Every industry segment has taken a hit from the corona virus. The devastating damage is sweeping across the board. What is to be seen is just the extent of the damage in each sector. It is still not certain how the scenario will evolve in few months. Undoubtedly, some sectors like hospitality and advertising will feel the pinch more.
Public relations industry is also not spared. But the current challenges can be turned into good opportunities for the PR industry, which has thrived on its inherent capabilities like crisis communication skills. Crisis spells opportunities for the opportunistic PR professionals.
Strategic Counselling: One of the biggest dangers of the current crisis is that most of the corporates and PR clients may make a simple mistake. With revenues coming down drastically and profits shrunken, they may think of downsizing the PR budget or even announcing a morotorium on the spend. That is the mistake they did during and after the 2008 recession also, without second thoughts. Only a few smart corporates thought otherwise and went ahead with aggressive PR. After a few years, they were right, while most others were proved to be wrong.
Still, the PR clients, except a few big corporates in India, may repeat the same mistake. Obviously, it will be imperative to cut down the advertising and marketing budgets. But PR budget normally is just 1-2% percent of the marketing budget and the corporates should know that PR is the cheapest tool among the marketing tools. The clients should realise that whether crisis or not, they should be in the news and get the eyeballs of the potential and existing customers/stakeholders. It is very important to be in touch and connect with the customers somehow. If they cannot continue with the expensive marketing campaigns, they should do it through PR. Connect with the customers is important, whether they are inside the homes or outside. Out of sight means out of mind.
The task is on the PR industry to convince the clients, through strategic counselling, the importance of PR and its value during this corona time. It may be hard. Recession time warrants for more focus on PR, which is the only affordable marketing tool.
Be innovative, Be Creative: The second task for the PR professionals is to adapt to the current situation and be innovative, perhaps more than ever before. With employees stuck at homes, PR industry is also having a tough time like any another other sector to keep the house in order. But, we know that PR industry has become a wireless world long before the corona days, with lesser physical media rounds and meetings which used to be the traditional hallmarks of communications.
But now it is the time for real innovations to satisfy the clients and reach out to the journalists. Many PR agencies have opened war-rooms to help the clients. Many have convinced the clients to run intense PR campaigns. Some agencies have successfully done virtual press conferences. Instead of the physical events for product launches, some are reaching out to each journalist individually. Innovation is taking place already. PR agencies with higher innovation will become stronger, like in any other sector.
It is time to invest on talents who can creative innovative PR tools, instead of downsizing the employees at the PR firms. Think creative and be innovative, and PR will emerge stronger during this corona phase also. The time also calls for PR agencies to focus more on social media and online media. The current churning will also spell bad for print journalism, which has been the biggest avenue for PR so far. We will see more PR happening in the online space as surveys showed that corona lock-down has made people more familiar and addicted to the online world. Social distance may be the mantra now. But we should not distance from social media now.
Content Heavy PR: Corona has left the journalists also in an uneviable situation. Stories except that of corona are hard to be sourced, especially for those scribes who used to regularly meet their sources. The struggle for stories is harder than ever before. This is the time, PR industry can support them through story banks, facilitating online meetings and calls with the clients. This is the time for interviews and authored articles especially for the online platform which are having more access to homes these days. PR professionals should revamp their strategies with good content. Regular online meetings with clients is important to gather inputs and create story banks.
(The author, a former journalist with over two decades of experience with national media organisations, is the co-founder and director of Passion 4 Communication, a leading PR agency)