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Decoding the post-pandemic PR consultancy – what will be disrupted?

With the onset of the pandemic, the disruption has forced agencies to shift their gears fast to meet client expectations. Many agencies took several concrete steps to meet those challenges. While some of them looked at technology, the others were more concerned with employee motivation and keeping their morale high for them to perform and deliver well. We also noticed some changes in behaviour in the new normal due to which both client and agency had to revisit their communication strategy as Work From Home, etc., changed the consumption pattern of content. Staying safe and healthy was the motto of most of them while still focussing on the work.

An elite panel of PR leaders got together to discuss on ‘The Post-Pandemic PR Consultancy: What will be Disrupted?’ at the first ever IMAGEXX 2021 Summit, held on July 7, 2021. The speakers included:

Arpit Garg, Vice President, Adfactors PR – Moderator

Chetan Mahajan, Founder & CEO, The Mavericks

Manisha Chaudhary, Founder & Director, Value 360 Communications

Rekha Rao, Managing Director, Zeno Group

Udit Sagar Pathak, Founder & Director, Media Mantra

Xavier Prabhu, Founder& MD, PRHUB Integrated Marketing Communications

Commencing the discussions, Arpit Garg started by quoting Socrates, who had said a long time ago that “the secret of change is to focus all of your energy on not on one fight, not on fighting the old, but on building the new in the spirit of discovering what new awaits us”. Posing his first question to Rekha Rao on client-agency relationship, Garg asked her as to what is the client expectation of a PR partner. Would the client’s expectations of PR partner change in the post-pandemic world? If so, how can this change be characterised?

Responding to the question, Rekha Rao said, “I really do hope that the client attitudes change in the post-pandemic world, because it is not so much about the agencies, because we probably we have a finger on the tap, we know exactly what is happening around, but sometimes clients find it hard to believe that some things cannot be the way they used to be probably. So, my wish is that clients should understand that the post-pandemic is a different world. In fact, I think there are some lessons that we have learnt during the pandemic, which will continue to stay with us even in the post-pandemic world and that as we don’t know when that world is going to be right.”

She further noted that while content definitely continues to be the king, fatigue is setting in. “While people want information, there is also a lot of fatigue around the constant flow of information, which is coming to them by volume,” Rao said, adding, “Our functioning will not be the same and our expectations should be toned down from the pre-pandemic world to the post-pandemic world.”

Replying to a question on how her agency is adapting to the changes, as well as what kind of trends she sees, especially in her interaction with clients in the post-pandemic world, Manisha Chaudhary said, “We have seen a paradigm shift in our industry. Every time we have been able to reorient ourselves to stay relevant for that situation. Hence, I don’t see adapting to be a problem.”

On being asked how media has been disrupted and also how digital media is disrupting the circle of influence for PR firms, Xavier Prabhu replied by pointing out the growth of the paid media space and added that, “We need to remember that handling paid media at scale and effectively is not a skill that all of us are good at. Because if you look at it, a majority of our industry has been trained for decades to focus on earned media.”

According to Prabhu, handling paid media at scale and doing it effectively is a very different ballgame. “A lot is happening in the field of storytelling, self-publishing and brand journalism. It’s time for us to go back to being the core communicators, which is actually coming back to fashion.”

Commenting on how the talent mix in PR agencies change in today’s context, Chetan Mahajan, while agreeing with Prabhu, said, “Storytelling would, of course, be the bedrock today. Besides that, if you look at the core of our business, it works on relationship management – be it media, influencers or other stakeholders. The moot point is how do you manage these relationships and build that network, which create disproportionate value to the entire ecosystem.”

Emphasising on agencies investing in technology in a major way, Udit Sagar Pathak observed, “Technology has always played a vital role, it’s just that now we have ramped up our efforts on that front and we are now investing more in technology, because we believe that it’s going to play a very pivotal role in the growing of the firm.”

At the same time, Pathak also said that technology doesn’t mean ramping up one’s digital marketing teams, which was always there with PR firms. “This actually means to have dedicated tools that can help you generate measurement and results. Now, results could be based on your business objectives of the client. How you are connecting media and the agencies together using technology is also important,” he added.

The above are edited excerpts from the panel discussion. Watch the complete session below:

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