With COVID19, the world has turned digital and adapted many new platforms to converse, inform and communicate, with people whether it is Skype, WebEx, Zoom, and what not. Recent months have seen glut of digital content, and overnight mushrooming of new web and whatsapp channels. The corporate sector had largely been watching the trends, though online group meetings with staff, stakeholders, and industry group confabulations have seen an upward trend.
According to CJ Singh, a veteran public relations practitioner of over four decades of experience and senior vice president of national executive of Public Relations Council of India, feels that post-COVID19 change has opened newer opportunities and challenges for the PR practice.
What tech changes were expected in the current year, have fast-forwarded during COVID19 and adaptation to hitherto limited usage of several communication channels has seen an upward trend. Chinks in communication strategies, or absence of it, were also seen especially in handling crisis since such a scenario of large scale lockdown had not been imagined.
According to CJ significant developments shall impact the way we communicate, and delineates, the road ahead for the PR practice.
1. Empathy: Digital Communication has the capability to reach targeted audience, and empathetic treatment of content would bring in better understanding. Far reaching impact that this crisis has wrought on every section of the society, would need far more care, concern and comforting content to respond to the situation, instead of hardcore pushes. Telling a story with empathy would help people receive and consume information much more readily.
2. Trust & Credibility: In the pendemic, infodemic had been another invader into our lives. Untrained self-styled fraternity of ‘journalists’ and overnight mushrooming of youtubers and social media ‘experts’, endeavouring to profit through hashtagging the crisis, have flooded the mobiles with fake and false information. No wonder even the regular channels fell prey to such stories, impacting overall credibility. Challenge for every organization would be to rebuild their credibility and trust with whatever content that they circulate through online media, underlying the need to stay honest, truthful and ethical while sharing information with their stakeholders.
3. Print vs Digital: Though print media has largely retained its credibility but suffered tremendously in delivering physical copies to their readers because of the lockdown. Readers have adapted to digital versions of print media, to consume news, yet the immediacy advantage of digital media cannot be beaten. While print media has been able to convert their loyal readers to the digital versions, though not sizably especially where the paid subscriptions were pushed, communicators would have to balance their future communication through media channels. Though a trend would emerge for big organizations to have their own social media channels to meet information need of their targeted stakeholders.
4. Thought Leadership: Much is talked about the industry influencers on the digital platforms, to reach a large group of people. Though much touted influencers domain lacks reliable data on real conversions for the users, it is time for the corporate leadership to become thought leaders in their own respective domains. Future measurement of communication results shall be measured not only in terms of the numbers reached but the quality engagement. Every industry head needs to occupy this space and be an influencer by reaching out to their ‘publics’ more professionally through sharing of knowledge and expertise in one’s own subject, product or service category. Communicators would have to prepare and train the corporate leadership in achieving thought leadership.
5. Breaking the Traditional Mould: CEOs and technocrats in every industry, under the supervision of expert communicators, should show their face in networking not only through physical events but more importantly through webinars, knowledge sharing videos, and even micro-videos where the spokesperson of the organization, as a thought leader, becomes the authentic and dependable source of information, creating accountability and presenting human face to the brand or organization one represents. Especially in a crisis situation, the CEOs coming up with a video message shall carry more weight than a third party announcement.
6. Socially Responsible Organisations: COVID19 has seen the corporate around the globe coming together and joining hand to combat the crisis on many fronts including managing food for the daily wage-earners and poverty-stricken pockets of the society, arranging medical supplies, providing logistic supports. Thankfully many organizations have partnered with the governments and health authorities with their CSR funds. The current crisis has brought to the fore the general responsibility of every individual and organization towards other human beings. May be it could translate into reexamining the human aspect of their product and service which ultimately impact human life. PR professionals shall have to play an active role in auditing every sphere of corporate activity whether it is their own internal human resources or external supply chains to humanize those operations with end consumer in mind, and not the profits. Of course, crisis communication plans and strategies need to be taken up more seriously.
7. PR as management function: Public Relations as a science and art of managing communication effectively encompasses every aspect of an organisation’s management. Sooner this is realized by the organizations as well as the public relations professionals the better to enhance the organizations’ ability to manage relations with every key stakeholder. Many CEOs consider PR as a subset of marketing, or look at integrating ‘PR’ for marketing or branding, and nothing beyond that. PR has remained equated largely with ‘press release’ distribution, than the actual impact on an organizational growth, productivity and profitability that it can harness through effective communication management. There is need for professional PR bodies to relook at the practical aspect of this management function, project the power of an effective communication can bring about.
8. Accreditation and PR Education: For long professional PR bodies have ignored this vital aspect of professional practice which can thrive and create a better understanding about its strategic advantage, through regulation and upgradation of university education system, and accreditation of professionals. There is no entry level gatekeeper in India to regulate education, skill training, capacity building of teachers, research, and accreditation process.