The COVID-19 ripple: Public Relations assumes critical role as organisations up their communications game

Effective communication is one of the critical elements of handling a crisis situation. When confronted by a crisis organisations do not just need to reconfigure their operational and business strategies, they also need to make sure that they communicate effectively with all their stakeholders. In March as the coronavirus outbreak was on the rise, the American Institute for Public Relations (IPR) in association with communications firm Peppercomm conducted a study of 300 communications executives and senior leaders to gain an insight into how they were preparing to handle the impact of the impending crisis. A whopping 81% of respondents said that they considered the communication function as “important” or “very important” to their company’s COVID-19 response. No wonder, business organisations and leaders are relying heavily on their communication functions as an essential resource in handling the Covid 19 crisis.

Organisations have in recent weeks spruced up their Public Relations functions. A number of companies who have slashed their heavy advertising budgets are banking on Public Relations to address their communication agenda. Some companies, particularly in the domain of healthcare have even hired PR firms to ensure correct and measured information flows out to the media and any image crisis is prevented.

Here is how PR is critical to communicating is challenging times:

PR is credible and low cost

Business magnate Richard Branson is famously quoted as saying that ‘a good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page ad’! Advertisement without doubt manages to grab more eyeballs immediately due to its sheer size and scale. However, they are also looked upon by people as a clear case of paid activity. On the other hand, news stories featuring an organisation in a positive way have a more lasting impact because they carry the credibility of ‘news’.

In a financial crisis when organisations are slashing budgets on multiple heads, securing a fat advertising fee is also a challenge. Organisations are therefore looking at Public Relations as both a credible and low cost way of managing their perception.

Critical for Crisis Communication

From healthcare providers to corporate houses and startups, organisations in almost all fields are facing crisis situations due to the COVID 19 challenge. A clearly laid out plan and strategy for crisis communication is therefore the need of the hour for everyone. Communicating effectively to all stakeholders, maintaining a transparent and effective communication channel with the media and reacting with alacrity to any incorrect or misleading report is essential. Let’s illustrate this with an example. If an incorrect news report about a COVID 19 scare at a hospital is not dealt with on time and with impact, it can cause result in an image crisis for the healthcare provider. Such crisis situations are being handled on an everyday basis by PR firms who are ensuring that the brand image of their clients remains unscathed. For corporate houses and business leaders, communicating effectively during a crisis can even prevent or curtail a share price crash at the stock market.

Keeping stakeholders informed

Stakeholders of an organisation include their customers, their partners, their distribution channels, shareholders and all individuals and entities directly or indirectly involved with the business. A crisis often sends stakeholders into panic. A regular flow of information about the organisation’s plans and strategies helps build confidence and keeps the stakeholders reassured. Public Relations strategies help sending out regular messages to all stakeholders through multiple channels – from traditional media to social media. PR firms are also skilled in creating a coherent and sustainable messaging through the crisis.

Building the brand as a thought leader

A crisis situation also offers a rare opportunity to business leaders to cultivate an image of a thought leader. Public Relations exercises including policy advocacy, awareness campaigns as well as community engagement helps build up the perception of organisational heads as thought leaders. PR firms help achieve this by crafting sustained strategies to showcase the business leader as an individual with larger ideas. Ensuring regular participation in thought-provoking television debates, publishing opinion pieces and commentaries and active participation in news stories enables this achievement.

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

Nikky Gupta
An Entrepreneur, a Health Advocate, a mother of two and Co-Founder of Teamwork Communications Group & Indian Health & Wellness Foundation, Nikky Gupta embodies traits of an exponential leader. Having spent a few years learning on the job, she decided to turn entrepreneur and co-founded Teamwork Communications Group in 2010. Under her leadership, Teamwork Group has conducted a series of successful campaigns for the Kerala government, Jharkhand government and Delhi government's department of art, culture and languages.

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