How COVID-19 Has Changed Public Relations

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has transformed the state of our world, and the business community is no exception. Big shifts are underway in almost every industry and with advertising budgets being slashed down, brands are relying on earned media more than ever before to get their messages across to the public.

There is nothing more important than reputation, particularly in such uncertain times, and businesses who want to thrive in the new normal must continue to invest in protecting and managing theirs. 

For agencies, this signals a time to pull up their socks if they haven’t already. Things are moving fast within the consumer landscape and we must be prepared to keep up with the changes. When situations like these arise, brands have a duty to respond both quickly and sensitively, and it’s on us – their trusted PR partners – to make sure we help them deliver.

Expressing empathy

Arguably the most important thing for a business right now is to connect with its audiences.People all over the world are struggling to combat the pandemic’s  various challenges and in a lot of ways, businesses are actually supporting them at this time.

This has created an opportunity for brands to drive home a message of purpose instead of profit – playing into the PR principle of delivering the right message at the right time. For example, Disney won hearts when it allowed open access to it’s Indian streaming service Hotstar during Singapore’s circuit breaker period – a welcome source of entertainment to migrant workers who couldn’t leave their dormitories as part of virus containment measures.

Years of protecting brand and corporate reputation could come undone in just a few months if a brand fails to step up and do its part at such a time. 

Authenticity is key

The PR industry was already battling the rise of misinformation, but the pandemic has only aggravated this complex problem. Social media and messaging apps are rampant with conspiracy theories, fake news and outlandish rumours that are eroding public trust at a time when they need facts and information the most.

As such, it’s natural for consumers to gravitate towards brands that speak to them authentically and offer real value. But it is even more imperative that any messages that we push out now should focus on sharing crucial information or extending support to help people feel more comfortable in the new normal. 

For the industry, this means an additional layer of checks and balances. There’s a lot of public anxiety surrounding health, family and job security right now and consequently, businesses need to make sure that they’re not over-selling or sending tone-deaf messages that could result in backlash. 

New ways of working

Our clients have pivoted their ways of working – mostly by doubling down on their digital strategy – and the PR industry has responded by coming up with equally innovative ways of engaging stakeholders remotely. 

One example is the shift from physical events and conferences to virtual media briefings. At Mutant, we recently helped Vivo organise their first ever virtual press conference for the launch of their X50 Pro Smart phone – and it was a resounding success. 

Internally, things have changed too. Most agencies in the region have adapted to some sort of flexible working arrangement – and that’s just scratching the surface of what needs to be done. A recent study found that PR pros across the world are dealing with increased stress levels amidst the pandemic and leaders are stepping up to ensure that culture and morale are not compromised. 

Although most of the world is now starting to get back on its feet – albeit into very different circumstances – fear and uncertainty continues to prevail, making PR a powerful tool that brands can leverage to navigate the noise and form authentic connections with their audiences.

Need assistance with navigating a changing PR landscape? Talk to us at [email protected].

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