As the COVID-19 pandemic protracts with heterogenous recovery curves across the country, businesses are now steadfastly focusing on recovery and resumption. Amid rising hope for vaccine breakthroughs sooner than later, companies and consumers alike are adapting to the ‘new normal’ — aka the post-lockdown economy. Right at the onset of the pandemic and the initial lockdown, agile and savvy organisations have been quick to realize communications’ pivotal role in staying relevant, engaging with their audiences or in proactively communicating change.

While public relations programmes drive compelling value, helping to build trust and solidifying business reputation, here is how communications assumes greater significance during extraordinary times such as these and we look at the months ahead:

Building trust: A recent COVID Impact Leadership Index by consulting firm RedSeer specifically for India’s internet brands called out Zomato and Swiggy for their favourable perception amongst consumers for their focus on health and safety as well as on charitable contributions in helping those severely disadvantaged during the pandemic. Favourable perceptions are possible in a large part, to earned media outcomes which in turn impacts the way people feel about a brand, correspondingly influencing their purchasing decisions.

Communicating with purpose: Communications practitioners always have their fingers on the pulse of their organisations or clients (whether in-house or on the agency side). Messaging, content, and audience engagement is what public relations is built upon. In an age of clutter, communications is increasingly about being less self-serving, shifting to being more value and purpose driven. At a time like this, brands need to demonstrate empathy and compassion for the communities they serve and not be opportunistic or overtly publicity focused. A finely attuned communications programme from skilled practitioners will serve brands well in the longer-term since consumers care about what brands stand for, more than ever.

Recovery planning: Looking at the onset of the COVID-19-induced crisis of unimaginable proportions from a business and communications planning view, we see the following phases: shock, disruption, command and control, recovery, a bump (where pent-up demand releases) and then, equilibrium as the ‘new normal’. Right through this time, successful companies have used communications proactively to navigate through service disruptions, business impact and in communicating mitigation strategies. And as we enter this new state of equilibrium where the world does not look nearly like where it was before, public relations can play a vital role in recovery planning.

How have conversations shifted in your industry? How has your industry responded? How will you engage your customers? How will you launch new products? Have you identified stakeholder needs?

This is there where strategic communications comes in to help organisations preempt and plan for business continuity.

Combatting misinformation and misperceptions: Exacerbating the pandemic is the continuing streak of misinformation which remains a persistent problem whether in good times or bad. As customers slowly return and shed their inhibitions, brands are  grappling with misinformation on the safety of their products or whether it is safe to fly yet or visit a retail store. Clearly, a significant challenge only a concerted communications programme that fosters accuracy, authenticity, and transparency can help manage by engaging with the right stakeholders, journalists, and influencers.

Building and sustaining momentum: Companies need to focus on building momentum to ride out the most used ‘new normal’ adage these days. It is imperative for leaders to examine all communications and marketing activities and framing out a communications plan to execute immediately, anticipate actions and get ahead of the news cycle

Creativity: PR practitioners bring a consistent ‘outside-in’ approach that place them uniquely on top of emerging trends, cultural and societal shifts that define our times not only today, but particularly so during a time when ‘humanising’ brands has never been so important with the right doses of relevance and resonance considering today’s externalities. Communications as a function can lead that charge effectively and help brands adapt to have a say in what matters to today’s audiences.

In an age devoid of marketing silos where great ideas need to coalesce with cultural underpinnings of the day and popular consumer sentiment, public relations is probably your most effective marketing discipline to take that on. A strategic communications framework that lays the foundation for the next phase of recovery as the economy opens albeit with due caution, needs to be centerstage as organisations look at leadership amid disruption (and beyond).