The new normal. Far from being a catchword, COVID-19 has truly changed the world. Significantly, many businesses have been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
But, it was evolutionary times for the PR business, in general. Typically, during a crisis, there’s a clarion call for the expertise of PR firms – to handle crisis and reputation, as they are experts in building trust and reaching an organization’s target audience (internal and external.) Consequently, a reality check was that the call grew multifold in 2020 and continues to grow in 2021.
Rishi Basu, India Head – Corporate Communications, Infosys moderated the session on Emerging out of a difficult 18 months – How firms saw an opportunity in a crisis? It discussed how the PR business emerged out of a difficult 18 months; but, it was to be noted that it opened up opportunities too. The panelists included business leaders heading young PR businesses like – Sarvesh Tiwari, MD & Founder, PR Professionals; Geetika Gulati, Founder, ZIVcomms; Anand Mahesh Talari, Co-Founder, Mavcomm Group and Tejal Daftary, Founder, AlphabetMedia.
So, what was the impact of the pandemic on the PR business? How did PR realign and refocus priorities? Nothing changed and clients stayed, as far as Sarvesh was concerned (as he firmly believes in relationships); but on the personal front, he had the unique experience of taking part in the elections. “Of course the financial dynamics had to get readjusted, but we survived and even got new clients,” he said. PR was less affected and business grew as far as home-grown labels were concerned, shared Tejal who revealed that they are managing 7-8 lifestyle brands launched last year; and humanising content rang in a lot of empathy while they restructured and built closer relationships with consumers. Geetika admitted they were out of work for 7-8 months and that was when she got to relook at the business and sharpen the marketing tools; she even went for hiring and kept a “flexible slab” and didn’t say ‘no’ to any business. Anand emphasised that they adjusted to the new dynamics of business offerings, shifted focus, adjusted to ‘remote’ working style and personally, he moved away from city life.
As we were realigning, employee morale came into the forefront, and what were the important issues about employees that cropped up? Admitting that they were a very lean team, Geetika said they took “baby steps” and they continued with the routine of morning calls, discussed work, reconstructed the website and so on. “We came a lot closer and even celebrated our two year anniversary remotely!” she said.
Everyone realised that the ‘employee’ is our biggest strength, wellness is of paramount importance and the normal has changed, observed Rishi. “The normal is to expect the unexpected,” defined Anand and added what they should do is to look at the current strengths and maximize it, anticipate change and build it into the system and be as “ambidextrous” as possible.
How did it affect client relationships?
How did relationships with clients evolve in this period? Empathy has taken centrestage, felt Tejal and the value of understanding has been brought forefront. “We relooked into the scope of work and brought internal communication into the picture. In the business sectors, more flexibility happened and clients got closer. It has become stronger, crisper and value-driven,” she disclosed.
Effective communication is the order of the day. Everything has become virtual, but has fatigue set in? Agreeing that fatigue is an important angle, Sarvesh thanked the people who gave us the ‘mobile’ for if we didn’t know how to use it, it would have been very problematic. “Technology has added value and made it easy for us to reach out to people across the globe. I was sitting in my village and talking to people in Bahrain and Canada, which added emotion too,” he revealed. And, today the lines have blurred between the work divide. How is this phase of work-life balance vs work-life integration? What is here to stay? “I believe it is a work-life balance achieved through integration,” said Anand firmly.
Changing challenges to opportunities
The times were indeed challenging, but how difficult or easy was it changing a challenge into an opportunity? For Sarvesh the biggest challenge that turned into an opportunity was the elections he went through. Getting into a bit of soul-searching was Anand, who narrated how they studied how to get more relevant and even went back to the drawing board, which really helped.
Involved in a dual role of a mother (to a three-year old) and business head, Tejal said she juggled both very efficiently – watching her daughter grow, while working. Stepping into “side-hustling” Geetika started a home-grown food business, besides the PR business that her firm handled. “It feels good to have two babies!” – was how she put it.
There has been a heavy economic impact of COVID, but will there be a crisis in PR consulting business in the near future? Absolutely not, was the quick uptake from Tejal. So, finally, each one of us had to swim against the tide, divulged Rishi. But, the rule that surfaced was – keep calm and carry on.
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