How pandemic leveled the field for PR industry’s Goliath’s and David’s alike!

Authored by Komal Lath, Chief Initiator, Tute Consult.

“When we are no longer able to change the situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” These words by Dr. Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and best-selling author, particularly rings true given the current scenario across the globe. Businesses are forced to their knees by the Novel Coronavirus and they are reeling from an unprecedented situation unlike any other in the past. What the pandemic has done is it has wiped off most of the industry accepted “norms” in less than 3 months and made it an almost level-playing field for elephantine “Big Corporates” and pint-size MSMEs across sectors. In times to come, agency businesses (irrespective of their size) would be put to test on two key skills i.e. their ability to PIVOT and PERFORM! As we celebrate a decade of Tute, we are grateful to have pivoted and performed for clients and the eco-system at large with so much more to learn and do!

Also read:  Track feelings, not revenues – Recalibrating PR deliverables

PIVOT - the term that has gained traction in recent times determining whether a business survives or just crumbles under pressure. With the world evolving so drastically in the blink of an eye, PR agencies are being tested for their nimbleness and ability to embrace the new order. In a (Harry) Potter-esque reference, a PR agency’s role is that of a seeker in the game of Quidditch, wherein the Golden Snitch is testing their ability to spot an opportunity early, pivot in time and catch it to win the game for their client!

Digital on the GO!

The current pandemic has moved the spotlight from “medium” back to the “message” for everyone. What and how brands choose to communicate with their consumers and stakeholders has assumed paramount importance. Owing to the lockdown that ensued, newspaper distribution in majority cities and towns came to a screeching halt making the 6-inch mobile screen the primary mode for news consumption. With multiple news portals putting out “their own” interpretation of the bulletin, increased focus on right messaging takes centerstage. Add to it a constant eye (with a magnifying glass) looking out for misinterpreted news and a lean and agile team has a leg up in dealing with such a situation. Their ability to come up with creative pivots in a jiffy or even modify it in the very last split second due to lack of complex hierarchies holds them in good stead.

The digital medium was evolving rather quickly even before the pandemic and the lockdown has further accelerated the process giving rise to new ways of storytelling. PR as an industry has now accepted digital mediums with open arms and quickly oriented themselves to explore the new age means like Podcasts and Webinars. With the amalgamation of paid, earned and owned media, agencies work to amplify the impact of the brands’ voice in an otherwise cluttered environment. During times such as this, there is a growing need for the right talent who can nail the communication strategies, change it real-time basis the current volatile business environment and effectively communicate on behalf of the brands with its stakeholders. And here’s where the boot-strap strategy of “so-called-small” agencies is bound to do wonders. With “jack-of-all-trades” talent, lean management styles, agility to adapt and entrepreneurial spirit in their quivers they are set for success and are better placed to provide their clients with tangible results.

PERFORM – In testing times such as this, “PERFORM” is the buzz word for all PR agencies and “PERFORMANCE MEASUREMENT” is what clients are looking at – in a big way. We, as PR practitioners in India, have deferred the “measurement” update too many times. This is fundamental to our long-term success and sweeping it under the carpet now puts us at risk of being left behind. Right now, we deal in outputs not impact. And that, in my personal opinion, amounts to selling PR short!

Clients’ Success is Our Job / You Win, I Win

Agencies set their sights on bringing the desired outcomes for their clients as the client’s success is agency’s job while their failure is agency’s loss. This equation changes drastically in favor of the client when it comes to smaller agencies as lean structure ensures smaller list of clients which invariably raises the emotional involvement at agencies’ end ensuring best-in-class services. They have their skin in the game and push themselves to innovate and enrich originality in thought and their actions. This very hunger-to-innovate, entrepreneurial gusto and high-stake involvement makes for the perfect recipe to push the PR measurement envelope from “output” to “impact”.

Accommodating to needs

With cash flow and expenses from the brand’s side being at an all-time low, flexibility and ability to effectively communicate at an agency’s end would be put to test. What we learn from past economic crisis of this nature is that financial downturn gives birth to innovative pricing models and service packaging which eventually shapes future economies (case in point – business models like Uber and Airbnb started within a year of 2008 financial crisis). Fair to assume that current crisis could potentially give birth to new client – agency financial relationship which is not only beneficial to the agency but also raises the agency accountability quotient for the client. No points for guessing that this again is likely to go bottom-up starting at an MSME and then percolating upwards into a Big Daddy agency setup. A lean team with their heart at the right place, we give more, be it timely payments to partners or to teams. The ethos of lean is beautiful and strong with care!

With the pandemic establishing a brand new order, businesses are slowly finding their footing in the new world order. PIVOT being the name of the game, the only move that matters is your next one.



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