Nikky Gupta, Co-Founder & Director, Teamwork Communications Group

With effective communication emerging as a bedrock of brand management strategies, Public Relations has evolved into a necessary component for brands and organizations. Once considered a non-necessary investment, PR has grown to become a vital component of brand communication today. In India, the growth has been particularly pronounced over the past 20 years when evolving media needs made dedicated communication specialists a necessity, rather than luxury.

In 2017, the PR industry grew 18% to become aRs 1,315 crore industry in India, a report by Public Relations Consultants Association of India (PRCAI) estimated. Evidently, the new emerging communication channels – digital, social media and content driven campaigns were found to contribute the most to the revenue of PR companies.

COVID 19 and its aftermath has lent a fresh push to the PR industry, bring about a new round of growth as well as evolution.

Importance of Effective Communication

Effective and sustained communication strategies have emerged as critical components of image management of brands today. With social and digital media channels having the potential to spread any information (or misinformation) faster than fire, faster communication, quick reaction times and effective message control are absolutely critical. Crisis situations are particularly important for sustained and effective communication with your audience. As COVID 19 crisis forces organizations to change their marketing as well as communication strategies, Public Relations is assuming significant importance. This is particularly true for healthcare organizations for whom keeping miscommunication and misinformation at bay is extremely important at this juncture. However, non-healthcare organizations are also feeling a greater need to have onboard dedicated PR specialists to guide their communication strategies, create positive brand recall and craft a responsible brand image.

Earlier this year, a survey of 300 communications executives and senior leaders in the US concluded that business leaders were banking on their communication resources to help them deal with the COVID-19 crisis. Over 80% of respondents labelled the communication function as “important” or “very important” to their organization’s COVID-19 response.

Public Relations Vs Advertising

While advertising tends to have a big bang and immediate effect for a brand, Public Relations is a slow and steady process with long term gains. Since Public Relations involves a non-paid medium as against advertising which is based on bought space, it also carried greater credibility in the eyes of consumers. Advertising is also an excessively big budget exercise that requires significant investment and budgetary allocation. In contrast, Public Relations is much cheaper and affordable even for smaller organizations who do not have big advertising budgets.

A research by World Federation of Advertisers conducted in April this year found that large brands were deferring their marketing campaigns and ad spends for several months in response to the coronavirus pandemic and the cash crunch brought about by it. This is also one reason why PR is gaining much traction in the post COVID era which has forced organizations to go on cost cutting measures. A number of organizations who invested heavily in big budget advertisements earlier are going slow on this count and turning to the low cost and sustainable PR drives.

PR industry responds to changing requirements

COVID 19 has furthered an already ongoing change towards greater proliferation of digital and social media with shrinking traditional media space. A series of newspaper editions in different cities and lifestyle supplements have shut down due to the cash crunch. Newspaper sales dipped during the pandemic as people avoided purchasing newspapers and turned to online news sources. This has created new challenges and requirements for the PR industry. The rising value and reach of digital media has shifted priorities and created the need for dedicated digital media strategies.

Social media has been another emerging source of information for millions of people and has the potential to make or break brand images. Clients today are demanding equal footing to social media strategies and effective content marketing to help increase the brand’s visibility among the millennial population. PR firms now need to ensure that social and digital media strategies are as crucial to their new media strategies. Simultaneously, the COVID 19 crisis has made clients more demanding, requiring a highly dynamic approach from PR specialists.

Interestingly, according to a research conducted among PR professionals about the impact of COVID 19 on their professions by BuzzStream and Fractl,49% PR professionals reported reduction in PR budgets from clients. However, 21% also reported increased PR spending, indicating that some organizations understand the importance of effective communications in the current environmentAround 57% of respondents in the research said their clients had changed their PR strategies because of COVID-19 and many also reported increased stress and burnout.

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