're using this time to acquire new skills, improve our industry relationships, evaluate & improve our delivery models, relook at measurements matrics, and build new client relationships.” Lath added, “Apart from the hygiene video calls to Friday fun virtual meetings, we are focusing on the emotional health of our teams. Right from knowing how they manage their daily chores to being a part of their lives to help, assess and reach out, we covering these on a daily basis.”

Ismail informs that being a relatively smaller bunch of people, they discuss with each about their feelings on different days of the lockdown, and the conversations run deep. We make sure that we regularly exchange our OTT watch lists and the list of books to read.   She added, "We are using this time to introduce some training modules that the team members can benefit from and things that will help them better their individual skill-sets. We are also actively collaborating with clients to have team members join different sessions on mental health, personal development, etc, on a regular basis.”

Public relations has never enjoyed greater prominence as it does in today’s times. To survive the crisis, these novel agencies are articulating strategies that will help tide over these unprecedented times. “At Jaibo, we are adopting greater team co-ordination practices like video calls on Zoom and advising clients to not try to benefit from a meaningless attempt to join Coronavirus narratives in hopes of increasing brand visibility”, affirmed Jai Kewalramani. He urged to create a value proposition that either enables the public or supports government authorities and essential workers who are working tirelessly to combat this virus.

Malhotra also advised taking an empathetic approach in times of a paradigmatic shift in the industry landscape like the COVID situation. She added, “We are suggesting brands to use their clout to send out positive messages rather than focusing on the immediate sale of your product or service and attempt to encash the COVID situation in any manner because that can backfire.”

Lath concluded by recommending the "Start, Stop and Continue" model towards our business and identify what the agencies were doing in the pre-COVID times that they would like to STOP and CONTINUE.

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