Coronavirus live blog: The impact on PR and comms

PRWeek UK will keep you updated on how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting the PR and communications industry.

18 APRIL

• The PRWeek team has picked its comms masterstrokes and missteps of the past seven days in our Tops & Flops of the Week – agree or disagree with their selecions?

• William and Kate have narrated a short film encouraging people to take care of their mental wellbeing during the coronavirus crisis, as part of Public Health England’s Every Mind Matters campaign. Watch it here

17 APRIL

• In a new comment piece Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, founder and MD of Clearly PR, highlights four ways COVID-19 has changed our industry indefinitely.

• Jeremy Page, director of KWT Global in London, says it's a time for unleashing some stunning creativity in our industry. From Lego to Channel 4, here are his Creative Hits of the Week. 

• The Government is running a multimillion-pound campaign – 'All in, all together' – across hundreds of newspapers over the next three months, encouraging the nation to stay at home. More here

16 APRIL

• Companies need to drop brand messaging and focus on how their business is reacting to the coronavirus or risk getting burned, according to Nik Govier and Andrew Bloch, guests on the latest edition of The PR Show podcast. They warn it has never been more important to get the tone of communications right.

• Corporate comms is ‘having a good war’ – but practitioners should forget pay rises and bonuses. That's according to PRWeek UK editor-in-chief Danny Rogers, in his latest weekly column.

• An exclusive new PRWeek UK study has found COVID-19 has had a direct impact on the jobs of nearly a third of PR professionals, although this compares favourably to peers in other marcomms disciplines. Check out findings from the research here.

• Something a bit different here. We liked this campaign from Scotch whisky brand Old Pulteney, which, along with creative agency Wire, has created a video and soundtrack that seeks to capture the tranquillity of its coastal home town for consumers at home under lockdown. Pour yourself a wee dram and relax...

• "It’s hard to recall a time when the public held such affection and gratitude for any single organisation" – Kerry Sheahan, head of PR & content at FSE Digital, explains in a thought-provoking comment piece how the NHS is teaching us that you make your own PR.


15 APRIL

• In a deeply-moving op-ed, Jericho Chambers founder and former Edelman EMEA CEO Robert Phillips says the UK is "forcing doctors to play God" because no-one prepared properly for this coronavirus crisis. The pandemic has left him without treatment – "I do not know what will happen next". This is well worth a read.

• The latest holding company to be affected by COVID-19 is Omnicom. Staff reductions, salary slashes and furloughs are taking place across its agencies, CEO John Wren has confirmed in an internal memo. 

• Kerry Sheahan says there are PR lessons from the manner in which the NHS has operated and communicated during this crisis.

• Why are we surprised LADbible is in the daily COVID-19 press briefings? That's what Niamh Spence, from Manifest Manchester, is asking in a pertinent comment piece. 


14 APRIL

• Publicis Groupe is making redundancies across its 5,000-strong UK operation – including in PR – because of the coronavirus downturn.

• Hiscox Insurance faces a potential lawsuit after rejecting claims by businesses affected by the coronavirus. Media Zoo, which had its claim rejected, is leading comms for the group and seeking political support. More here

• The PRCA has exclusively told PRWeek that it is reducing pay for all staff – including director-general Francis Ingham – in response to the COVID-19 crisis and to allow new ways of delivering member services. More on this story here

• Global holding group Publicis has revealed its first coronavirus-affected financial results, and boss Arthur Sadoun has spoken about the pandemic's impact on operations around the world.


9 APRIL

• Premier has launched a virtual PR and publicity division to help clients amid the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

• Long-established agencies in travel and hospitality, in particular, are being devastated due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Leaders Danny Rogers speaks to are trying their best to protect staff, but have been forced into survival mode.

• Here's what the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme means for businesses from an employment law perspective.

• The PRCA’s Global COVID-19 Taskforce has launched a free consultation service to help communications leaders manage their organisations and agencies through the pandemic crisis.

8 APRIL

• As we navigate uncertainty, staying relevant has never been so important for companies and organisations, argues Annalise Coady, president, EMEA, at W2O Group.

• Agencies and businesses are holding on to comms staff and honouring many new-starter contracts, although the recruitment market has taken a dramatic dip, recruitment agents confirm. Read more.


