How Covid-19 has changed the PR industry

by Judith O'Leary, MD, Represent

How Covid-19 has changed the PR industry

By Judith O’Leary, founder and managing director of PR and digital comms agency, Represent

It goes without saying that almost every business and every industry has been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The growth and success of the PR industry is largely dependent on the growth and success of other industries and with budgets being cut left, right and centre, the impact of the crisis on many of us has, of course, been significant.

But the PR industry is a strong and a robust one and I am confident we will recover. As we emerge from lockdown and begin the process of recovery, it’s important to look beyond the economic impact of Covid-19 and more towards how the crisis will change the industry in the years to come.

A return to the traditional

Right from the outset of the crisis, we have been flooded with hundreds of social media posts and WhatsApp messages spreading misinformation about Covid-19.

No, eating more garlic or ingesting disinfectant will not prevent you from getting the disease. Putin did not release 500 lions in Moscow to persuade the city’s residents to stay indoors as part of the effort to fight the virus. And 5G is not responsible for the spread of Covid-19. The list goes on! And while the rumours ranged from the ridiculous to the absurd, the spread of misinformation has certainly reignited a resurgence in the more traditional media with continuous false news eroding trust at a time when clarity and accuracy of information are needed more than ever.

Authenticity is key

Consumers do not want to be sold to. They are gravitating towards authentic brands that are offering real value to people during this difficult time, not to brands trying to take advantage of the crisis and promoting their latest offers and deals.

Just look at fast food chain, Subway, who was forced to apologise after one of its shops offered free masks to customers who bought two or more of its sandwiches. It was widely seen as opportunistic and highly insensitive at a time when protective equipment was in desperately short supply for health and key workers.

Compare this to Brewdog who despite being adversely affected by the crisis, started to produce hand sanitiser from its distillery here in Scotland in order to “do everything we can to try and help as many people as possible stay safe.”

The difference between the two approaches is staggering. Never has authentic and meaningful brand communication and brand proposition been more important.

It’s still all about ROI

Proving return on investment has always been a challenge for the PR industry. Yes of course there are a whole host of metrics we measure to demonstrate value but brands will be demanding even more tangible returns on their investments as budgets are squeezed as a result of the crisis.

That’s why it is even more important than ever that we upskill across all digital communications and it is exactly why Represent has evolved from a traditional PR agency into a full service digital comms agency. Diversification will be key to agency survival in the years ahead.

The way we work

Perhaps the most obvious point to make about how the industry will change relates to how we will work. We have gone from seeing and communicating with colleagues on a daily basis to scheduling Zoom meetings and hosting virtual Friday catchup drinks. And while some companies will return to the office over the course of the coming months, many will not.

As companies look to streamline operations and reduce costs, many of us will continue to work remotely and manage our team from afar. That means managing company culture and boosting staff morale will become even more important for agency owners and leaders as we must ensure we continue to attract and retain the best talent into our industry.

There is no denying Scotland’s PR industry has been hit extremely hard by Covid-19, as is the case with so many other industries. Yet as we emerge from the crisis and recover economically, we must focus on the way the industry has changed for the better. Authenticity, honesty and truth have never been more important, nor has the opportunity for us to upskill as an industry and deliver even better, more creative, tangible campaigns on behalf of our clients.



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