PR must look within to survive and find truth, empathy, compassion
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PR plays a crucial role in testing times

PR must look within to survive and find truth, empathy, compassion

PR plays a crucial role in testing times
  • As we grapple with the second wave of the virus, Jaideep Shergill, Co-founder and CEO of Pitchfork Partners takes a few moments to introspect.
  • He writes how the pandemic will herald a new age of PR, one in which truth and transparency will reign and brands will make a home in people’s minds.
As the year rolled over, there was hope on the horizon. It seemed that triumph over COVID-19 was around the corner. And then, déjà vu.

As we grapple with the second wave of the virus, I’ve taken a few moments to introspect. I think not just about how to overcome and survive this crisis; but how to emerge stronger, more suited to the times we find ourselves in.

As a new kid on the public relations (PR) block more than 20 years ago, I began work in a pre-digital world. Then came the Internet and shifted the paradigm dramatically in the way PR and marketing functioned. People always had an appetite for information, but the new tools of social outreach made everything closer and louder. Riding on high-speed broadband, PR went beyond reams of print to short-form news, social partnerships, video content – there was an information explosion.

Then, one day, the pandemic arrived and uprooted our business. Such was its impact that today, a little over a year after COVID-19 first locked us down, life is viewed in pre- and post-pandemic terms. Going by India’s current scenario, we seem to be stuck in a nightmarish loop of uncertainty.

The world outside is conducting a serious reassessment of the future, so it’s only fitting that the PR industry reviews it too. Like most marketing tools, PR is directly linked to the performance of other sectors. The growth and success of others have an immediate and conspicuous impact on us. With most clients, across sectors, implementing large budget cutbacks, it’s been a hard landing. The second wave hit us just as businesses were straggling back.

PR plays a crucial role in times like these. Information becomes the key in making good judgments and wise decisions that create true value for society. With propaganda surrounding us, accurate and clear communication is the need of the hour.

Increasingly, consumers are turning to brands that represent solid character and humanism in the face of adversity. PR has assumed centerstage in building authentic and meaningful brand engagement. Empathy and compassion are core human values, and companies focused on these values stand a better chance of survival. PR agencies that stay relevant and sensitive to the state of affairs and embed mindfulness as a long-term strategy for clients will eventually rule the roost.

From a business point of view, clients always measure the success of a campaign based on its return on investment. While understanding the real-time impact of a campaign has been a challenge for PR agencies, there are tools and metrics that paint a reasonable picture. Yet, somehow, agencies perform under pressure to deliver tangible results.

PR’s value is rooted in its ability to influence and shape people’s actions, attitudes and behaviours – all critical for brands’ survival. Today, PR plays a strong role in keeping alive communication between consumers and companies. Going silent to save money is fundamentally myopic with long-term adverse repercussions for businesses.

The second wave of COVID-19 also means work-from-home is now entrenched. From client meetings to team catch-ups, all interactions have moved to video calls.

Amid all this, there is a silver lining. Slowly, brands’ focus is shifting to building robust PR capabilities while striking a balance between optimisation of internal and external resources.

How are agencies getting wiser? For one, we are looking toward our own teams to leverage institutional and subject-matter expertise. We are capitalising on our strategic acumen and tactical execution to build new relationships that are mutually beneficial.

Let’s not forget, PR is a people-first business that thrives on real emotions and interactions. Currently, agencies with multiple offices have centralised operations and are working on a hybrid model from modest premises or co-working spaces. It’s safe to say that this virtual mode will continue for a while. PR personnel are investing their time in self-development and business enhancement through online courses, research and instructional podcasts. Sharpening the saw and upskilling are the smart things to do to prepare for the bumpy ride ahead.

As recessionary and recovery trends navigate businesses in the new normal, corporate retainerships might be a thing of the past. Upping the game by being quick, creative and nimble-footed for limited-term projects that yield results will ensure a continuous stream of sustenance.

Once the pandemic subsides, we will enter a new era. Industry leaders will look for strategic partnerships and sensible communication interjections that rise above the upheaval. It will herald a new age of PR, one in which truth and transparency will reign and brands will make a home in people’s minds.