PR agency owners and leaders are, perhaps for the first time, facing a set of challenges that are both universally shared and unprecedented.
But while the collective aspiration is to see a speedy end to the pandemic and a return to some semblance of normality, the post-COVID-19 environment will not be what is wished for. A transformation is already taking place and PR professionals will need to rethink the purpose and practice of what makes this marketing discipline so great.
Here are four key changes the industry should expect to see in the coming months:
‘Co-ompetition’ vs competition
Most, if not all, agencies have seen drops in revenue, and as the crisis has deepened so has the sense of camaraderie. Egos are being shelved and fears of a rival firm poaching a prospective (or current) client are lessening. Agency leaders are increasingly recognising that through shared experiences and openness about the steps taken to counter the effects the pandemic is having on their businesses, the PR industry as a whole might emerge in better shape than it would do otherwise: competition is being replaced by co-ompetition.
Reinvention of influencer and spin culture
Consumers – all stakeholders – are becoming financially spent. Many are rejecting the mindless fare provided by social-media influencers and hyperbolic comms emanating from brands in favour of congregating around those who are both authentic and can meet their needs. Traditional influencers, whether social or organisational, still need to ‘influence’, but they’re running out of things to say that can add any real value at a time of crisis. This won’t be the death knell for influencer-management culture as we know it; rather, the savvy ones will reinvent and rebrand themselves in ways that demonstrate their value.
It’s all about ROI
PR professionals are great at coming up with creative ideas for pitches and campaigns that get their clients’ messages ‘out there’. But brands are demanding more. Their budgets are being squeezed and they need greater reporting in the form of tangible returns on their investment. This isn’t anything new, of course, but it will invariably accelerate the need for PR practitioners to assume much of the functions more commonly associated with digital agencies (amplification and SEO, for example) in the same way that these agencies have increasingly been introducing a PR element to their service offering.
Sharing the secret sauce
Along with 'co-ompetition' between agencies, another likely output from the current crisis will be the rise in the number of PR professionals giving away their secrets. Brands aren’t looking to be sold-to, they need guidance, support and answers to the challenges they face. So, those agencies that give their insights and expertise away, in the form of blogs, white papers, video content and more, will be the ones that win many more new fans than those that keep their cards closely guarded.
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins is the founder and managing director of Clearly PR