PR: Digital and crisis communication take centre stage

As crisis communications become the need of the hour, PR firms take charge and demonstrate value by offering their clients authentic solutions with a digital-first approach

e4m by Christina Moniz
Updated: Apr 2, 2020 12:44 PM
PR

With print media shut and working remotely, press conferences and campaigns on hold, the PR sector today is posed with new challenges. The ongoing corona crisis is on everyone’s minds, and therefore is the key topic that the media is focusing on. In these circumstances, PR agencies are building stronger digital capabilities and are chalking out critical crisis management strategies.

Pointing out the importance of PR during crisis situations, Ameer Ismail – President, GolinOpinion says, “The future will be challenging but even at times like these, I believe there is always a need for consistent, authentic brand communication and smart story-telling. Consumers are also applauding and engaging with brands that are showing compassion, helping communities in whatever way they can and putting consumers and their employees first in these trying times.” He cites examples of big brands like Marriott, Coca-Cola and Mahindra and Mahindra, which have taken bold steps to help the country and the world at large.

With companies’ revenues getting impacted, there has been a domino effect across sectors with PR and marketing getting affected the most. Sectors like retail, travel and hospitality have had to cut marketing and communication costs. “I do see a lot of re-negotiations happening on budgets. In PR, while many sectors have issued a complete lockdown on marketing, we are still doing a lot of reputation management for other clients in different verticals. As an industry, PR will always remain alive as select verticals will need to ensure that the right communication and messaging is going out in the market to ensure long-term survival,” states Tarunjeet Rattan – Managing Partner, Nucleus PR.

In terms of impact on business, the agencies that are going to see greater impact are those that handle consumer brands such as retail, hospitality, aviation and fashion. Madan Bahal, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Adfactors PR, explains: “The PR industry has largely two bodies of work. One is the vertical that focuses on consumer brands and campaigns in the sectors of retail, travel, etc. The work for those agencies will definitely be impacted. Agencies that are working in employee communication, crisis management and online reputation may not be hit so much. In fact, work for those agencies may increase. Start-ups that are not well funded may also look at taking a break from all PR activity for a few months.” Adfactors has taken a digital first approach, even hosting an online press conference for one of its clients a few days ago, he added.

Social distancing may be the need of the hour, but that concept in itself is in contrast to PR that requires interaction and networking. Companies have had to re-look at their messaging and ensure sensitivity keeping in mind the ongoing crisis. Archana Jain, MD & CEO, PR Pundit notes that while projects and campaigns have been delayed, the agency has been swiftly adapting to the current climate through its campaigns and planning for the year ahead. “Creative sensitivity is being infused in communication that is being shared, as responsible branded content is the need of the hour. Strategic communications planning is underway for business recovery. Forward planning for FY 2020-21 is keeping our minds active and healthy. We are hopeful that the lockdown period will go by quickly and with minimal damage, and we need to be better prepared to rebound for a successful comeback,” Jain said.

Another key focus area for PR agencies is supporting and staying connected with employees through this difficult period. Agencies like Weber Shandwick are helping employees release the anxiety that comes along with the lockdown by recommending fitness regimes at home, managing children and cooking demos. The agency also has a helpline for those who need counselling and is enabling employees to learn new skills. Valerie Pinto, CEO, Weber Shandwick India says, “It is definitely a challenge for employees to deliver in such unprecedented situations with so much uncertainty, and the first step is for organisations to accept and understand this anxiety. We as an organization are doing our bit to make sure our people have everything they need to be able to work from home. We try and do video calls for all meetings so that we get to see each other and stay connected.  In addition, we also ensure we plan fun activities across the region, virtually of course, to keep things light.”

As agencies adapt to this new normal, they are also innovating and looking for ways to engage with clients and media stakeholders and thereby delivering value. Vineet Handa, Founder & CEO, Kaizzen explains how the flexibility of working from home has been a positive thing. “We are adapting to remote-working and carefully catering to the needs of our clients and spending this time as effectively as possible for clients to get the most value from our services. Entering into a hyper-interaction mode, we have increased engagement with all our clients and WFH has rendered flexibility in our approach and even made us better in some cases.”

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