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Rewind 2020: How the PR industry fought to stay resilient & relevant

With the wave of crises brought about by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Public Relations industry has had its hands full in 2020. The Indian PR industry has grown by leaps and bounds with the increasing need for PR as a major communications tool for brands. Today, quite a few major PR agencies from global networks have today established themselves in India. 

As in the case of most sectors, PR too has borne the brunt of the COVID-19 disruptions. So, what were the challenges and changes that the PR industry faced during the year? 

WFH became mandatory 

With the outside world shutting down to stem the spread of the virus, working from home became a new norm. PR agencies showed impressive agility and were quick to react to the situation to ensure that all technological support was given to their employees to work in full steam from the confines of their homes. Meetings happened through advanced networking technology and work continued without any interruptions. While there was no interpersonal and face to face conversation, technology bridged that gap and ensured that work did not suffer. However, even as work continued smoothly, there were some challenges that the employees faced while working from home. 

Digital acceleration 

Digital became a frontline medium for everyone. With no print edition of newspapers coming out, news coverage and client coverage were all digital-led. Clients and brands looked at social media and influencer marketing to push their products and services. The brands became active and busy on social media and had to have a very clear and strong messaging to stand out amid the clutter. Press conferences held by most clients became virtual and it was a new way to address the media and get their message across. 

Budget cuts and revenue shrinkage 

The Indian PR industry is estimated about Rs 2,000 crore, according to industry reports, and has been growing at a healthy rate of 15%. But the pandemic has hit the revenues and has adversely impacted the industry. Some sectors such travel and hospitality, consumer, luxury and retail were completely shut during the lockdown period and hence, did not spend a single rupee. For the PR industry, all events and activations also came to a standstill, which resulted in considerable loss of revenue. Many clients who suffered in their business revisited their scope of work and in some cases the annual fees were renegotiated. Even the cash flows were disrupted and bills receivables from clients took longer than the usual. 

Employee retention, training & hiring 

Some of the leading PR companies gave assurance on day one that every employee will be retained and there will be no salary cuts. But in some agencies and many firms, employees experienced pay cuts to the tune of 30% to 40% at the senior level and even higher to make up for the decline in revenues. While this was for a period of one year, but now that we are close to completing a year, insecurity and fear persist among employees as it is going to take quite some a time for the industry to bounce back to pre-COVID-19 revenue levels. 

PR business depends a lot on training, which had to take a backward seat this year, although virtual training took place in some cases. Thus, planned and face-to-face training now seems to be a distant possibility. There was also a freeze on hiring new talent. 

Knowledge and Education through webinars 

On the positive side, the lockdown provided an opportunity to the industry to address several burning topics and some of the challenges that the PR industry has been facing. We at Adgully held quite a few webinars, where some of the industry leaders spoke about PR measurements, Purposeful Communication, Role of digital in PR and many more relevant and useful topics which addressed some of the industry’s concerns. 

Adgully also launched a new column – PR Conversation – where industry leaders from the PR world and Corporate Communications have been sharing interesting insights and views on the various aspects of the industry. The column has seen great traction from all sections of the industry in a very short period. 

The road ahead 

Most network clients will stay put with their existing agencies. Therefore, growth from new business will be a challenge. A few start-ups may use PR for their launches, but these again could mostly be on a project basis. So, continuous flow of revenue will continue to be a challenge. We will see digital surge ahead and PR measurement and ROI will be a must for every campaign. Clients will raise their expectations, so it is important for agencies to be nimble footed and enhance their skillsets to address every challenge that the client throws. Agencies will have to start thinking and rethinking differently and identify new ways of generating revenues in the Next Normal.

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