Covid-19: How consultancies are helping clients adapt to the new normal

The Covid-19 pandemic is unstoppable. At the time of writing, the number of confirmed cases has crossed 400,000 and more than 18,000 deaths have been reported in 197 countries and territories. Its spread has impacted businesses around the world, sparking fears of a global recession. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has warned that the world’s economy could grow at its slowest rate since 2009 this year. Closer home in India, financial forecasters have cut India’s growth figures for the next financial year to 4 per cent from the 5.1 per cent estimated earlier. 

In these fast-moving and uncertain times, communications has become a business critical need, and we’re seeing that play out in so many ways. Companies around the globe are obviously worried about how to protect their businesses. Not only do they have to insulate their business from risk, they must be quick to respond to customers and focus on the safety of their stakeholders across the spectrum. Most companies have not functioned during a pandemic, and therefore, they are underprepared to deal with its consequences. Crisis, however, is a PR mainstay. Having successfully navigated clients through crises like the 2008 financial situation, Ebola, HINI and SAARS, PR firms are well placed to respond to the new challenges we are currently experiencing. Most businesses are, therefore, pausing to reflect on their strategies and seeking support from PR firms to ensure that contingency plans are in place for their campaigns. 

In any crisis, early communication is a must, and in a health emergency of this nature, brands need to prioritise customer and employee communications and effectively use multiple platforms to share accurate information. Brands are also uniquely positioned to make a positive impact on communities during a crisis if they stay true to their purpose and work closely with experienced and specialist communications firms. But to do that they need to act now because timing is everything during an emergency. Brands must, therefore, enlist their consultancies’ help to live up to their purpose and develop strategies that empathetically engage with multiple stakeholders, including government, customers and employees. 

Many brands are already stepping up for the greater good of their customers and communities. Louis Vuitton and Pernod Ricard, for instance, will make hand sanitisers to tackle the shortage of anti-viral products across France and US. Tech giants Facebook, Apple and Salesforce have pledged to donate millions of masks to help health care workers facing a shortage of protective gear. Indian companies have also prioritised national need and taken effective action. Reliance Industries, Mahindra Foundation, ITC, Paytm, to name a few, have announced several measures, including ramping up mask production capacity and creation of funds to assist Covid-19 patients, to strengthen the government’s efforts to fight the disease. Closer to home, our own industry body, the PRCAI have been providing running an online campaign on social distancing and remote working and has written to the health ministry to support them in raising awareness on the Covid-19 situation.

It’s not just crisis comms where consultancies are creating solutions for companies. With almost all aspects of our clients’ businesses impacted, PR firms are brainstorming to get business continuity plans in place, meaning insuring we continue providing excellent service for our clients to count on. We are seeing a new normal with companies and their consultancies successfully shifting to online models. Pitches and campaigns have reduced but not petered out, they have just become digital initiatives. 

Most firms have expanded their scope of work to help their clients communicate better. Further, consultancies are supporting clients with their employee comms, and travel and safety guidelines by ensuring that the messaging reflects the company’s values. Some are advising clients on scenario planning, media relations, and giving strategic counsel to ensure that their external and internal communications embrace an inclusive and empathetic mindset.

Consultancies are also curbing the spread of fake news in their clients’ eco system by providing credible, authenticated information in the form daily Covid-19 updates. This information is being provided to clients through emails or in the form daily newsletters. The information is helping clients authentically educate their stakeholders on the criticality of the situation and inform them about the steps taken to manage the situation, thus inspiring confidence in the company.  

What’s next?

The coming weeks will be crucial for India in curbing the spread of the disease as numbers continue to rise steadily. As the government rolls out comprehensive and robust measures to contain the infection, brands and their PR firms need to work closely and take aggressive steps to keep their businesses going until we come out of this unprecedented situation. Companies that communicate transparently, ensure factual accuracy, and exercise empathy in these unusual and unsettling times will come out of this crisis with stronger customer connection.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Nitin Mantri
Nitin Mantri
Group CEO, Avian WE
President, International Communications Consultancy Organization (ICCO)

Nitin is also a member of the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA)’s Global Advisory Board and Co-Chair of PRCA Asia Pacific and PRCA Ethics Council.

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