Now/Next: The mantra for public relations and communications in these times

It has been almost five months since our world has been disrupted by the pandemic. While we continue to work on how to mitigate the impact—on our own business and people as well as those of our clients—we also need to think ahead and anticipate our next steps. Public relations is the rare marketing discipline that touches multiple stakeholders—from the consumer to the community, the key opinion leaders and media to the government, from partners to the industry at large. And it is this diversity of touchpoints that puts us in the best position to guide companies in their journey forward. 

Lead with data-driven insights

The biggest challenge for a business is to stay on top of all the information that is coming towards us every day. Real-time monitoring and data analytics, combined with human intelligence, lead to trendspotting and actionable insights. In these times, this is literally a superpower, because it will help the company strike just the right chords with its stakeholders.

Look inwards first

The first pulse check for a company in these times is its own employees. This is for two reasons—one, without its people, there is no business, and two, at this time, when you can’t spend too much on marketing or advertising, your employees become your brand ambassadors and spread the word. Nothing builds trust better than when those that know the company the best from the inside share their pride outside.

Purpose-led creativity at the core

If you look at any brand valuation study, how the brand articulates purpose and then acts on it has always been important. Now, however, the focus must also be on building empathy and creating engagement with the community. And then working together with all stakeholders to develop insight-based creative solutions to the complex problems we are all facing. When selling does happen, it must be aligned to the purpose and the brand must come across as authentic. Ultimately, the way forward for brands is to be steady and measured, sensitive, straightforward and solutions-oriented, and strong and uniting. As communicators, we must support the brands in this journey.

Digital first

While the disruption due to COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdown has delivered a shock to the system for most companies, it has also fast-forwarded innovation, especially on the digital front. The thing to consider is that digital is not just about everything going virtual. It is also not about work-from-home capabilities and Zoom or Teams calls. It is about navigating business disruption and driving growth through digital transformation. As companies make that journey, they will need communications to help them build the new narrative, get their stakeholders on board to take the strategy ahead, modernise the communications through newer technologies, and ultimately communicate the transformed value proposition in the most personalized and responsive way.

On the social media side as well, there has been a rethink and realignment of how influencers communicate and engage, how consumer behavior and thought process has changed, what values a brand wants to demonstrate, and ultimately how our role has changed in bringing them all together on the same page.   

Public affairs and advocacy as a backbone

In this new, changed world, the role of the government, industry, community and the relations between them have all changed. There is and will continue to be the need to help businesses reinterpret and navigate these new equations. There is also a greater need for collaboration as the economy reopens and everyone needs to work together towards revival. Advocacy programmes will be another area where companies will need support as they work with communities to help them get back on track.

If there is anything this pandemic has taught us, it is that change is constant and agility and creativity will help us in both, dealing with what is happening to us now and building new communications operating models for what will come our way in the future. In the public relations and communications industry, I am confident we have both in abundance.

by Deepshikha Dharmaraj, Chief Executive Officer, Genesis BCW