Has the pandemic changed client expectation from PR firms?

Ever since the entry of social media and digital, the relationship between the corporate communicator client and the PR firm has been changing. The pandemic has only fast tracked this evolution. 

Last November, at #RTSPECTRA, the online edition of Praxis, Madan Bahal, MD and co-founder Adfactors had commented on the issue of retainers and client briefs saying, Bahal elaborated, "A fixed retainer amount allowing scope creep does not leave much room to the PR firm for investments in learning and development, technology, digital tools and specialist resources, constraining the PR firm’s ability to serve its clients well. India is a market with unmatched complexity and diversity of media, stakeholders and risks. 

The Indian communications brief average of a $ 5,000 monthly retainer isn’t adequate to leverage the myriad opportunities or address the strategic challenges that most client organisations face. As clients, you are the larger partner in the relationship – your benign understanding and support will help the PR consulting business to deliver well on your challenges."

The changing expectations are not only between clients and their agencies, but also between corporate communication leads and the C-suite.

Client Side Expectations 

Reputation management has to show measurable revenue impact, says Chakraborty

Sukanya Chakraborty, global head, corporate communications and CSR, VFS Global, said, "Corporate communication professionals are now expected to be knowledgeable about the different aspects of the business beyond just the communication function."

Chakraborty adds, "Another layer of complexity to the role is the blurring lines between marketing and communication functions – for the communications function, this means an often more direct correlation between reputation management and revenues."

WFM brought in greater need for comms teams says Mohammad

Nawaz Mohammad, director, marketing and communications, Uniphore points out that during the pandemic, "The tonality, medium and frequency of communication underwent massive changes as greater empathy and collaboration came into play with WFH. The heightened need for team building alongside mental and physical wellness of employees, partners (Including vendors) took center stage and leaders and communications teams doubled down to bridge the physical divide."

Mohammad makes the expectations from PR firms clear saying, "The rapidly changing ecosystem (especially media) requires for both companies and their agencies to be agile in how they responded to scenarios while still meeting pre-Covid set targets and goals. 

 Chaittali Dave, manager (Mumbai), Nucleus PR, adds her view to this saying that, "Yes indeed digital & storytelling is the future. Also paid media is something that is being understood but at a slow pace, because clients still expect editorial over paid."

Crisis communication and the corporate communicator 

PR firms need to upskill rapidly says Patil

Sujit M Patil, vice president and head - corporate brand and communications,Godrej Industries Limited and associate companies, shares his take on how corporate communicators are being involved with crisis situations today.

He says, "With the rising cases of fake and paid news, the propensity of a brand to be exposed to a crisis has grown manifold. It’s incumbent on brands to not just communicate reality (facts) to press but to the public at large. Therefore, corporate communication teams are working even more closely with marketing, sales, legal, and operations team."

Spelling out what he expects from a PR firm, Patil says, "I would expect PR firms to step up to the role of a ‘counsel’, take holistic view of situations before suggesting strategy, and expand their skill set and quality of delivery. 

Currently, the industry is facing a tumultuous challenge of skilled resources. I would like PR firms to develop teams that have a strong on-ground understanding of integrated communication, research driven narratives, direct communication channels, Digital PR and other medium to reach the target audience on the right platform at the right time."

Chakraborty discusses the expectation further saying, "This is the time when client servicing teams can add value by conducting research, developing or refining pitches, exploring allied topics where company can be positioned through thought leadership articles, comments etc, brainstorm on integrated campaigns and engage in relationship build out-of-the-usual activities in the ecosystem.

In many cases due to budgetary constraints, it is important to find ways to keep sustenance outreach on by exploring new threads of conversations."

The PR firm view 

    Client wants real time PR actions says Mantri

    Nitin Mantri, group CEO, Avian WE and president, ICCO, says that," Companies today don’t just want to listen to their stakeholders’ concerns, but want to develop a deeper understanding of how their actions affect others in “real time,” not just retrospectively. 

    To this end, companies are increasingly expecting PR firms’ guidance and support in identifying the gaps between their intentions and actions. 

    We must, therefore, encourage our clients to embrace new levels of openness and humility, and be more willing to engage in difficult conversations and listen without defensiveness."

      Purpose communications is the future that is already here for clients, says Sandhir

      Building on this view, Vandana Sandhir, chief client officer, Genesis BCW shares that, "The leadership today expects the communications programme to connect better to the needs of their stakeholders in an honest and authentic manner. One significant change has been the importance of purpose-led communications for the C-suite as purpose has become critical for the success of the organisation, internally as well as externally. "

      Its always on self learning mode for PR folks says Ray Chaudhury

      Kiran Ray Chaudhury, co-founder, 80dB Communications concurs saying, "To counsel brands in what newer and relevant narratives should look like and to help build good communication habits that will serve well in war times.

      Client servicing will be even more demanding with PR professionals being required to wear multiple hats while being in self-learning mode at all times."

      On a sobering note, Dave also calls out another issue that is not discussed too much.

      Maintain work life balance in the client-agency relationship says Dave

      She says, "I feel clients should limit calls to working hours. Over the past year we have seen that the working hours have been extended as the lines between work and personal space have blurred. If clients are more mindful of this, it will lead to a better work life balance leading to more efficiency & creativity."

      She also says, "Due to pandemic the financial scenario has suffered a big jolt: but clients have to understand that clearing payments on time is also essential as they need to understand the needs of the other side as well."

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