A poll of 115 PR industry leaders – conducted over the weekend by #FuturePRoof – highlighted three key concerns about how the coronavirus would impact trading.
Nearly 81 per cent said their biggest immediate challenge was a loss of income and 67 per cent were worried about access to domestic customers.
About a third of respondents (31 per cent) were worried about the trading grinding to a halt in the long term.
The survey findings echo similar concerns in a PRWeek survey of industry leaders, which found three-quarters of PR bosses are seeing traditional new business opportunities slow down with the majority quite concerned about the coronavirus impact on business.
Freelancers & resilience
About 40 per cent of #FuturePRoof respondents were from PR or ‘virtual’ agencies and the rest were made up from in-house and public sector comms roles.
Freelancers and the self-employed are particularly concerned after largely missing out when Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled emergency packages to protect workers impacted by the coronavirus outbreak last week.
One freelancer responding to the research commented: “Why are self employed/sole traders being discriminated against compared to PAYE employees? We have no sick pay, paid holidays or any other perks and are means tested if we sign up for Universal Credit.”
The study highlighted several areas of resilience to the coronavirus, including public health information and healthcare communication; crisis communications support; IT security and communication; education and learning; home entertainment and gaming; and home delivery. There has been a jump in government and public sector work.
Contingency measures being put in place by PR practitioners include new flexible working methods and patterns and prospecting for new business.
In terms of the Government's response to the crisis, almost half (49 per cent) found it had been useful or somewhat useful, 11 per cent were neutral and 40 per cent found it not so useful or not useful at all.
#FuturePRoof founder and Astute.Work agency owner Sarah Waddington said the results of the survey make for “anxious reading”.
“The negative impact of COVID-19 has been immediate and PR leaders are responding as fast as they can but need clarity over what help is available and how long this may last,” she added.
“On the plus side, a decent number of practitioners are generating new business. The hugely surprising omission is that internal communication doesn’t appear to feature as a service in demand, which is disappointing.”
#FuturePRoof chair and Metia managing director Stephen Waddington added: “With the industry shifting to virtual and flexible working in the space of a week, it’s not surprising that respondents are reporting that immediate impacts of the crisis include isolation and juggling multiple demands including childcare, uncertainty and unemployment.”
The survey findings have been shared with the Government as part of lobbying efforts by industry bodies.
PRCA director-general Francis Ingham said: “Our industry is under sustained and unparalleled pressure because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We all need to be agile and imaginative in our response to this new environment – and the findings show that senior practitioners are moving quickly in exactly that manner.”
CIPR chief executive Alastair McCapra also noted the “tremendous strain” the industry has faced, but said PR practitioners have also shown “how creative, flexible professionals can respond with energy and compassion”.