PR industry lets compassion take centre stage in the pandemic

Let's take a look at the steps prominent PR players have been taking towards creating a sustainable work culture in the industry during this crisis

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Updated: May 27, 2021 9:49 AM  | 8 min read

Leadership across industries has been pretty grounded when it comes to employee engagement and welfare, especially during the second wave of Covid-19. With empathy and purpose at its core, the Indian public relations agencies have gone the extra mile to reassure their colleagues in unprecedented times.    

The fraternity has been lending ears to employees, empathizing with their concerns, frequently communicating with them and being flexible and supportive to meet their needs as part of the steps taken to revive employee culture in the communication industry. 

In the second story of the series, let us have a look at the efforts taken by prominent industry players to enhance employee culture and rejuvenate them with positive energies to work with full concentration and productivity.

Mechanisms adopted to share/reduce the workload of colleagues

The second wave has further taught us to show care and support in managing the workload of colleagues. As fear and stress loom large everywhere, it was important to communicate the challenges with everyone, including the clients. 

Weber Shandwick has stepped up to support its local market both on a regional and local level. A volunteer program was set up by the CEO of Weber Shandwick Asia Pacific to encourage colleagues from across the region to step up and fill in for local Indian colleagues who are stretched and may need help. Numerous colleagues stepped up for the cause. 

Local and regional Weber Shandwick leadership also came together to solve people issues, reassess priority work with clients, reassign deliverables and continue to connect to ensure consistent assistance and support is provided. This has been done to ensure teams have enough time to address any personal or family commitments. 

ON PURPOSE believes that transparency with clients is the first step to trust-building. With 7 team members testing positive, the firm was working on 60% capacity for the past two months. This was communicated to clients proactively (via three emails, over two weeks) along with plans of reducing work hours – starting the day at 11 am and making Friday a non-working day for the last week of April and all of May.

This was done to help the team reprioritize their life over work with a promise to deliver but with new timelines. Some of the clients have also offered to include the team in their firm's vaccination drives and others have been helping to get immediate medical support for team members.

Teams at MediaValueWorks (MVW) are known to thrive on their internal policies of staying happy and maintaining a sane work environment. As a policy, the PR firm does not support unrealistic growth targets at work. Projects planned in advance ensure a smooth workflow and not chase deadlines each day. The firm believes that if it can take off the chaos from our work, then the load auto-settles.

Concept PR teams that were earlier structured around a vertical, are now built around clients. A process was put in place that monitored the level of outcome delivered for each client, before the pandemic. Each client servicing team was then encouraged to keep the same level of deliveries without compromising the safety of its team members.

The senior team members met with each team, looking at deliverables for their clients. Any resource that was needed was provided. All centres were then aligned according to a client’s needs and the level of expected deliveries discussed. All these measures helped the agency maintain and some cases exceed service standards. Teams are also working together to achieve targets that they had set for themselves.

Since a majority of the clients at Teamwork Communications Group are healthcare clients and hospitals, the nature of their work cannot slow down particularly. The mechanisms that have been put in place basically revolve around greater work-sharing by team members as well as providing cross-team support. The employees have also shown remarkable team spirit in such circumstances and have come forward to support team members who are unwell with COVID or are facing health challenges concerning family members, asserted the company.

Checking upon the mental and physical health of employees

Trying times like these have a profound impact on mental as well as physical wellbeing. So, it’s high time organisations revisit and relax their HR policies.

The employees at ON PURPOSE are encouraged to understand their body and mind’s reaction to the pandemic. The firm has a mandatory team meeting once a week where they share experiences, celebrate big and small wins, deliberate on critical topics, and have open discussions. Under the existing Mental Health Policy, if any employee wishes to seek mental health assistance, the sessions are 100% reimbursable for May and June. Employees can avail of COVID paid leave of up to 17 days and COVID caregiver leave of up to 9 days (including weekends), informed the firm.

