Longread: The 2020 Godrej PRmoment Adfactors 3030 winners reflect on PR post COVID

This has been an unprecedented year, that goes without saying but how has this pandemic impacted some of our Godrej PRmoment Adfactors 3030 winners for 2020, the first class of 3030 to face the pandemic.

For Aashna Khurana, marketing communications specialist APAC, Barco Electronic Systems Pvt Ltd, "The pandemic made technology PR even more relevant as we had to devise innovative and creative routes of customer outreach during social distancing and lockdown. 

COVID-19 has reiterated my belief in how indispensable PR and corporate communications is to technology companies and I have learnt that reinvention and resilience is the key to maintaining productivity, even during tough situations."

Bhumika Gupta, Communications and Marketing Specialist, Boston Consulting Group says, "It’s safe to say that all eyes and ears are on communications during the COVID-19 Crisis. COVID-19’s scale and speed lead to a lot of emotional disruptions and uncertainties. An important thing that emerged out of this pandemic is that, how an organization communicates during these times can give clarity, build resilience and catalyse positive change. 

As someone who has been part of this industry, I always tell my stakeholders that you need to communicate early and regularly with your key constituencies throughout a crisis – and that is what I did as a communicator." 

Srabani Sen, who handles corporate communications for India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka for Xiaomi India TEchnology Pvt Ltd says, "This pandemic has shown the true potential of pure communications to create awareness and transparency, encourage content creation and bolster creativity across industries. Content is king now more than ever and the possibility to engage with users has increased multifold. With transition to smartphones and technology for day to day activities, increase in digitalisation has paved way for brands to explore and engage with larger audiences.

PR and communications has also witnessed a new wave of need for reputation management during the pandemic. With a spurt in media consumption and accessibility of platforms to share voice with millions, numerous instances have made brands feel the need for PR and communications as a corporate necessity and an asset to survive in the highly competitive markets."

PR as an intelligence hub for brands

Kshitiz Ahuja, account director, Archetype is impatient with the perception that even before the pandemic PR is "seen as one of the most disposable functions for a brand."

Kshitiz says, "Therefore, as we emerge out of this slowdown, we all need to bolster our role. Just PR is not good enough, we have to be an intelligence hub for the brands. Trends, reports, integrated approach to comms are all the things that will matter the most. Additionally, I feel working from home and virtual interventions will have to lie at the core of our revenue and operational efficiencies now more than ever."

He adds, "One thing that is going to prove the most detrimental to our growth is being stale.

It is time for new skill-sets, ideas and approach to sell, upsell and resell ourselves.

Dhun Chhokar, visual storyteller, ON PURPOSE is already proud of her colleagues in PR saying, "The one thing I've learnt about PR during COVID is their potential to hustle. With the world standing at a standstill, the PR community refused to slow-down, instead became more creative. We created new and innovative ways to service our clients."

Ask the right questions, be open

Monica Mantri, operations head, Ideosphere, believes that, "Having open conversations across levels has helped people and brands maintain their relationships – case in point, the simple yet effective letter that was released by the Airbnb co-founder during layoffs and by the Corona beer founder, rubbishing the rumours, but being so empathetic towards the outbreak of the virus.

We always knew communications are an amalgamation of art and science. 

We were always taught to keep client business as the North Star, but this time has taught us that journey is equally important.”

Trust in people not plans 

Manasi Sakpal, PR Manager – India and UAE, Gartner, agrees saying “Listen more, speak less has been one of the most important learning in the last six months of the pandemic. To take a step back and reassess how your stakeholders’ needs are changing has been indispensable to running a successful communication plan during COVID. Resource crunch, media contraction and major shifts in news consumption patterns tossed the communication plans made at the beginning of the year, out of our windows. As we all gear up for the new normal, the biggest lesson has been that we need to rely more on people than plans. Trust in yourself and the team to rise to the occasion, focus more on owned resources such as blogs, podcasts, newsletters, social media and in the end, tie everything back to the business goals of the organization.”

Use technology in your PR work

Priyanka Sharma, manager- client servicing, strategy and media relations, Value 360 Communications says, "Since the outbreak, the marketing industry has experienced many different pains- shrinking business, budget cuts- but at the same time, new business opportunities and growth also exist. This was the time when companies prioritized communications over marketing.

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 are using collaborative tools such as MS Teams, Zoom, and Skype for Business, to name a few, to ensure seamless remote work."

Optimistic about the post COVID world? What is the new normal?

Sweta Mohanty, senior account executive, Adfactors PR,  says, "I strongly feel that the future is exciting and looks more optimistic. As an industry, we have realized that – 1) To establish credibility, communication is going to be even more important in tomorrow’s world, 2) More companies will want communication for their brands in the future, 3) High quality client servicing can be done from any location, and, 4) Digital practices are here to stay and will be more in demand going forward."

Sweta also asks, "The main questions for the post COVID world are – What will be the new normal? How many of the current practices may stay? Will companies really let employees continue WFH? Will print media still be as important in communications? Will PR get a more regular seat at boardroom discussions? We must think about this!"

Changing Media Universe 

Priyam Divgi, lead - corporate communications marketing department, Wakefit Innovations Private Limited says, “In essence, the definition of media, and by extension media relations and brand reputation, has undergone a sea change and brands need to adapt quickly. 

The real estate of print media is diminishing, due to a reduction in print space, ad spends and demand for physical newspapers. 

As we see a consolidation in the media space, it is important to realize the prominent influencers that affect your brand’s reputation will continue to stay relevant. These influencers will now include journalists with sector expertise, writers with social media clout, webinar and podcast hosts, industry experts, founder peers etc. At Wakefit.co, we understand that these times require creative thinking in the way we engage with PR influencers. From organizing tweet chats with other home solutions brands, to exploring webinars and podcasts, our strategy is to create and share great content that adds value to our target audience.”

