The pandemic has had a profound effect on industries worldwide, but while the immediate consequences are plain to see, the long-term impact is yet to be determined. A year on, we take a look at how Covid-19 has shaped public relations (PR) over the last twelve months and ask the question: will it change the sector for good?
Out of office
From a practical perspective, Covid-19 has undoubtedly changed the everyday work environment of most people, which has certainly heightened the demand for information and, with it, importance of communication. The last year has seen the advent of mass home working, Zoom meetings and a greater reliance on technology to ensure synergy between PR teams and their clients. In many ways, this has led to increased collaboration across the board; a recent survey from PR Daily showed that PR pros are collaborating more with C-suite level executives since the outbreak. For agencies, remote interaction has been part of the operating model for some time so this shift has been relatively seamless.
Moving forwards, the jury is still out on whether office working and face-to-face meetings will be put permanently on hold. Research conducted by PR Week in the US found that the majority of respondents believe there will be less centralised office space in the future, while half predict an increase in virtual agency pitches. Whatever the ‘new normal’ may look like for PR, employers will be expected to continue prioritising the physical and mental wellbeing of their teams. Initiatives focused on enhancing employee engagement and work-life balance will become commonplace, as will social distancing and other measures designed to make office spaces safer for those who return.
Shifting the spotlight
Certain industries have been hit harder than others during the pandemic and PR professionals have had to be flexible to help clients adapt to these rapidly changing conditions. For some, this has meant reimagining creative campaigns overnight, whilst others have experienced greater demand for support in areas such as internal communications and crisis management.
Achieving the right tone of voice and messaging has been key, with authenticity and compassion taking precedence in the last twelve months. While the news cycle has been dominated by Covid-19, the challenge for communication professionals has been striking the right balance between delivering content that is relevant and impactful, while remaining sensitive to the current hardships faced by many people around the world.
Companies that have continued to invest in this space are reaping the rewards, as PR experts help them build the credibility, awareness and relationships needed to survive and succeed in the future. As a result, the PR function has demonstrated the value it can bring during these tumultuous times, standing the industry and its players in good stead going forward.
Changed media landscape
The media landscape has been shaped significantly by Covid-19 over the past year. News consumption soared at the start of lockdown, with the latest figures from Ofcom revealing that nine in ten people continue to access information on the coronavirus at least once a day. While traditional media remains the most relied upon source of news, the pandemic has served to accelerate the decline in newspaper sales with the introduction of home working contributing to their demise.
The impact on news mediums has had implications for the PR industry and tapping into new trends has been crucial to garnering attention for client campaigns. For example, broadcast media has become a prime target as TV screen time and streaming skyrocketed following government advice to stay at home. Stories with local angles have also seen a resurgence, as has regional radio which has seen the BBC launch a number of new stations to support communities during Covid-19
More than ever, building relationships with journalists has been critical to securing coverage. Successful PR approaches have reflected the challenges faced by news outlets during the pandemic, including fewer staff numbers, remote working and an increased demand for information – not to mention the fight against 'fake news’. As such, the use of email and other digital means to pitch and deliver stories have grown in popularity, whilst being aware of the type of news trending increases the chances of buy-in.
The evolution of PR
It’s clear that Covid-19 has had a transformative effect on both the way we work and the world we operate in. However, while the meaning behind our messaging and the mediums used to deliver it may have changed, the essence of PR remains the same: our job is to tell client stories in the most effective way possible by understanding the conditions required to help them succeed.
Only time will tell if the effects of the pandemic are temporary or here to stay, but the industry should take comfort in their achievements over the last twelve months. Whatever comes next, PR pros have more than proven that they are up to the challenge.