Letter from Madrid: A city on pause and a comms industry fighting for survival

Usually the beating heart of the Mediterranean’s lively, outgoing energy, Madrid has instead found itself at the epicentre of a global health emergency.

Madrid is a city on pause, but could coronavirus actually bring us closer together, asks Agnish Ray
Madrid is a city on pause, but could coronavirus actually bring us closer together, asks Agnish Ray

Confined to our homes for all but essential reasons like going out for food and medicine, many of the country’s industries have been brought to a standstill – and March was recorded as the worst month in history for Spain’s labour market.

For a country that spent the past decade recovering from the financial crisis of 2008, the prospect of yet another period of hardship is deeply unsettling.

Having worked as a consultant in Spain for the past two years, I have seen how international PR can be both desirable and daunting.

When any organisation takes its comms strategy to a global level, it suddenly finds itself competing with every other player like it in the world for visibility and reputation.

It can feel like a big leap – especially when budgets are tight.

So it’s easy to fear that international PR could become even less of a priority as businesses look to reduce spending in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those of us who specialise in the cultural sector have been feeling the ripples of the crisis for some time now, with the gradual closure of museums and galleries and cancellation of fairs, exhibitions, conferences and festivals across the globe.

For a sector that relies on mass gatherings of people, often flying around the world, the questions about how its future will look are as complex as they are fascinating.

One thing is certain: that we now operate in an unprecedented environment in terms of audience engagement.

Brands everywhere are hurriedly redefining what success looks like and rethinking how to interact with their public on this new playing field.

In many cases, doing so effectively could be crucial to the brand’s survival.

So, it would seem counterintuitive to undervalue international communications at a time like this.

Businesses have responded to enforced quarantines by ramping up their digital presence.

The cultural world knows the value of public accessibility better than any – and in a landscape shaped by licensing rights, intellectual property and protected heritage, unprecedented steps are being taken by arts institutions in making their archives available online, opening digital explorations of their materials and broadcasting content to replace in-person events.

Suddenly, issues such as geographical location, travel times and (to a large extent) international borders have disappeared – and this new space grants access to a wider global audience than ever before.

Social distancing, it would appear, can actually bring many closer together.

So it is perhaps a more interesting time than ever to be working in international communications, precisely because we now all share a common history and identity like never before.

We stand before a new world of connectedness – but what remains to be seen is how we will position ourselves in it and who will choose to tell their story.

Agnish Ray is a communications consultant based in London and Madrid

Thumbnail credit: Getty Images

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