Colleen O'Connor April 7, 2020 | 10:04:10

COVID-19’s Impact On PR, Now And In The Future

In public relations, as in other businesses, working from home is the new normal. We have substituted in-person meetings for daily Zoom calls and happy hours are now virtual. This period of working outside the office has been an adjustment, but most PR pros have learned how to make the best out of a terrible situation.

Those of us in PR and communications have also seen a shift in the way we interact with journalists. Our approach to pitches and PR plans has adjusted to the current media cycle, which is filled with coronavirus stories. A lot has changed and we should expect many of the changes to be long-lasting. So, what impact has this new way of working already had, and how will it change our world when the pandemic is over?

Day-to-day outreach is more thoughtful

Have you noticed that all emails now start with, “I hope you are keeping safe” or “Hope you are well”? Both PR pros and journalists have had to adjust to this new work life and we’re mindful of the challenges and sensitivities involved. Now is not the time to be pitching anything self-promotional. For the moment, journalists are working almost exclusively on stories related to COVID-19. Pitching irrelevant or self-serving news will backfire. We don’t want to be blacklisted when the news cycle goes back to normal. The reason for our new sensitivity is a terrible one, but wouldn’t it be great if this new thoughtfulness became a permanent change?

Creating a crisis plan in real time

COVID-19 is a global crisis. No one was fully prepared for a pandemic of this scale. Companies have felt the impact on their business, and most have had to shift goals, strategies, and budgets to meet the challenge. In public relations, it can feel like a professional “crisis” when a client isn’t ready to pivot, cancel product rollouts, or postpone major events. It’s our job to try to make that happen., and there is one silver lining here. We now have the opportunity to incorporate lessons of COVID-19 into crisis planning for the future.  PRs can take this experience as a learning process, take what we’re seeing in the media landscape and what our clients are witnessing in day-to-day operations and turn it into more robust readiness if something like this should happen again, even on a smaller scale.

WFH? Will the lines keep blurring?

Working from home was the only option for many PR pros when it was deemed unsafe to travel to our offices, and we’re lucky to have the option. It has taken some time and ingenuity to create that perfect home office, but now we’ve made it work.  Perhaps those companies who don’t have flexible WFH policies will note a productivity increase during this time and change their policies. On the other hand, we may appreciate our away-from-home offices – including after-hours outings — more than ever once we’re permitted to return.

A permanent shift in workplace culture

We’ve gone from seeing co-workers every day to interacting only on Zoom. Normally it’s easy to pop into someone’s office for a chat about media strategy or a new client opportunity, but now most PR pros are scheduling video chats or foregoing spontaneous talk. Things we used to take for granted will seem more important when we adopt a regular work schedule again, and the longer that takes, the more appreciated they will be. Companies like ours have been doing a great job checking in with employees during a stressful and confusing period to make sure they feel supported. In a post-coronavirus world, we will want to keep dedicating that extra time to staff culture. Already, the remote working experiment has made agencies and their clients realize how valuable employee engagement and motivation are, and that insight is likely to continue after we return to “normal.” At the staff level we’ll be planning more happy hours, celebrating birthdays and personal victories in a big way, and generally going the extra distance to show how much we appreciate and missed our co-workers while everyone was isolated.

Right now we’re living and working with uncertainty. It’s not comfortable, but this, too, is an opportunity to appreciate what we previously took for granted, and to learn how to adapt to almost anything. This “new normal” will pass into another, even newer one, where our old ways of working will have changed yet again. Until then, stay in touch with your team on Slack, texting and Zoom. Be supportive and let’s welcome the “normal” that will come!

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