7 APRIL

• About half of freelancers would give up being self-employed, and a similar proportion have lost at least 60 per cent of their income, due to a downturn in work caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, an alarming new study has found.

• SEC Newgate has paused new hires and is looking into a range of programmes for employers in its various markets, but does not plan to furlough staff, PRWeek has learned. The group has appointed a new CFO, who will join in June. 

• Employers can access the Job Retention Scheme to continue paying 80% of the salary for employees that would have been laid off. Here’s what you need to know.

• How is the public affairs sector adapting to the crisis? Nick williams, MD of issues and crisis at BCW London explores five ways in which it has changed.

• Which media outlets are consumers turning to for news on the pandemic, and what other trends are we seeing? The second iteration of Havas Media Group's COVID-19 Media Behaviours Report offers some interesting findings.


6 APRIL

• A PR professional has set up a not-for-profit venture, Look After, to help out-of-work PR practitioners provide support to businesses and charities struggling through the coronavirus crisis.

• The coronavirus crisis has exposed how important corporate communications and public affairs has become to the c-suite. It’s time large corporations established a seat at the top table for comms directors.

• An insurer has told PRWeek it will not cover ‘business interruption’ claims due to the government’s decision to close down businesses after Media Zoo (pictured below) had its claim turned down. The agency took out specific coverage for ‘human contagion disease’ in the lead up to the coronavirus pandemic. The case is an important indicator of how insurance firms will treat claims.

• The need for better crisis-handling ability and a more defined sense of corporate purpose was rising up the agenda of FTSE 100 companies even before the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a new report by executive search firm Watson Helsby.

• We Are Social has created a social-distancing Snapchat lens that helps smartphone users ensure they stay at least two metres away from others. The initiative is in response to last week's UN brief.


3 APRIL

• The PRCA has written a strongly-worded condemnation of the NLA, which it accuses of "corporate greed" for taking advantage of COVID-19 to chase payment from PR firms.

• PRWeek UK has started a new feature, Tops and Flops of the Week, which focuses on how well-known individuals and organisations have responded to the crisis. Barcelona FC, Lidl, Sky boss Jeremy Darroch, and Michael Gove are among those featured this week.

The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity has been cancelled entirely for 2020 due to the coronavirus. The event was due to take place in June and had been postponed until October. The organisers said this morning: "Our difficult decision follows in-depth consultations with our partners and customers and reflects the unprecedented societal, health and economic challenges currently facing the world, as well as our desire to remove any uncertainty about the running of the awards and event for our partners and customers."


• Influencers come into focus today. Has the COVID-19 crisis forced them to come of age, or have they just grown up? Our commentator, from agency Good Relations, gives her opinion.

Also, a new study from marketing agency Obviously has found that brands are bypassing production companies and asking influencers to create assets instead, signalling a new normal that is likely to continue well after coronavirus passes.


2 APRIL

Now is not the time to cut PR budgets - that's the message from PRWeek UK editor John Harrington, in an open letter. "PR professionals are more important than ever as the crisis intensifies," Harrington writes.

• In his weekly column, PRWeek UK editor-in-chief Danny Rogers (below) argues that, despite the obvious difficulties facing PR and communications amid this crisis, there are still "several strong reasons for cheer".

• A Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) letter to PR suppliers requesting flexibility on payment schemes has received a positive response from the industry. More here

Self-employed and PR professionals made redundant because of COVID-19 can claim six months' free membership to the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA).

Hatch is offering pro bono support to small businesses, campaigns and charities that are vulnerable to the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Services include support with fundraising, appealing for volunteers, promoting the positive impact of work on the community, media relations, creative campaigns and strategic social media support. Visit Hatch’s website for more details.

In a statement to the stock market this morning, M&C Saatchi said it is pursuing cost-cutting measures including furloughing staff and reducing salaries of a "very large proportion" of its highest-paid employees amid the crisis. While there has been a "sharp drop in demand across the group", demand for some of its services - "eg: our talent and influencer businesses" - remains "steady".

• Some of the world’s biggest agency groups have signalled that they do not plan to attend the rescheduled Cannes Lions advertising festival in October, although they could still support the awards. More on this story here

• Edelman helped sportswear brand Asics hold its first virtual-reality shoe launch this week after changing its plans to host a physical event later this year.


