Will the ongoing pandemic reshape brand-PR agency equation?

According to experts, a stronger brand-PR equation during and post the pandemic, and the need to reinvent PR advisories will be the way forward

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Updated: May 14, 2020 2:29 PM
Pr and brands

Businesses have been making continuous strides to deal with the pandemic induced economic stress. The rationing of the corporate budget allocations by firms due to reduced influx of business has been a cause of worry for the public relation agencies across boards. The big question now is will brands retain their PR agencies or prefer to cut cost. Will the ongoing pandemic reshape the brand-PR equation?

According to Edelman’s Special Report: Brand Trust and the Coronavirus Pandemic conducted recently, 90% Indians want brands to take action to address the crisis. This places public relations and communication firms, as trusted partners, to drive the right messages from the brand to their audiences and stakeholders.

Asked if brands will continue to retain their PR agencies or prefer to cut costs during and post Covid, Ashutosh Munshi, Executive Vice President, Head of Brand Practice, Edelman India, said: “People are looking to brands to do what is right in times of the COVID-19 pandemic and from a brands perspective, while some remain unaffected in ways, others are struggling to keep their lights on during the lockdown. Companies must use their brand power to educate and to serve as an information source, internally as well as to their external stakeholders. This makes the role of a communications firm even more crucial, as partners in a journey without clear milestones or finish lines. Communications agencies can partner with CEOs and their teams to craft communication that allows brands to remain relevant and trusted, to market their solutions and even to keep employees engaged.”

The study also mentions trends foreseen as far as the brand-PR equation goes.

Talking from a brand’s perspective, Abhishek Mahapatra - Vice President - Head of Communications, Corporate Affairs & CSR at Nissan India said: “I firmly believe that we need to use the depth of in house-communications professionals and the width of agency partners, adopt a one-team approach with our partners to navigate and plan for better outcomes for rest of the fiscal.”
“Two key areas that we are working on with our partners include, Prioritization and Efficiencies. With minimal/no sales and loss of revenues there is a severe impact on cash flow for businesses. In this situation it is mutual trust and deliverables that will define partnerships and collaborations. Brands need to be sensitive, empathetic and relevant not just with its communications but also with its diversified stakeholders,” Mahapatra added.

Ameer Ismail, President, GolinOpinion – MullenLowe Lintas Group, says there are many brands who continue to engage and invest are smartly engaging differently to plan and navigate new realities with their agency partners, developing smart digital content and working towards continuity of communication efforts internally and externally. “There will continue to be some hesitation in the near term but good agencies that understand clients business realities and offer solutions will stay relevant now and in the future.”

“If anything this situation has forced, it is better coordination between corporate communications and PR agencies. The agency can be an external partner that brings in wide leanings and valuable perspectives and in many cases provide senior counsel to client teams.”

“There has never been a better time to connect and communicate and this is being done digitally between client teams and agency teams, I have never seen such deep and frequent engagement,” added Ismail.

Nivedeeta Moirangthem, Communication Operations Manager, IKEA India, too agreed to the above fact and said, “Communities are increasingly looking for value and purpose, and brands that show up and can deliver on these propositions are the ones that will eventually come out on top and that customers will trust and stay with. Pandemics like this one only make this reality more pertinent, and through PR which is one of the most impactful vehicles of authentic storytelling, these propositions can be articulated effectively to the masses, and delivered appropriately through actual actions.”

According to Mahapatra, measurement, content and context, and resource and talent will redefine the brand-PR relationship. “There will be far greater need for pace and efficacy of content production, positioning and placement along with metrics, measurement, KPIs all need to evolve.”

Throwing light on the changes that will take place in brand-agency relationship, Subir Moitra, Lead - Strategic Communications, Thinkthrough Consulting, said: “The change that is expected will be in the scope of work going forward and client's expectations from their agencies.”

“The PR advisories will be expected to come up with more effective and innovative digital communication strategies and solutions to retain their clients. Digital Communications will be new normal for PR agencies going forward as the information consumption patterns have also changed during this Covid-19 era.”

How effectively and quickly the PR advisories make this transition will be key to their success, Moitra said. The PR advisories will have to reinvent themselves as the brand-PR equation is bound to change, he added.

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