The Pandemic will Hasten Changes in PR and PR Agencies

Throughout the pandemic, PR has focused on day-to-day issues. That is as it should be; PR pros understand their higher duty is to ensure executives and the companies they represent can successfully navigate challenging circumstances. Still, PR should use this opportunity to think about the future. For PR, COVID-19 will have consequences:

There will be a new in-house/agency balance.

Brands and companies may focus on building robust in-house capabilities. Outside help will support the in-house team.  This is a welcome development; it will bring out the best in each side of the relationship.

In-house personnel offer institutional and subject-matter expertise. The strategic vision and tactical execution of an agency can complement that expertise. Balance is the key; each side must contribute to bring about efficient, effective results-oriented strategies.

The brick-and-mortar agency will decline.

In the wake of the pandemic, some PR firms will need to examine their real estate costs. Office space quickly has become a substantial expense, rather than an asset. That said, PR is a human-first business: being in the same room remains incredibly valuable.

So, while the shift toward a virtual model will be noticeable, it will more than likely not be complete. Agencies will maintain offices, but they may resemble a free-flowing, co-working  meeting space, rather than a dedicated desk-and-cubicle office.

Every firm will be a crisis firm.

The pandemic has turned nearly every communicator into an issues-management consultant, whether they started in consumer PR or influencer marketing. That means two things:

  • Crisis management expertise has gone from a highly concentrated specialization to an expectation of every PR pro. As a result, the mystery (and higher billable rates) for this kind of work will be challenged.
  • Companies and brands will continue to demand issues-management sensibility from consultants, no matter the project.

The profession will be democratized.

Quarantine has made some of us learners again as we take free, online courses or listen to instructional podcasts—a reminder that our line of work demands constant learning and growth.

This interplays with a debate about the best strategies for helping PR personnel grow. Some argue that on-the-job training is best, while others point to the value of a formal communications degree.

However, there has been a COVID-19-motivated explosion of online resources, courses, and academic material—many are free or low cost—that can help any PR practitioner. That democratization of the industry is long overdue. It will allow better talent to go farther.

Projects will become the new normal.

As economic uncertainty skyrockets, companies on retainer may become less prevalent. Already, brand communicators and PR agency pros are being called on to do more on identical or smaller budgets. This pressure surely will grow during the coming downturn.

However, this isn’t a temporary trend: PR budgets have been squeezed for years, the current downturn has tightened belts and budgets more. As a result, PR pros will need to show their value through quick, nimble projects that yield results and keep potential long-term clients coming back for more.

Demand for PR holds.

It is clear that until the pandemic is over, we will live with constant change and heightened uncertainty. As such, demand for our expertise will remain.

Once the pandemic subsides, we will enter a post-COVID-19 world. The industry’s winners will look fairly similar. Success will belong to those who form strategic partnerships with those they represent, serve as resources during crisis and upheaval, and ultimately deliver on their promises. We can take heart that the industry will continue to rest on those fundamentals.

A new age of PR is coming. In a post-COVID-19 world, firms will be held to a higher standard. It won’t be enough to do the job—the PR industry will join the rest of corporate America in a new era of ethical business practices, philanthropy, pro-bono work and above-and-beyond community engagement. In the wake of coronavirus, the public will expect nothing less.

Alex Slater is founder and chief strategy officer of Clyde Group.