1 APRIL

Sir Martin Sorrell will ‘let rip’ after a ‘terrible’ Q2 and ‘slightly better’ Q3. In an exclusive interview with PRWeek, the S4C boss and former WPP chief has taken a swipe at the idea that brands should spend their way through a recession.

Former FA comms chief Adrian Bevington (below, right) has urged Premier League clubs and players to quickly address issues around pay or risk unwinding the goodwill they have built up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also shares his picks for best PR and community initiatives by clubs in recent weeks.

We have all seen emails from high profle company CEOs about how they are looking after staff and customers during the crisis but how should small-business owners communicate? PHA's director of strategic comms gives them three pointers.

• ‘Head boy or class clown?’: PA pros compare the Chancellor and Prime Minister’s approach to crisis comms

• Comms consultancy Powerscourt is supporting an industry initiative to produce 10,000 ventilators for the NHS. More on this story here

• More than half of UK PR leaders are confident about the future of their organisations as the coronavirus pandemic intensifies, a new poll from the PRCA suggests.

• Facebook has launched a new film celebrating all the ways we’re staying connected amid mass COVID-19 disruption. Check it out here


31 MARCH

WPP has announced a series of cost-cutting measures this morning as the crisis affects business, including executive committee and board members agreeing a 20 per cent cut to their salaries or fees for at least three months. Interestingly, the BCW, Hill+Knowlton, Finsbury and Ogilvy owner that in "some markets" it is "seeing additional demand in our PR and specialist communications businesses".

• Brands are sticking by sports even though they stand to lose significant sums of money invested in summer campaigns that are now shelved. PRWeek investigates the impact of the coronavirus on sports sponsorship, starting with postponed events.

• Consumers have warned brands that their actions during the coronavirus pandemic will have an impact on future purchasing behaviour, according to a special edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer.

• Providing journalists and policy makers with accurate science has never been more important, argues Fiona Fox, chief executive of charitable organisation the Science Media Centre

Publicis Groupe is flying employees home to be with families amid COVID-19 chaos. The holding company is also accelerating the roll-out of Marcel.


30 MARCH

• 'The majority are struggling' – with new business slowing, campaigns suspended indefinitely and freelance support already frozen, agencies fear more tough choices are on the horizon if they are to survive the economic impact of coronavirus.

Doing their bit in a crisis: Dyson (below), Yves Saint Laurent, Spotify, John Lewis and more.

• The Government is fighting a running battle against fake news about COVID-19, with up to 10 incidents a day being tackled by specialist units, it announced today. More here

What's the best way to pitch virtually during the crisis? Two senior comms figures - Sophie Raine (left), MD, consumer brands, at Ketchum London, and Louise Vaughn, founder and MD at Definition – offer their advice.


27 MARCH

Coca-Cola has reiterated it is stopping all advertising, as PRWeek exclusively revealed earlier this week. The soft drinks giant has now said it will invest $120m into COVID-19 relief efforts.

• The United Nations has announced a call to arms for creators, influencers and media owners to tackle health and awareness during the coronavirus pandemic.

Richard Edelman has promised to protect the jobs of Edelman’s 6,000-strong global workforce during the coronavirus outbreak.

• The PR industry has cautiously welcomed a government package of measures to help the self-employed during the coronavirus crisis, but warned it could arrive far too late and may not cover thousands of freelance workers.

• Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for coronavirus, Downing Street announced this morning, but will continue to lead the government's efforts to combat coronavirus while in self-isolation. Johnson used a video address to the nation this morning to reinforce the government and health professionals' key message for the public to stay at home.

We're seeing this crisis bring out the best in many businesses and individuals, but Engine MHP + Mischief deputy CEO Nick Barron has highlighted one example of extremely questionable behaviour from an agency peer:

• Threepipe's head of PR Sophie Lennon has been accentuating the positives in today's Creative Hits (not misses) of the Week column.

Trust and authenticity are vital for comms and media during the pandemic, says Dan Johnson, policy & comms adviser for Dow Jones and former comms director for the Premier League in a hard-hitting comment piece this morning.


26 MARCH

Isaac Levido, the Australian architect of the Conservative victory in the general election, has been drafted in by Downing Street, along with others, to enhance the Government’s coronavirus comms campaign, following repeated attacks by critics over mixed messaging.



