A sense of normality has started to return over the summer months, but what lasting impacts will COVID-19 have on the PR industry
After almost a year and a half of restrictions and lockdowns, we have all seen changes in both our personal and working lives as a result of the pandemic. This is no different for the public relations (PR) industry, with freelancers, consultancies and in-house departments all facing one of – if not the – most challenging periods of their careers.
So, as we continue to move out of the pandemic, it’s important to take stock. How has the PR industry changed, what have we learned, and what positives can we take forward into the future?
Building and maintaining relationships is one of the fundamental roles of a PR practitioner. This can range from helping businesses to develop relationships with key stakeholders, or even rebuild them in the event of a company crisis, to building relationships with clients and key media outlets to develop brand awareness and visibility.
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed how we handle these relationships.
When it comes to client relationships, the collaborative nature of client meetings and relationship building had to be translated into an online format. Similarly, many journalists, editors spent much of the pandemic working from home, where they were unreachable by phone. This has encouraged PR practitioners to become much more proactive and engaged in building and maintaining our relationships with clients, prospects and key media outlets.
The pandemic has also highlighted the need for many businesses to revisit their internal communications strategies to ensure their team – wherever they may be working from – are engaged and motivated to perform at their best. It has also encouraged many businesses to revisit their crisis plans – or create a new plan – to ensure communications with key stakeholders is maintained, particularly in times of materials shortages, redundancies or other pandemic related crises.
Digital technology and distance-working
If it wasn’t for digital technology, almost every industry would have struggled throughout the pandemic.
The use of video-conferencing tools, like Zoom, TEAMs and Google Hangout, has allowed us to stay connected with our teams and clients throughout the pandemics various challenges. Most software packages have implemented tools or systems for online collaboration, so PR professionals were able to operate in largely the same way – working together on documents, proposals and editorial features to secure results for clients and the business. This was critical in keeping PR businesses afloat, but also keeping employees engaged, allowing a close substitution for in-person interaction with co-workers.
While the reliance on digital and online platforms has been growing for a while, in many ways, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst, fast-tracking PR’s adoption of new technologies to streamline the way we work. Although many prefer to work in person, the widespread adoption of video conferencing and other online software has introduced a helpful level of flexibility and adaptability that can be relied upon in the future, beyond COVID-19.
In the height of the pandemic, it’s fair to say that the PR industry faced a difficult time with tightening of campaign budgets and a more cautious approach to marketing activities. To adapt, many PR professionals took a more measured approach, expanding their reporting, analysis and implementation of measurable objectives. This helped clients see clearly the impact PR activity had on their business and the tangible return on investment.
Now budgets are opening back up, the PR industry is better equipped than ever. Whether it’s more regular catchups with clients, or an increased focus on analytics to provide results, this diversification future-proofs the PR industry, entrenching the importance of PR and communications for businesses.
It’s undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new ways of working and new challenges to battle that we could never have prepared for. While some of these we can’t wait to leave behind, every change leaves behind a lesson that we can carry long into the future.
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