Tougher days ahead with Corona, engage with clients, and stay positive says Simulation's Shailesh Goyal

The Corona Virus outbreak has come as a huge blow to India, which is already reeling under a slowdown, with GDP growth rate falling to multiple-year lows. The stock markets are falling non-stop, and are down more than 35% from their highs in a matter of a few weeks. 

The GDP growth is expected to fall below 4% for the March quarter as industrial and business activity across sectors comes to a halt. Sectors such as civil aviation, tourism, hospitality, information technology and manufacturing, have seen demand fall sharply, and are expected to be the worst-hit.

Consumption is also expected to remain weak low in the first quarter of the coming financial year.

With businesses in a tailspin, the public relations industry has also been hit hard.  Press conferences and product launches are getting cancelled.  Work from home is the order of the day as we are under a 21 day lockdown. Things are likely to get worse in the coming weeks, and even most optimist projections say that this phase could last for several months. In short, the situation is bad. 

What are the options before PR firms and professionals in the current situation? What does one need to do to retain clients? How to justify the retainer fee? How to approach new clients? How to keep the meter running so to speak?

The first thing we all need to do as professionals and individuals is to have patience. Fretting over the situation, which frankly is beyond the control of each one of us, will not help in any manner. Any adversity also brings with it new opportunities. The key is to identify such opportunities, to assess them, strategize, and grab them with both hands.

A very critical fallout of the ongoing slowdown, or any slowdown for that matter, is that cash flow invariably comes to a halt. This is also the scenario at present with fee payments getting delayed (or denied in some cases) since clients are not in a position to pay and are holding back the cheques. In many cases, the delays are likely for genuine reasons, and the best way is by engaging with the client. Explain your point of view, but also make sure you understand his position and aim to reach a middle ground.

As an extension of the same, it also helps to sound out own associates or vendors about potential delays in processing payments from your side.

There are also very serious concerns about retaining clients given the prevailing economic uncertainty. Clients can get especially demanding during downturns, and it is not always easy to justify the retainer-ship fee. Some clients may suddenly start finding faults with your work. One option in such a case is to offer a top-up service to the client in addition to what is already being delivered in the course of regular servicing. 

For instance, if you are providing PR services to a client, you can offer to work on his social media presence also as an add-on without charging or just a little additional fee. However, make sure that the client understands and also agrees that the add-on service is only a temporary arrangement.

A downturn like the current one, when the work pressure is relatively less, is also the time to reach out to as many new people or clients as possible. This may not necessarily result in immediate business or financial gains, but the key is to be seen, to be visible. The legwork is done during such downturns and the effort to build newer relationships will yield dividends when the proverbial ‘achhe din’ are back.

The PR industry, and indeed the whole world, has seen much tougher challenges and crises in the past and has invariably come out stronger than ever before. I am confident that the Corona pandemic will be no different!