Post pandemic PR challenge – building relationships from afar!

Guest Column: Aarzoo Snigdha and Amit Gupta from The Reppro, a PR & Public Affairs advisory, talk about the changing dynamics of the industry and how one can stay on top of the game in the 'new normal

e4m by Aarzoo Snigdha & Amit Gupta
Published: Jul 5, 2022 4:12 PM  | 5 min read
PR

Stephen Waddington has rightly said, “We may view the world in terms of B.C. (Before Covid) and A.C. (After Covid)". Indeed, as the pandemic recedes, one realises that it is a whole new world with a fresh set of opportunities and challenges. In many ways, communications or public relations, as a function, came to the fore during the pandemic – the need to manage a crisis and communicate with more regularity and empathy are skills that business leaders depended on heavily.

However, the pandemic has seemingly worsened the already alarming trust issues across political, economic and demographic boundaries. And as we become more accustomed to sitting in front of screens after the pandemic disrupted our ‘regular’ lives, we should be navigating into a phase where we focus on the recovery of not just our economy but also our lifestyles and relationships without the apprehension of a relapse or a new virus.

The transition to virtual meets was difficult at first but public relations professionals are now more knowledgeable about the virtual world – breakout rooms, call recordings, virtual presentations and conference calls on such digital platforms as Zoom, Google Hangouts or Teams are routine. Communication styles post-pandemic have changed as we can no longer build and nurture new or current relationships with in-person meetings at all times. Networking events, speaking engagements and in-person catch-ups are no longer a regular part of the business landscape. On the contrary, brief messages, summary emails, virtual meetings or stand-ups are used more effectively, than ever before, to keep our crucial relationships well nurtured.

This raises the question of whether PR professionals can maintain a strong relationship with clients or partners in the virtual office era, and if so, how?

Covid-19, Communications and Relationships

The Covid-19 outbreak threw the PR playbook into disarray, calling into question long-held beliefs about relationships and brand building based on physical connections or meetings. As we move to adapt to the "new normal”, it is more crucial than ever to ensure that communication does not become inactive or irrelevant. PR professionals must be able to demonstrate that the role of communication is just as crucial in the new normal as it was during the crisis. Furthermore, effective and consistent communication works as a shield against likely future crises that could potentially disrupt the organisation's usual operations.

There will be a cognitive and emotional side to recovery. The public relations team must collaborate with both. First, to engage in the process of rebuilding relationships from afar, with a clear focus on maintaining the consumers' trust. The second is to look after the stakeholder’s emotional well-being, given that we will continue to operate in an uncertain and turbulent environment.

Building the equation of trust

One of the basic tenets of building trust is making eye contact and responding with gestures. Maintaining eye contact in the virtual world is not easy and this effective strategy for building trust and strengthening relationships has mostly vanished. What, then, is the remedy?

First, make an extra effort to have eye contact in your off-screen meetings. Second, attempt to project trustworthiness to compensate for the loss of in-person presence. Third, normalise friendship in places where trust is required. It may seem unusual to think of friendship as a useful work resource but a slightly more-than-professional familiarity may not be a bad idea!

Encourage inclusive digitisation

The pandemic has pushed companies to digital transformation or has accelerated it for some. A NASA engineer developed the notion of teleworking, or remote work, in 1973, and it progressed faster in the past two years than it has in the last five decades. Reports indicate that many businesses will continue to adopt this hybrid working model as it has proven to maintain productivity and keep work going. Digitisation, however, has the potential to leave many people behind who are not well prepared. Communications training and messaging workshops are two tools that could be used to minimise these risks, especially for the leadership teams, many of whom are accustomed to conventional methods of communication.

In the past, the focus of a conventional PR strategy in large measure would be to get offline visibility, which included the distribution of press releases, stakeholder management, press conferences and events. Today, a press release is no longer a fool-proof PR tool and communication is now a conversation – thanks to the digital era and, in particular, social media. PR agencies suggest that clients are seeking structured proposals that go beyond traditional public relations. Infographics, blogs, vlogs, videos and in-house interviews are replacing press releases and large-format press conferences.

The pandemic has pushed the need for PR agencies and communication consultants to alter their outreach strategies, to make them more conducive to a digital world where the narrative, too, helps to build the connection and not necessarily the person.

Preserve the emotion

One of the most difficult tasks for a public relations professional will be to maintain the spirit that the brand evokes – doing so in a physical world might be easy as compared to attempting to do so in a virtual world. It is, therefore, important for the public relations team to ensure that the brand purpose is known, understood, shared and practiced. To achieve this goal in a virtual world, it is imperative that we narrate a story in which each stakeholder feels like a participant and also a protagonist, wherever possible.

The task of building and rebuilding relationships with key stakeholders will take a whole new effort for folks in PR. Summarily, the key will be to build a narrative that aligns with the brand's purpose and promise, evoking trust in the brand through tangible and intangibles and delivering it through spokespeople who are trained to solicit engagement.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com

The content in this section is curated by the PR and Communications team. For any feedback kindly write to karan.bhatia@exchange4media.com.

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