PR and Communications business reeling under the pressure of Coronavirus lockdown: Experts

We spoke to experts about the challenging times ahead and how the lockdown will reshape the fate of the PR & Communications industry

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Published: Mar 25, 2020 9:22 AM  | 6 min read
PR and Communications

With the Prime Minister announcing a nationwide lockdown of 21 days, the market is cluttered with conversations. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a state of a national health emergency. The outbreak of the novel virus has impacted businesses across the spectrum. Communication has become the basic requirement for all businesses to stay connected with their customers and stakeholders. Hence, Public Relations firms have become pivotal at this time of crisis.

The outbreak and now the nationwide lockdown have affected industries like travel, FMCG, IT and automobile heavily. These industries which require high manpower have been directly hit. Some of the smaller PR firms dependent on them have lost business and have suffered greatly. Many are also considering putting their employees on the bench until the situation improves.

Kunal Kishore- Founder & Director at Value 360 Communications said that the biggest challenge for the industry at the moment is blockage of funds. He added, “While some companies have decided to pause their PR campaigns due to uncertainty around their business, there are others that remain unaffected by the current crisis, yet they have decided to cut down on their expenditure. All of this is putting pressure on the bottom line of agencies and each one of them is dealing with the situation differently”.

PR is not just a cost-effective medium for the brands to engage with their stakeholders, but it’s also an important tool to help them deal with a crisis. “Brands that stop communicating with their customers and other stakeholders in this hour of crisis would be committing a mistake”, warned Kunal.

The Public Relations Consultants Association of India (PRCAI) is also taking precautionary measures to help the industry cope up with the crisis. “PRCAI is running an online campaign on Social Distancing and Remote Working to spread general awareness. We will later this week start a campaign to include Mental Health”, informed Nitin Mantri, President, PRCAI & ICCO.

He also added that ICCO in partnership with PRCA UK will be offering free online training programmes which will be available for all members.”

This is an unprecedented time in our history. The President also said, ”Our staff is stressed and not used to remote working for long periods of time. To support them, PRCAI will be running mental health webinars with experts starting tomorrow. We are also enlisting help from industry professionals who are volunteering.”

Mantri informed e4m that PRCAI has written to the Ministry to support them in raising awareness on the COVID 19 situation.

Realising the importance of PR services for businesses, Mantri exclaimed that Communication services have become a business-critical need. “In today’s world, brands have a huge role to play, especially during a public health crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic. It is important that they engage in transparent, consistent, and empathetic communication with their stakeholders to make them feel safe and supported. We expect that some areas of business will ramp up, as we help our client partners navigate this situation, while others will scale back”, informed the PRCAI President.

Consultancies are counselling clients about the crisis and helping them with their external and internal communications. “Most companies are seeking support from PR firms to ensure that contingency plans are in place for their campaigns”, Mantri further added.

Larger public relations firms are relying on their cash reserves to cope up with the lockdown situation. Madan Bahal, Co-founder and Managing Director at Adfactors PR said that this is an unprecedented situation where we are doing our best to deal with the situation. He added,” there is uncertainty about the future but Adfactors is prepared to cope up with the distressful time.” Bahal informed that his firm is ready to face the lockdown situation even if it continues for 4-6 months. “All our 600 employees are digitally trained and teams and clients well connected digitally. Proper health assistance is being provided to fellow employees”, added Bahal.

Talking about the importance of public relations services at this time of emergency, the MD said that only public relations has the ability to communicate in real-time. He added, "Keeping the technological advancement in mind in the public relations industry and everything operating digitally, PR will become even more relevant, critical and essential service than it used to be and will come out with flying colours in the lockdown period”.

Agreeing with Bahal, Vineet Handa, Founder & CEO at Kaizzen said,” With everyone grappling with the impact of the outbreak on their day-to-day business operations, there is now a larger need of effective communication and PR strategies. Fuelled by misinformation on social media, panic is spreading much faster than the disease, and this is where crisis communication becomes invaluable.”

Handa further added that the 21 days National lockdown announced by our honourable PM to tackle the spread of the coronavirus will have a considerable impact on people’s livelihoods, on the life of our society and on our economy but the human cost of delaying this action would have been far greater.

Travel, Tourism, FMCG and auto are the biggest spenders when it comes to PR activity. With activities in these sectors curtailed, revenues will be hit hard. How are the agencies or the smaller firms handling the crisis internally? Archana Jain- Managing Director & CEO at PR Pundit explained that for a firm like ours, which have been around for more than two decades, a slowdown is not a shock. She agreed that that the crisis this time is at an unprecedented scale. Business contingency planning is being re-calibrated to deal with downturn as well and activate the necessary damage control measures.

Amit Misra, CEO MSL South Asia, expressed his concern over the lockdown and business losses of clients. He said, “This is an unprecedented period of ever-evolving challenges that is impacting all of us. Keeping safety as our first and foremost priority, we have ensured seamless business continuity, even as we follow all precautionary measures and regulatory directives from concerned authorities. We are supporting all clients and colleagues on a 24x7 basis, providing real-time updates and counsel, as needed. We are continuously innovating and leveraging best practices from our global network, to offer real-time services”.

Extremely worried about the current situation, Udit Pathak- Founder & Director at Media Mantra is hoping the situation to become better soon and has urged firms to be prepared for the coming 4-6 months. He explained the importance of public relations services by stating,” Buiding a positive sentiment both internally and externally is important for businesses. PR will gain even more importance now owing to the extreme dependency on effective communication to help spread correct and sound information among customers are stakeholders.

To conclude, Pathak said that the industry is hopeful and doing its best to conquer the difficult time.

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