There is greater need for crisis management & internal communications today: Madan Bahal

Madan Bahal, Co-founder & Managing Director, Adfactors PR talks to us during the ongoing COVID-19 shutdown, and explains why PR has never been more critical than in the current scenario

e4m by Christina Moniz
Updated: Mar 31, 2020 8:16 AM
Madan Bahal Adfactors PR

Madan Bahal, Co-founder and Managing Director, Adfactors PR talks to exchange4media from the “safety of the bunker called home” during the ongoing COVID-19 shutdown, and explains why Public Relations has never been more critical than in the current scenario.

The shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic has impacted all sectors. What kind of impact is the PR industry seeing at the moment?

PR is a critical service and an essential element of the business continuity plan for any organisation. At times like these, the need for communicating is greater – it is important for companies to communicate and engage more, thereby addressing anxieties from all stakeholders such as employees, vendors and consumers. Therefore, I think the Public Relations industry overall will do better than most of the other MarCom disciplines like advertising. Even in PR, there are two large segments. One is the consumer-directed communications, which support marketing efforts for consumer industries like fashion, FMCG, lifestyle or durables. Those campaigns and brands will take a bit of a backseat right now. But, there is an element of public relations which is reputation, and reputation risks multiply at this point in time. There is a greater need for crisis management and internal communications today. Your stakeholders need assurance during this time of uncertainty and anxiety so this part of the work will actually not see a decline but will in fact go up. It is time for PR as an industry to stand up because this is where our work becomes truly critical.

Given that the consumer side of PR will take a hit, can you give us an idea of the kind of loss the industry will incur on account of this crisis?

The PR discipline that caters to consumer work for categories like lifestyle, hospitality or travel will definitely be impacted. The work there will be impacted to the extent of around 40% to 50% in my estimate. Agencies that work in employee communications, crisis management, reputation management and online reputation management will actually see an increase in their work. These agencies, even if they don’t see growth during this time, will still manage to hold the fort. We may see a scenario where clients may take a temporary break from their agencies, yet agencies will still see demand from brands looking for crisis management and reputation management. I would be a bit worried about those agencies that are focused on consumer work, but those who are strong on corporate communications will be better off – their work will be impacted to the extent of maybe 10% to 20%. Another body of work that will be impacted is PR for start-ups that work on shoestring budgets.

For your agency specifically, how are you trying to ensure that work continues as normal? How are you adapting to the current crisis?

So, we did it at 3 to 4 levels. One is that the level of rigour because the various internal programs and processes that we have are normally very high at Adfactors. Specifically, what we also did was empower every employee with a laptop before the situation reached the WFH stage. Around 650 client-facing people have a laptop to enable them to WFH. They have been equipped with the tools they need to keep the work going. In fact, they are finding that given the nature of work is more corporate reputation, crisis communication and the like, the work has actually increased for many of our teams in the past couple of weeks.

In addition, to ensure work continues unhampered, we have set in place some protocols. Every team leader connects with the members of his or her team at the start of the day to firm up plans and the end of the day to take stock of what has been achieved. We are able to stay connected with clients through the day effortlessly and have in fact held two major press conferences online in the past week with 70 to 80 journalists on the call. We are well prepared for a WFH regime, and our HR and team leaders are doing a great job in keeping the morale high and providing business continuity at a fairly high level. Another thing that has helped us during this time when there is a greater reliance on Digital is the fact that our 650 client-facing employees have all been equipped with a post-graduate digital marketing course from upGrad and MICA. With this kind of empowerment and with hyper-connectivity within the organisation and between the company and clients, we have been successful in the last few days in ensuring that everything we were doing at the office, we are now able to do from home! I am quite impressed with my organisation and the way it has migrated to a WFH regime so effectively.

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