How the Indian PR business is dealing with the unprecedented Corona lockdown

Work in the time of Corona has deeply affected all communicators. PRmoment India is committed to continuing to bring you resources as well a record of how the PR business in India is navigating these tough times.

We speak to a range of communicators to find out how they are handling this crisis as well how are they managing to keep work going with work from home and social distancing.

Safety measures by communicators and their firms 

Nitin Mantri, Group CEO, Avian WE and president ICCO and PRCAI says, "Our top priority is reminding people to prioritize health and safety above all else. We are encouraging our members and clients to work remotely, postpone events, and minimise travel and people contact."

PRCAI has also approached the Ministry of Health to support them in raising awareness on the COVID 19 situation. 

Mantri adds, "We are communicating on a regular basis with our members and partners to let them know of any ongoing developments and what we are doing to handle Covid-19. Global tools from ICCO and training tools from PRCA are also available including a webinar on the current crisis. And, PRCAI has just kicked off a campaign encouraging people to work remotely and practice social distancing."

Bhavika Sharma, manager – corporate communication, JetSetGo Aviation Pvt. Ltd. says while at a personal level she is practising hand washing and social distancing, "At an organisational level, for curbing the spread of coronavirus, we are taking preventive measures for ensuring the well-being of our employees and the society at large. Well before the lockdown also as most of our staff are working at airports, we had internally circulated an advisory on measures like usage of masks inside the terminals, regular hand washing and sanitizing procedures for them to feel safe and responsible."

Many other firms acted early as well to start spreading the word about precautions.

Diana Monteiro, head- PR, Magma Fincorp shares, "We started communicating extensively using internal Communication tools like email, Whatsapp, SMS, office posters desktop and laptop wallpapers from 9th March onward itself."

Additionally, Monteiro says, "We formed an emergency response team that communicates through SPOCS to employees on precautions and measures to be taken in the offices as well as by the field officers who were out and about before the lockdown."     

For Swapan Dholakia, lead - communications & outreach,, "The biggest challenge currently is not being able to do media rounds or visit organisations. Of course, having strong media relations helps, but often nothing can replace a good old-fashioned media round."

Atree Kundu, assistant manager, PR, HCG hospitals shares her close brush with Corona, "So, I was in Varkala last week and recently there was a confirmed case of COVID 19 Italian citizen at Varkala who was in various tourist spots during the same dates as I was. The moment I informed my reporting boss about this, I put myself in self-quarantine. 

Kundu adds that tough as part of the healthcare sector its tough to work from home, "Right now, I am managing my work through WhatsApp and calls, meetings are scheduled over video conferencing and updates are shared real-time. Created a home office and constantly in touch with internal and external stakeholders. While I believe that working from home is a bit of a challenge considering that getting work done or executed face to face is comparatively faster and more efficient, it definitely is peaceful, disconnecting from the hustle-bustle around and concentrating on the jobs without too many distractions."

Work from home tips 

Pravin Shiriyannavar, COO, Integrated brand-comm says, "I believe this is a great opportunity to try and understand how our teams can function through remote working. While technology has tremendously transformed the way we interact and work, this provides us with a window of opportunity to experiment and understand the various nuances of working remotely. We, communication professionals, have to realise that these are the times when people are consuming more content from media more than ever. Statistics show that there is a spike in content consumption during budget, elections, natural calamities and smart brands have always responsibly woven creative ideas with news to stay relevant at all times."

Mantri says, "These are unusual times, and the PR industry and our clients and media understand that safety should be the top priority. And with technology on our side, most tasks/meetings can be done remotely. PR firms are using collaborative tools such as MS Teams, Zoom, and Skype for Business, to name a few, to ensure seamless remote work."

Mantri adds, "And because they are facing similar situations within their own work environments, clients are being incredibly supportive.  Consultancy-agency meetings have shifted online and media conversations to the phone. Events and press conferences have been postponed or are going digital. So while the environment is definitely challenging, disruption often leads to innovation, reinvention and even transformation. We are finding new ways for communications to continue to help drive understanding and create some positive actions in this crisis."

