Public relations business has undergone a number of transformations over the last 2 decades. From just being a print media and coverage-led portfolio, to the rise of digital media and impactful storytelling, to detailed analysis and reporting- there is a lot that this community has seen. Also, the last few years have witnessed the rise and acceptance of public relations as a relevant and important function for organisations, irrespective of the business that they operate in. Additionally, there have been a number of organisations who are now ensuring that the Communications Leader has a seat in the leadership team as they believe PR and Communications has a critical role to play in building brand equity.
A pandemic that caused unprecedented impact
COVID-19 pandemic is something that no one had planned for. It took businesses and community by surprise and halted business operations for months. As people were confined to their homes to fight the coronavirus, most economies across the world went into recession. Millions of jobs were lost across the world and millions were impacted by paycuts, furloughs etc.
Pandemic has forced businesses to shut shop or rehash their business models, so as to stay relevant. There were a few industries that actually recorded better growth during the pandemic, including healthcare, fintech, edutech, OTT, etc.
Challenge or opportunity
Within organisations also, the picture has not been rosy this year with forced budget cuts across departments. Marketing was badly impacted with marketing budgets across organisations drastically reduced. Numerous newspapers across the world shut shop as customers stopped reading newspapers owing to their reluctance in buying one.
Public relations business has also been impacted. There has been a lot of transformation around with marketing and the media mix changing rapidly in the current year as traditional marketing took a hit. The year has witnessed media events, launches and conversations either getting cancelled or moving to the online space.
However, there is a brighter side. This is the time when brands have realised the need to focus on crafting an impactful storyline. Brands believe that a well-planned public relations strategy can help them build their equity with the customers, especially in these critical times. Public relations is being given preference over marketing, and is no longer considered as a supporting cast. As brands realise the need to talk about purpose and articulate their support to the society at large, PR professionals are seen as the best bet to communicate the message in an impactful manner.
Public relations in a post pandemic world
It is important for public relations to evolve so as to gain importance in the post Covid era. The key reasons for this are the change in customer behaviour and the change in the overall media mix. Brands’ PR needs to focus on communications that benefit the consumers. For example, a financial services brand should focus on helping customers make their payments seamlessly, invest more or get a loan in a simple and convenient manner. Hard-selling one’s products and services is a big no-no.
Also, it is the larger purpose and the human connect that can play the differentiator for brands as customers become more choosy about the brands they wish to associate with.
There are some clear trends that are expected to define PR in the post Covid world. These include:
With things evolving at a rapid pace, brands need to be ‘always on’ and keep track of all conversations around the brand that are taking place in the online as well as offline space. Smart and active listening will help brands get an in-depth knowledge of the business and their own USPs and shortcomings. Being mindful will also be extremely important. PR teams should be able to spot a trend and ride on it. Also, ‘always on’ means that brands to be better prepared to track crisis and respond to it in a proactive manner. A long-drawn silence will not play to a brand’s advantage.
Distributed teams will be a reality
The pandemic has ensured that professionals work from home, irrespective of their job profile or years of experience. While it was difficult to keep the team members engaged and productive in the initial weeks, increasing number of professionals have adopted the WFH option. Even post pandemic, distributed teams will become a part of ‘business as usual’. Companies will invest less in real estate and will be open to the idea of team members working from home or from co-working space, especially in the case of smaller cities where the total workforce is low. Work from coffee shops and work on your own devices will be the new normal. The same trend will be seen in PR as corporates and firms will be open to hiring good talent, irrespective of his/her location.
Genuine and real stories are here to stay
Pandemic changed the way customers consumed brands’ information. It has forced brands to define a larger purpose and ensure their communication is in line with it. Public relations strategies of brands need to be devised around high-impact storytelling. Genuine messaging will help drive human connect. Customers will be more receptive of real stories and hence, brands will have no option but to include them as a part of the overall public relations and brand communication strategies.
Spotlight on digital
Customers spent more than usual time on digital and social media during the pandemic days. There were millions who started consuming content online. This trend is only going to amplify with the post pandemic world witnessing digital being the focus area. Brands’ PR strategies will have to be a healthy mix of traditional as well as digital PR. It is imperative for PR and Communications professionals to have an understanding of SEO techniques and focus on creation of impactful video content. Video need to be powerful and have a story that stays with the customers.
Rise of analytical tools
Public relations in post-Covid will ride on analytics and a more in-depth understanding of what works with customers of a specific type or in a specific location. PR strategy will have to be devised based on what is clicking with the customers and what is not able to grab the customers’ eyeballs. Pushing customised content to the target audience will be the key.
Content will take lead
The post Covid world will see the focus shifting on creating and pushing consumable content to a brand’s existing and target customers. Brands’ PR teams will work closely on the creation of content for their social media channels as well as their website. Compelling, educational content that can keep the audience engaged will be the focus. Brands could leverage various forms of content including blogs, videos, GIFs, webinars etc. to reach out to customers and keep them engaged.
Beyond media relations
Gone are the days when public relations profile was all about media relations and getting the latest press release printed in the newspapers. It has evolved to include a gamut of additional offerings. Brands will have to include crisis communications, content marketing, stakeholder management, community outreach, smart storytelling etc. in their PR strategy so as to make positive impact.
To conclude, the post pandemic world will belong to brands who are human, kind, compassionate and purpose-driven. Public relations is expected to become more important as businesses restart, post months of lockdown. The PR community will lead the next wave of community engagement and be the key driver of ensuring customer engagement. Also, as brands turn into broadcasters, PR will play a much larger role in building brand equity.
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