• MSL London has launched a dedicated COVID-19 client offer called Lockdown & Loaded, focused on maintaining employee engagement when everyone’s working from home. The offer went to a limited number of clients two days ago and the agency said it's given three consultations and proposals so far.

The Government has teamed up with WhatsApp, one of the world’s biggest messaging platforms, to reach millions of Britons with information about COVID-19.

Here is the latest update on how the coronavirus is impacting PRWeek’s live events. Check out the new schedule.

The PR industry is calling for urgent government intervention to support freelancers and self-employed workers as research reveals more than half have already lost at least 40 per cent of their regular income and the majority face financial ruin unless they receive help. Check out our infographic and case studies on how COVID-19 is impacting freelancers.

PRWeek editor-in-chief Danny Rogers examines how PR professionals are managing, and leading, during the pandemic. He identifies three main phases for businesses managing the ever-evolving crisis.


25 MARCH

• German communications professionals have praised Chancellor Angela Merkel's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Here's why and what other leaders can learn. Read more here

• 'Keep Calm and Carry One (Basket)' - creatives have answered the Labour Party's call to come up with images and slogans to communicate an anti-panic buying message. Read more here.

• PRWeek's exclusive survey of UK PR leaders shows the extent to which working practices have changed due to the coronavirus. From Zoom to pilates, find out what has changed in the COVID-19 era.

• WPP Health Practice will host an exclusive live COVID-19 Q&A aimed at global media and policy makers, with experts from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), today.

• "Stay silly, stay in touch, write it down" – Engine Mischief MD Greg Jones, who is also a qualified psychotherapist, has shared his mental health tips for working from home.

• An 80-year-old retail magnate has "broken every rule in PR" and faced a fierce backlash over a “damaging” interview, in which he said coronavirus was nothing to worry about and had been good for business.

• It felt inevitable, but the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has officially been postponed – more here


24 MARCH

• The economic uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic has led soft-drinks titan Coca-Cola to suspend all its brand marketing in Great Britain.

• In-house comms chiefs are largely planning to keep PR budgets in tack during the pandemic - at least that is the massage for now. A PRWeek survey found: 71.4 per cent of in-house comms chiefs said their organisation was not planning to reduce its PR budget due to the pandemic. The majority said they were concerned about future impacts. Read more here

Some veteran corporate 'mavericks' and seasoned media performers such as Richard Branson, Stelios Haji-Ioannou and Tim Martin have failed to adapt their comms to the new realities of the coronavirus, argues PRWeek UK editor John Harrington. This is in stark contrast to many of the newer generation of entrepreneurs who have emerged in the era of 'purpose'. (Pic credit: Robin Marchant for SiriusXM/Peter Summers/Getty Images)

  • The Labour Party has called on agencies to donate work to help stem panic-buying, suggesting PR shops and advertisers share ideas 'freely and without copyright'. More here

• Former No. 10 comms director Alastair Campbell has told Boris Johnson to resist the use of “smart-arse language” and express genuine sadness and regret at deaths in the UK from the coronavirus during his press conferences, as part of 20 crisis comms suggestions for the Prime Minister during the pandemic.


23 MARCH

Matthew Freud has promised to protect jobs and wages at his eponymous agency and its parent company, in an internal memo seen by PRWeek. Freud also offers an interesting take on the pandemic: “The economic devastation that is beginning to break like a tsunami over us is triggered by COVID-19, but it is not because of COVID-19. The insanity of a market-led economy that only thought about profit for the last decade has left millions in the perilous state that only now will be recognised and addressed.”

• "I will find it difficult" – David Wynne-Morgan, an independent consultant and the former global head of Hill + Knowlton, writes about how hard self-isolation will be for professionals in their 70s.

• Three in four UK PR chiefs have reported a coronavirus-induced slowdown in new business. That's one of the findings from an exclusive survey of 127 senior UK-based agency chiefs – primarily founders, CEOs, MDs, and practice heads – from the 2020 PRWeek UK Power Book. Check out the rest of the findings here

Haymarket Business Media has decided to cancel the PRWeek Global Awards 2020 live event, due to take place on 19 May in London, in light of the situation regarding the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The BBC has become the most-trusted news brand on coronavirus, from a list of media brands, according to Havas Media Group's Covid-19 Media Behaviours Report. Which other outlets are the public turning to?

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