We are all in shock at the moment because of the global pandemic. But as we gradually emerge from lockdown, we realise that much has changed in every sector, and PR is no exception. So, we ask; what will the new normal look like for the PR industry? We consider eight changes that we think will come about after the crisis has passed.
Whatever your political hue, we can all agree that people prefer to know the truth about testing, death rates, PPE, vaccines and the dreaded “R” rather than avoiding the issue and relying on soundbites. Truth and transparency are at the heart of corporate trust. PR advisers will have an easier time explaining to the board that we need to be honest in our communications. The question is, how long after the crisis will this last and will we revert to spin and obfuscation a year after the pandemic? Smart communicators will take on board this lesson and test, test, test any campaigns or statements against the trusty yardstick of truth.
The Power of Good
From EE offering unlimited data to NHS workers to the PhonesForPatients campaign, companies are realising the power of showing their human face, the power of doing good. Often these gestures can be at zero or minimal cost such as offering free software tools to academics or healthcare professionals. Prior to the pandemic this kind of altruism was dismissed as “a bit of PR fluff.” Now it says, ‘this is an organisation with a strong understanding of ethics.’ People like doing business with ethical people. We see this trend only growing after COVID-19.
Crisis? What Crisis?
The idea of crisis communications for many organisations has always been seen as a tick box exercise. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? Oh yes, it just did. As with all crises, some have risen to the challenge and others been like rabbits in the headlights. A cool head helps but a frequently updated crisis plan is even better. The industry has been shocked into taking crisis communications seriously and this will become a more mainstream requirement for any PR department or agency as well as being a clear focus for the ultimate person in the line of fire, the CEO.
Stand by me
Whether you are an agency exec or an in-house PR you will be grateful for those clients or employers that didn’t go into panic mode and indulge in draconian cutbacks from day one of lockdown. This could go on for some time and no doubt cutbacks will happen, but we will always remember those who tried to do the decent thing, when faced with the crisis. Clients will see agencies going the extra mile, focusing on outcomes rather than activity and internal staff will focus on working as a team with their marketing managers and external partners. That might mean joining Zoom calls out of office hours to help colleagues in different time zones or working outside your normal brief to help the sales team with bids. It might mean it’s OK to finish a couple of hours early to clear your head and get some exercise.
The “office” is just a state of mind
Homeworking has been thrust upon us as the “new normal.” For some, it was always the old normal. Either way, there’s no going back. I suspect we will see a more adult relationship with flexible working. Agency bosses need to trust their people to work from home and perhaps we will see a blended approach of home working with a smaller office, only there for face to face meetings. People who wouldn’t be able to work for the agency or department because they live out of the area or out of the country, suddenly can be on a level playing field with office-based staff. What a pool of talent this could unlock!
The agency world has had a seismic shock. Staff are beginning to see the realities of business rather than just their own careers. Directors have had to take a pay cut or forego pay altogether. Some staff have been furloughed or let go. None of us is immune to economic reality and the devil you know may be your best bet so long as they continue to play fair and not exploit the crisis. The in-house teams will understand the need to connect their work to the financial realities of the business and really learn to demonstrate the value of PR to the bottom line. PR People need to really understand what makes their business tick if they are to stay relevant.
We have all realised that business does not grind to a halt just because you cannot meet face to face. When we think of the hours spent on trains, planes and the M6 motorway, many people from agency and client worlds will ask themselves: “What were we thinking?” As an agency, can you really charge by the hour for an eight hour round trip for a 30-minute meeting that could have been done over WebEx or Zoom? And just think of the carbon footprint. With an average car generating 4.6 metric tons of CO2 per year the PR industry alone could be generating around 400 tons of CO2 per year in car trips alone. Add to that the quarter of a ton of CO2 per passenger for a short haul flight and you can see the real impact we could make by abandoning all but the most essential face to face meetings.
Whether we emerge from lockdown sooner or later, something fundamental has happened and the government’s controversial Stay Alert message can be applied to the world of PR. Think about how you add value to your clients and employer. Are you developing new PR skills by wider reading? Take a look at this list from fellow practitioner Patrick Forbes that you may find instructive.