Last week, I was in conversation with an entrepreneur of a boutique, integrated communications firm. We were discussing the situation around us, clients, media, and people. The rapid changes and uncertainties we are dealing with each passing day. He told me how clients remain, clients. Their expectation only skyrockets. Even in these times, only a few are empathetic to what firms are going through.
Empathy is said to be the hallmark of the PR industry. On a normal business day, clients expect firms to step into their shoes to understand their psyche. Our world is no longer normal. We are going through a crisis of infinite proportion that is fast-moving and fast-changing. A young lady in a leading PR firm explained with a wry smile, “before we knew what was happening, we were confined to work from home. We started witnessing job losses all around us – in media, clients, and the firm world. Sudden brake on corner chats with colleagues over a drink, socialising, and client meetings. These were our stress busters. Life now starts and ends in front of my laptop. All these in such a quick time is too much to fathom. Many clients don’t understand our situation, wish they were more empathetic.”
A significant number of clients do not have a sizeable communications team in-house. Start-ups, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can’t afford to build such a team. They rely on their firm to be their additional arms and legs. In these difficult times, in-house professionals maybe even more stretched between various internal and external activities. Their dependency on the firm increases significantly.
The number of activities that firms and clients need to know has also zoomed. Among many other things, which conferences and events are cancelled or rescheduled or turned virtual? Which media has become online only? Which media has rationalised the team? Who is now ‘COVID only’ correspondent? These need to be tracked by a firm and communicated to clients in real-time.
Communicate, communicate & communicate
Communication professionals are so subsumed in battling their own crisis that they may miss noticing the reinvention process firms are also going through. It is perfectly fine for firms to say they were not prepared to deal with this new normal. No one saw it coming. It is okay to say they are overcoming their challenges too, and it is an iterative process. It throws more light on the hitherto overlooked aspect. Transparent and open communication between the firm and the client eventually earns trust and respect. In this difficult phase, no one likes to be kept in the dark. More the communication, the merrier it is.
Such communication needs to be directed towards balancing between the hour-by-hour, and day-by-day grind clients are dealing with and the likely communication challenges they will face in the future. They need to assure clients they are keeping their ears to the ground and eye on future opportunities. Additionally, communicating about how their organisation and the team are navigating through the chaotic situation helps strike the right balance of transparency and optimism in the client-firm relationship.
The entrepreneur of the integrated firm quipped, “the firm world perhaps has not learned to elicit empathy for itself. It is not wrong to seek it from clients and media when we, like everyone else, are battling our own demons.”
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