Vinnie Jain, marketing specialist, Spectrum Health Care, points out that, "While the print industry took a major hit during COVID-19 and digital media was more accessible than ever to the users, credibility of the news in traditional media has increased in comparison to digital media. The crisis has made us realize the importance of understanding the relevant news and not be swayed by the fake news. Companies that were already excelling in the field of CSR had an opportunity to highlight their work and were easily able to adapt in such situations. However, it was a challenge for the organizations that had just begun their journey in contributing funds and resources to those in need during the crisis."

Vinnie adds, "The focus will continue to shift towards formulating socially inclined campaigns for the welfare of the society as a whole, and the key will lie in credibility of the stories being told to the audience."

PR as an essential business function 

Jhanvi Thakkar, PR Consultant, Amazon India says, “The unprecedented Covid-19 crisis has been a litmus test for public relations. Although PR and communication has always been a core strategic function, these circumstances have cemented the need for PR as an essential business function. The real challenge is building an image of positivity, vulnerability and relatability. Our unique ability to assess the public sentiment and ideate at an accelerated pace makes us well-suited to navigate the current scenario tactfully and succinctly.” 

Steffi Babu, senior account executive, Ruder Finn India, “Public relations is evolving and in current times is at a transformative stage. The brand communication model is being reimagined to adopt to an integrated approach across all their communication channels, to converse with the audience today. This will continue to grow post pandemic through timely collaboration between teams.

Public relations is going to be even more important for brands to drive a focused and integrated narrative through innovative communication models to reach the audience who are increasingly consuming news digitally. Resources invested here will be critical to drive strategic brand communication post Covid-19.”

Avoid cause wash, use data for PR 

Supreeth Sudhakaran, assistant manager, corporate brand and communications, Godrej Group warns communicators not to fall into the trap of cause wash, "During this period the sensitivity threshold of people fell considerably. Any form of opportunistic PR or cause-washing inflicted more damage than ever before. A tight-control on the marketing budgets pivoted reliance towards earned PR, which helped the communication team to re-draw a list of ‘what matters’."

Supreeth further explains that, "As the crisis or risk propensity of brands worsened during this period, data-driven decisions become crucial over knee-jerk reactions. With petering trust due to fake and paid news, brands realised the importance of real-time, bi-directional communication channels. Thus, in communication strategy, a brand’s higher purpose overtook its transactional purpose. Owned media platforms and research driven narratives helped us to build authentic brand connect with our core target group.

One thing we discussed the most during our strategy meetings was to keep customer experience and brand ethos at the core of the idea. Thus, owned media platforms created Relevance among our target consumers, drove Engagement using interesting Content which eventually led to Community-building through Experience – we call it the RECCE approach."

Gurudutt Biswal, associate account manager, 80 dB Communications says, "We live during the most unpredictable times in human history and the pandemic is here to stay. As a PR professional, I have come to realise that we need to take a step back and filter every form of brand communication through the lens of sensitivity. As an industry, our approach to communication needs to ensure that we undertake more purpose-driven campaigns.

In terms of work, it’s important to compartmentalise and set realistic expectations for yourself and clients. It’s equally important to take a break at times even if you are chasing a deadline."

Anindita Banerjee,  account manager, Ruder Finn India, In unprecedented times such as these, one of the things that stood out drastically was coming together of people and teams to service clients in a way that was closest to what they had known in pre-Covid times. Everyone from the communications industry has stepped up their game to develop creative pivots for clients. As restrictions were imposed, offline events took a major hit, as a result online communication increased. 

The current scenario demands pace and our ability to ideate on-the-fly puts us in a unique position to cater to the demands of brands today. The most important lesson from the pandemic is to keep all channels of communications open and react promptly. When businesses around the world are facing challenges, it’s PR’s moment to maintain a sense of calm, ensure business continuity and shine.”

Turning Digital 

Mehak Arora, account director, Ruder Finn India, explains her organisation's response to COVID-19, "We did not really opt for the ‘Wait and Watch’ approach but instead came together to figure creative ways and solutions that could best work for brands across the board. This for us meant going beyond the traditional route while ensuring we had a strong digital first approach to ensure communications remained relevant for our brands. 

Moving forward, we will have to ensure brand resonance in form of creating crisis plans real time, using owned social media platforms presence more than ever, alter brand messaging and communication tailored to factors such as health, safety etc. All in all, we will need to ensure we focus on innovative and creative ideas to help business continuity and generate public awareness.”

    It's the purpose that matter!

    Avijit Sahay, account manager, Avian WE shares his point of view on the big change in PR, "The unprecedented situation has accelerated integration of traditional and new forms of communication for brands. Going forward, corporate comms and PR teams will be urged to build stronger purpose driven narratives linking back to driving human impact through business. Moreover, the transition to digital mediums will bring opportunities for PR firms to build engaging campaigns using a mix of paid and owned channels on social media and also through affiliate marketing tools apart from just depending on traditional means of media outreach." 

    Oeindrila Biswas, account manager, Avian WE opines that, "With the Center and state Governments trying to create the right balance in managing the health and economic scenario of the nation, we can expect the economy to move forward steadily again. Simultaneously, consumers have started finding reasons to experience ‘unlock’ while keeping personal safety in mind.

    These changes have brought about hope for the PR industry in contrast to the beginning of the lockdown, during which time most brands adopted a ‘wait and watch’ approach for their communication strategies. Product launches and campaign structuring have started in full gusto and with such steady progress, communications strategies have become indispensable yet again. As an industry, we need to think quick on our feet and come up with solutions for brands to build a strong connect with their consumers even through these tumultuous times and continue to narrate the brand purpose through strong storytelling."

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