Public Affairs in the times of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to economic losses due to falling consumption, supply chain disruptions and job losses. The situation has necessitated the intervention of the Government as a ‘Father Figure’ to stop the economy from a further downward spiral.

Several fiscal stimulus packages have been announced by the Finance Minister along with distribution of free food to hundreds of millions of people. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mantra of Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self-reliant India) has already picked up momentum and future policies can be expected to echo this belief.

What can public affairs firms do to support clients in these times to weather the storm and possibly thrive in a post-COVID world? For this, it is important to consider how the present situation is impacting companies in the short and long term before prescribing any solutions.

Short-term impact of COVID-19 on companies

  • Operational issues and business continuity

As the lockdown began, firms had to close business units overnight (unless they came under essential services). As companies gradually ramp up production levels, fresh cases of the virus are being discovered in factories forcing companies to decide between business continuity and saving lives.

  • Disruptions in supply chains

The complete or partial shutdown of warehouse operations and restricted movement of goods and services has led to breaking up of supply chains.

  • Safety and well-being of employees

Safety and well-being of employees have become a primary concern for CXO’s. Many companies have imbibed new work models to balance safety, comfort and productivity of their employees. Work from home is a great example of this.

Long-term impact of COVID-19 on companies

  • Digitisation of business

The pandemic has made the world more focused on the power of technology and how it can transform lives. Regardless of the sector, companies will have to rethink their core business functions with technology being pivotal to the plan.

  • Changes in consumer tastes and product offerings

The economic slowdown has not taken a toll only on businesses, but also on consumer sentiment. As consumer sentiment and preferences change, businesses will have to quickly adjust and innovate their products to be relevant.

  • Increasing government role

Contracting economies and job losses will have the State continue to play a central role in economic decision making and companies will have to align and realign with local, state and central policies to reap advantages and avoid regulatory oversight

Implications for public affairs firms

As companies adjust the way they do business, public affairs firms will also need to find new and innovative ways to support their clients helping them get back to business quickly. Firms who will shine here will be the ones who have a nuanced understanding of policy-making and implementation at the city, state and centre level. The ability of the agency to navigate corridors of power and get rid of regulatory hurdles will help clients return to business as usual, faster.

Meeting key stakeholders at their office has considerably reduced, and so have events and conferences. So agencies will have to work harder to identify newer ways to establish and maintain connects with stakeholders that matter. The government is currently focused on public health initiatives and it is important for a company to realistically assess which policy goals to go after. Again, this is something PA firms are well-placed to advise their clients. Finally, government and society will appreciate the contribution of the private sector during this pandemic. Public Affairs firms that can facilitate these partnerships between the brand and the government will be sought after.

While the form of a post-corona world is yet to be cast in stone, the carving is taking place as we speak. Public affairs firms can provide the right direction and counsel to their clients at this time which will make the agency-client relationship stronger and more sustainable.

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

Adip Puri
Adip Puri is a Senior Consultant at APCO Worldwide with a decade of experience in Policy Advocacy, Government Relations, Coalition Building, Public Relations and Marketing Communications.

He has earlier worked with Alstom, Ingersoll Rand and MSL Group. He has also executed short-term projects for Deloitte, Singapore and Commonwealth Games 2010 in New Delhi.

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