Under its ‘Employee Assistance Program’, Weber Shandwick has a free helpline number that gives people access to a counsellor. Regular Leadership Connects & Townhalls for all employees have been provided across the country. The agency has also tied up with the Doctor 24/ 7 mobile application that helps people connect with doctors across specializations within minutes, from the comfort of their homes. This service can be extended to up to 5 family members. An Insurance Policy – ‘Covid Kavach’ has been allocated for additional medical coverage.

Before the complete lockdown was announced by the authorities, Concept PR implemented a monthly town hall with its CEO. This is held on the last Friday of each month. The CEO gives an overview of the happenings and developments that took place within the month. It is an informal interaction. The HR Dept has been at the forefront of making sure that the company was interacting and not feeling left out in the WFH. The firm has also given health cover to all the employees. 

MediaValueWorks (MVW): Screening process on the selection of staff has heavy weightage on the candidates’ family background and psychological stability. Regular discussions with teams on family whereabouts and casual chat-ups are carried out. These sessions ensure the momentum of the team is maintained. One-on-one conversations are scheduled and counselling sessions are organised. 

The HR Manager, as well as Team Leaders at Teamwork Communications Group, are ensuring a constant touch with every team member, particularly the ones who have suffered the illness or have had family members affected. A dedicated COVID leave Policy for team members has also been implemented. Mental health workshops with experts are also being regularly organized to guide the team members on dealing with stress, trauma, and isolation.

Technology playing a significant role in being digitally connected

"Of all things we are grateful for, technology tops the list! The past month challenged us in ways we never imagined. Media platforms have further stitched omnichannel communications. Social media was abuzz with SOS calls from teammates and we were on a war footing with the HR team and a few senior team members maintaining databases to help the team with immediate resources," informed ON PURPOSE.

The team also volunteered for a social media initiative called ‘Covid Relief Purpose Project’ where it shares updates about COVID under three themes:
- Care (verified medical resources, hacks, how-tos)
- Comfort (uplifting stories, music, videos, mental wellbeing tips, cool recipes, exercise hacks) 

-Community (amplifying relief efforts by credible, verified NGOs and resource groups working on the ground)

Weber Shandwick took advantage of the various technological platforms available to ensure to continuously stay in touch with its employees. National, regional and global town halls are held regularly online to enable a sense of community. Using LinkedIn Learning and knowledge sharing from colleagues across the region, the firm conducts online learning and development training to ensure the learning process continues and to also keep teams engaged and motivated.

A step towards sustainable work culture in the overworked/overwhelmed communications industry

As aptly said that seeking help takes courage, all a communication agency needs to be sustainable is ‘communication.’ Letting employees know that it is ok to ask for help and then giving them the confidence that their team will support them. We are facing a humanitarian crisis that was not procrastinated about before and now more than ever, we need to adopt a people-first approach. 

ON PURPOSE seconds the idea and has been getting people on board (as freelancers, interns, on a contract basis and full time) to manage bandwidth and resources. 

"Communications industry of India is one of the most competitive sectors. With scintillating ideas, being flown in by members in forums, groups and community Whatsapp / telegrams, sharing of information and updates is taking place regularly. It’s imperative, to develop a sustainable ecosystem all members of the fraternity need to come together, discuss, deliberate, and draw up a set of rules safeguarding the interests of freelancers, professionals, smaller agencies," noted Media Value Works.

Despite the hectic and demanding nature of our work, Teamwork also realizes that employee burnout doesn’t help anyone –neither the employees nor the company. However, it believes that the industry has now realized that more sustainable work culture can be achieved in the future by better amalgamating digital and real-time processes. 

Now that the industry has a system in place to ensure adequate productivity even through remote working, going forward in the future new policies can be adopted where more people are allowed remote working, asserted Teamwork Communications.

Being advocates of sustainable work culture, Weber Shandwick has taken several employee-friendly measures which include ‘Employee time off’ (a compulsory 4 day leave for the month of May), adhering to regular office hours – 9:30 am – 6:30 pm to ensure a healthy work-life balance and promote wellbeing. 

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