Anindita Gupta, co-founder, Scenic Communications has taken several measures for social distancing, "Everything is being done over the phone and or video calling platforms like Skype or Zoom. Thankfully clients and media both understand the seriousness of the situation. We have cancelled a number of client events and meets that was scheduled to happen. We are intentionally not putting events and outdoor activities in the monthly strategies and plans we are creating for our present and future clients."

Neha Misri, senior corporate communications professional says, " Without a doubt, I am taking all precautionary measures and sanitizing my hands every 20 mins. Alongside working from home, there are multiple things and activities that a person can indulge in. As we all have time, I will encourage more number of people to offer help and be a responsible citizen towards the senior people. The apartment that I reside at has a lot of senior citizens that stay away from their children. The people are aged above 60 and their children reside in the US and other countries. There are a lot of senior citizens who have quarantined themselves at home and are scared to cope with the ongoing Coronavirus issue. Since a week, I am trying to help them with grocery and medical supplies at my society."

Impact on work

That the PR business will be impacted is not in doubt.

Mantri, however, clarified that It’s difficult to predict at this stage the extent COVID 19 will impact the PR industry, adding that, "We are bracing ourselves for a challenging year. We expect that some areas of business will ramp up, as we help our client partners navigate this situation, while others will scale back. At the core, our role will be to guide brands in how they can help communities in crisis."

Monteiro is candid about saying that, "Businesses will be impacted since the demand for non-essentials will fall, at least temporarily. It all depends on how soon governments across the world manage to contain the virus. It’s a global pandemic and at this point assessing the impact isn’t really possible for any industry. Keeping the line of communication open is important in such times and the role of PR needs to be stepped up in organizations to spread awareness and ensure preventive measures are being taken. Investment in human capital to protect and prevent the spread of the virus will yield returns in the long run."

Shririyannavar also sounds a strong note of caution saying, "Coming to the point where it hurts the most, if the situation does not come under control soon, a lot of decisions like the launch of new products, market expansion plans might get deferred and this we see hurting our new business."

Nikky Gupta, co-founder and director, Teamwork Communications says candidly, "Well, there are bound to be some impact on all businesses since a lot of activities have been put off or delayed. However, this will be momentary. If the outbreak is controlled within 3-4 months and cases start going down, business recovery will be quick. In the immediate term the manufacturing sector, e-commerce sector, hospitality and travel sector will be significantly hit."

She adds, "As far as the PR and communication sectors are concerned, I don’t see any major dip in the short term. Most businesses and large corporates are continuing their communication and business plans. They may put off investing in advertisements for a while but they are not holding their PR strategies since the latter is a relatively low-cost investment. In fact, the COVID 19 outbreak has created a space for new health communication strategies as a number of healthcare organizations are working to create awareness about the situation and conduct advocacy. So, we don’t fear a major business slowdown. There might be a slight dip from smaller clients or projects might be put on hold but it is bound to be only a momentary dip. While we are not worried about dipping of business prospects at the moment, if this outbreak continues beyond 6 months, then it will be a matter of concern for PR industry."

Suraj Singh Jhala, co-founder, Karma PR & Content's team of 7 is also working from home, "We make sure we adhere to general hygiene by washing our hands, sanitizing our devices. We are not doing client meetings, and restricting to video calls and emails only."

Neha Khilnani, CEO & media specialist, Connekting Dots PR & Brand Communications says, "First, the biggest challenge we are facing is that our clients are in panic mode due to the sudden shift in business."

Khilnani shares that another problem is that "We are running behind schedule. We strategies and plan in advance to meet brand & coverage targets, so the fight now lies in working from home, lesser work in the basket. Across age and salary groups, workers want meaningful work badly enough that is more important. Controlled hiring, meeting basic necessities only, hold on increments for some time is definitely the way to go about till things settle in."

Gupta opines that "The period of Feb-March is always slow for us because that is the time the financial year ends and from April the business picks up since new marketing budgets are allocated for the next financial year. Now looking at April it seems very difficult that the business will grow. On the other hand, there is a looming fear of losing business because for most companies marketing budget is the one that is tightened first and foremost. If situations don’t improve and things continue to be like this then at least the 1st quarter will be badly affected."

 Dholakia predicts that there will be, "A minor impact on growth. However, our core market is startups & SMEs and they tend to very aggressive in continuing business activities. Moreover, the very nature of our business is online and hence the impact of social distancing is greatly negated by this."

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