Coronavirus: It’s going to get worse for agencies before it gets better

Something that was initially considered to be a problem only in China and the Far East, COVID-19 has now spread to the rest of the world and it’s causing increasing concern, on both a public health and an economic level.

It's going to get worse for agencies before it gets better, warns Julia Herd
It's going to get worse for agencies before it gets better, warns Julia Herd

“Hi, OK so we have a problem. We are going to need to push our product launch back because of the coronavirus.”

“Hmm, the coronavirus outbreak is causing us some issues. Can we put our outreach on hold and move it to later this year? This also means paying you later this year.”

"I’m afraid I can no longer travel this week to our meeting. I've been quarantined because of the coronavirus.”

Three clients, three problems, and all within the space of a week. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

The airline industry is currently predicted to lose $29bn, stock markets are reported to be experiencing the deepest plunges since the financial crisis, and the extent of the impact on supply chain and manufacturing is only just being realised.

In short, businesses, including those operating within the communications sector, are beginning to feel the pinch.

With huge brands such as Facebook and Sony pulling out of international events as high-profile as GDC and MWC, and Starbucks, Google and Ikea temporarily shutting down operations in some regions, the consultancies representing those companies or operating in those sectors must be panicking.

The reality, though, is that those big companies have multiple strings to their bows, so for those agencies who operate on retainers, there will be other options and other areas on which to focus their efforts.

Managing a company’s reputation through this crisis, for instance, will be one area.

For consultancies with smaller clients and with less money to throw around, managing the impact of the coronavirus effectively could be the difference between make or break.

So how do we, as PR professionals, navigate this issue, protect our assets and continue to grow as businesses?

Have a ‘plan B’

It’s a handy thing to have at any time, but now more than ever. If you have clients planning to launch products or speak at conferences in the near future, assume that this probably won’t happen and have an alternative solution in place. Modern technology, such as video conferencing facilities, enable us to be flexible in how we communicate and showcase things. They are also better for the environment. Use them. After all, media still needs to write stories and to stay ahead of their competition.

Think laterally

Adversity brings opportunity. With the race to develop a vaccine and to protect those impacted, huge amounts of money is being invested into med-tech companies and CSR programmes. All of these will need support from PRs in terms of keeping those companies that are leading the way front-of-mind with the relevant audiences. So think laterally about how you can continue to add value to both the organisations you represent and potential new clients.

Consider your own business practices

In addition to supporting clients, it is also essential that employees feel reassured. In many respects, this means being flexible and agile with how you conduct your business. Whether it is allowing people to work from home, minimising travel, reviewing workplace hygiene or offering mental-health support for those concerned, all will go a long way to demonstrating that you care. While it should be business as usual, you will accommodate their needs in the best way possible.

Julia Herd is founder and managing director of Five in a Boat

Thumbnail credit: S.C. Leung/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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