United Colours of PR, silver became my favourite

Prepping for a morning run as I gather my thoughts, my mind kept conjuring up images of hope and like a reflex, I looked outward for signs; signs that would suggest that hope still floats. For a year that’s taken a beating thanks to the pandemic, externally it seemed somewhat business as usual. The newspaper man has begun his rounds, the milkman and the groceries delivery boys are whizzing past and a trickle of officegoers walked hastily towards their cars, laptop bags and lunches boxes in tow. What was missing was perhaps the commotion at the bus stop as children make last minute checks for missing tiffins and homework. But I am sure that can wait.

As we inch closer towards our new lives, this World Positivity Day, I decided to dig inward to look for that lining which is silver in colour. For the wellbeing of our families, the courage our workforce has shown and the coming together of our industry as one united force against Covid-19. 2020 has been a year full of surprises. While there were more lows than highs, today I look back at the year to find those small silver linings that kept hope afloat and brought the Communication industry closer than ever before.

United World of PR
Veiled under the shroud of tragedy are great opportunities, and when Covid struck, like every other industry, the world of public relations was also faced with its own set of challenges. While communication firms were dealing with problems ranging from client exits, employees and loved ones getting Covid, to managing costs and sustaining operations—one good thing happened.

We decided to come together as a unit, as an association. In the pre-Covid era, our get togethers were a biannual affair, to decipher how we were doing as an industry, issues we could address collectively and most importantly share nuggets that sometimes made their journey into the realm of gossip!

Then the dynamic world of technology came to our rescue, from the `safe confines of our homes, the entire C-Class of the PR world, would converge every Friday morning to share their experiences and find common solutions to our problems. Each one of us was candid and forthcoming, as we discussed our situation, our problems, our joys, our challenges for a moment forgetting the fact that we were competitors, we levelled as peers who could grow and fight this pandemic together. The best legal minds and finance honchos across the member firms, came together to tighten our ships. A big thank you and heartfelt gratitude to each one of you for thinking of this industry first.

Fight fake news, fight the pandemic
We realised that as an industry, we had to make sure we help the world and all our clients communicate better in these tough times. We put together a taskforce which reached out to various ministries to help them streamline communication to tackle fake news and rumours around the pandemic.

We partnered with Yougov to get a pulse of the state of the industry by polling respondents across public relations firms and inhouse communication teams to ensure that we were letting each other know how we were doing. We went through the lows, we shared our fears, our looked for hope and all of this surely brought all of us a lot closer, I made a lot of new friends out of industry colleagues and I am super proud of each one of them.

The fight had to be first fought inside people’s minds
At PRCAI, we took the bull by its horns and tackled the aftershock of the pandemic on multiple fronts. To begin with, we prioritised the health and wellbeing of our people across firms. Collectively with our member firms, the first call of duty was to ensure that associates across agencies felt safe and cared for, we prepared our colleagues for the new normal, how to work from home effectively, how to build teams on virtual platforms, how to be responsive towards your clients, but the most important was to create a safe environment where one felt safe to share. But how does one create a sense of safety and belonging?

We began by setting up virtual initiatives like “Talk to a friend, Talk to a Coach, Support Each Other”—all online initiatives where people could simply offload their worries. We had experts morph into non-judgmental sounding boards, so that people could unabashedly open up about mental health issues ranging from depression, ADHD to anxiety and stress. Simultaneously, it was important to spread awareness for these initiatives so that people could utilize these platforms at their convenience without prying eyes. Armed with a series of blogs and vlogs, leaders from corporate communications, advertising, marketing, public relations, were encouraged to share their stories through webinars and online sessions, which eventually resulted in building a community of caregivers to assure everyone that we’re in this together.

Looking back at 2020, I will always will be thankful for one thing, the hope that I was searching for outside, came generously from all quarters within; my industry peers, teams, friends, family, compatriots— making us all a far tighter unit than ever before. As we make our way through unchartered waters, at least until we see the lighthouse (read vaccine), I am reminded of a Tibetan Quote made famous by HH Dalai Lama: “Tragedy should be utilised as a source of strength. No matter what sort of difficulty, how painful the experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s the real disaster.” The last couple of months have strengthened my hope in us as a collective unit, and I will endeavour to build it further from strength to strength.

By Atul Sharma, Vice President, PRCAI