Amid this shocking change, let’s strive to keep connecting better – with audiences and each other

For many years people in our business – comms, PR, advertising, the media – have been talking about ‘the unprecedented pace of change’. It has become an irritating cliché.

But now we find ourselves presented with something truly unprecedented, certainly for a generation, and a genuinely shocking change to our professional and personal lives.

In the quarter century that I’ve been working in this business there’s been nothing like it. The 1990s were relatively sanguine after the mild recession at the beginning of that decade abated. The dotcom crash of the early 2000s was bad for some businesses but many of today’s best PR and ad agencies were set up at this time and thrived.

The financial crisis of the late 2000s was pretty shocking at the time. I remember one well-known PR network boss responding to my question about predicted recovery time by saying: ‘Danny, what makes you think things will ever get better?’

The financial sector was badly hit, so was consumer spending for a while, and so were house prices and investments. And sadly many people did lose their jobs, although businesses did make real effort to retain staff rather than lay them off, expecting the upturn that soon came. PRWeek’s annual Top 150 figures show that even during 2009’s downturn, aggregate spend on PR was flat rather than going into decline.

And then for the past few years there was the political paralysis and sheer stupidity of Brexit…

But March 2020 has just been pretty bloody shocking, right?

It quickly and fundamentally changed our personal lives, as we adjusted first to working from home; it altered our interactions with loved ones and friends; it caused us to ask whether we have enough pasta, tissue paper, and prompted a sudden recollection as to why tinned food even exists.

I don’t feel particularly qualified to talk about how we as a society deal with such a change, but I do believe it’ll have a long-lasting impact on our social behaviours – maybe a positive one? - and in whom we trust going forward. More of that another time.

More pertinent to this this space is how journalists and PRs are coping on a professional basis.

From PRWeek’s perspective, we are trying to manage our busy schedule of hosted events and communicate that to the industry. We are, as ever, trying to produce relevant news, analysis, views and intelligence that’s valuable to comms professionals. We have introduced new blogs and bulletins to help bring all that together. And, as most of you are, we are now working entirely remotely using technology to connect as never before.

To this end please do let me and my team know what you’re doing, and how you’re doing, wherever you are. And PRWeek is an international enterprise - we have interested correspondents in Singapore, in New York, in the Middle East and Europe.

As a journalist, a content producer – as a person – I’ve become more aware of the need to connect in these isolating times.

And that of course is what your company is trying to do with its audiences. That is what your agency is trying to get a handle on for its various clients. It’s probably what you are feeling personally. No-one has all the right answers.

In this sense it is an interesting intellectual and professional challenge for anyone in our business.

Clearly the two-decade-long trend towards digital and social media comms will accelerate further. But it’s also about getting the tone right in corporate or brand communications.

I believe this will only fine-tune the thinking on ‘ethical purpose’. In the short-term should a brand talk about the virus and if so, how? Should a brand actually try and help people affected by it – and if so how much should it charge to do so.

See Louis Vuitton or BrewDog’s moves into sanitiser products or Sainsbury’s prioritisation of elderly or disabled people in deliveries. And take today's interesting news that Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich has offered NHS staff free accommodation at the Chelsea hotel.

And then of course there’s the shock of simply trying to run a business in this environment. Employers feel a huge sense of responsibility – in terms of their business’s finance, commerce, workforce - which keeps them up at night.

Talking to agency bosses this week, they know that they are, to some extent, in uncharted territory. Is it time to take out costs? Or should one maintain resource for any upturn – and if so, if and when will that upturn occur?

We know that cash flow becomes a priority during such an economic shock. And then there’s the logistical challenge of running operations without any face-to-face contact with colleagues, clients, journalists…

Yes it’s pretty shocking and pretty disorientating for all of us.

What I am sure of, however, is that the UK has some of the best media and communications professionals anywhere on the planet. And these skills will only come to the fore during this crisis, something of which the Government and medical profession is becoming even more acutely aware by the day.

We should hold them to account but we should also offer to help them. I know that some of you are offering your services to this end.

So let’s strive to keep connecting better…with more kindness and sensitivity…with our audiences, and with each other.

It not only makes professional sense, it’s essential to our mental wellbeing and happiness.

Danny Rogers, editor-in-chief, UK & EMEA

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