Post-lockdown: Public relations, events sector eye digital promotions, new models
The public relations and events industry is one of many that's been badly hit by the pandemic. Even before lockdowns began, events had to be cancelled and suspended. Most, if not all events, are still suspended.
Rappler interviewed three of the country’s top public relations and events firms via email on what lies ahead for the industry post-pandemic.
Adjustment in crisis
“The first quarter of 2020 started optimistically for our PR firm but a lot of projects were put on hold with the lockdown announcement last March 15,” Peachy Vibal-Guioguio, president of media.Xchange PR Inc, said.
Susan Joven, president of Vision and Expressions PR, said that like other sectors, they had to adjust since the pandemic stalled businesses.“Although not the best scenario to be in, we carry on with our tasks fully understanding that we are all trying to survive this crisis, while doing our best to fulfil work obligations.”
“Of course this affects our enterprise. We are just one of the many industries severely affected by this pandemic, not just locally, but globally. We just have to adjust and adapt,” she said.
Shifting to the new “normal”
With Metro Manila's shift to general community quarantine (GCQ) in June, offices have been busy drafting and revising its rules.
Bobby Vito, Managing Director of Ripple8, said that safety remains their top priority once work normalizes. He and his staff have been communicating regularly on the rules they will implement in the company, including how they'll work from home.
“In preparation for this, we have communicated both internally and externally that Work From Home will continue to be our preferred work arrangement, to ensure the safety of the employees,” he said.
Guioguio said it will take time before people will work in the office.
“Very tough times are ahead of us and I don’t see us coming back to our office until we could be assured of everyone’s safety and cooperation,” she said.
“We will have to reconfigure the work processes to maintain social distancing and other safety measures like wearing masks, frequent hand washing, and thorough office space disinfecting. Our essential concern is safety first as we move towards a new phase of our collective response to the pandemic.”
Joven said Visions has already made their own guidelines in compliance with both the Department of Labor and Employment and local government's rules. The guidelines will have to be be updated as time progresses.
All three executives admitted that the pandemic has challenged their companies logistically, creatively, and technologically.
“Logistics was a challenge, especially for our industry, affecting the movement not just of most employees but even delivery capabilities for our media,” Vito said. “We were forced to rapidly adapt until we were able to partner with reliable suppliers. With many brands pausing their marketing efforts due to lockdown, our agency was also forced to rise to the challenge of finding campaigns that inspire and empower consumers, amid the ‘stay at home’ campaign of the WHO.”
Joven said: “We are dependent on our clients. Across the board, all industries and companies took a severe hit. But foremost in our minds is the life and livelihood of our employees.”
Guioguio said that there were many instances her team also had to deal with unpredictable internet connectivity, personal problems, family issues, and their safety, but she is grateful they are still able to deliver the job.
“I appreciate the dedication of my team to pull together despite such difficulties but also understand that one’s physical, mental, and emotional health should come first.”
“Silver lining” in the time of pandemic
While the crisis has dampened the forecast of many industries, it also brought out a “silver lining”: creativity. Guioguio said that communication has been vital for them in these challenging times.
“Communications have proven essential in time of COVID-19. How people respond to the virus have been, in large part, because of how clearly and effectively the repercussions of being sick and guidelines they needed to do to avoid this scenario was communicated. We have offered a pro-bono crisis communications consultation for small businesses to help them reach out to their customers and people better, especially in these trying times. This exchange has widened our perspective on the new world we are about to enter post-COVID.”
Joven meanwhile said that they have seen a shift on consumer’s behavior and psychology.
“There is so much more emphasis on health and well-being, technology and convenience, and community solidarity. We will just have to learn to navigate this new normal.”
Vito said that the crisis has given companies the opportunity to go back to the drawing board and rethink their plans.
Since events, naturally, mean crowds, there won't be in the pipeline any time soon. That's why the PR and events sector has shifted to online promotions, said Guioguio.“Crisis is an opportunity for companies to revisit, reinforce or rethink their core purpose and values for their stakeholders and customers. The narrative is now how they can collaboratively make a difference in and for the communities they serve.”
“We’ve moved our events online and plan to continue doing so even after the lockdown is lifted, until such time we can guarantee everyone’s safety. COVID-19 has pushed everyone to shift to a digital frontier, and luckily there are abundant tools around that will help others ease into this transition.”
Joven said that they “will have to develop a new model in promoting our clients,” because of the situation.
Vito pointed out that many companies will bank on video conference apps and social media for promotions. But knowing the creativity of the Filipino, there will be ways, he said.
“I’d like to believe in the innovative spirit of the Filipino – whether it means wearing fashionable face masks, face shields and other PPEs or using glow-in-the-dark floor markers for proper physical distancing, we will find ways to do events safely.”
Technology and the future
As the PR industry tries to bounce back from the crisis, they have not forgotten the core of their work: building relationships.
Joven said that when it comes to helping in promoting their client’s brands, technology will play a vital role.
“At the core of our business is relationship management. We can connect with people in a multitude of ways. Thankfully, technology has made that possible.”
Guioguio said that promotions will have to have a different approach given the crisis.
“We don’t recommend a business as usual approach unless the product or service the brand is offering can improve people’s lives in this crisis."
“We carefully calibrate how the brand could maintain a level of activity to keep them in the public mind until the supposed return to normalcy takes effect later. It requires ingenuity and consciously thought-out messaging to connect with one’s target publics in these trying times.”
Influencers who were active during the crisis will play a big role to play in promotions, according to Vito.
“We’re seeing a big opportunity to engage influencers who were able to make themselves relevant and relatable despite the challenges in content creation brought about by the lockdown. We’re looking at the rise of organic and spontaneous content via YouTube or TikTok, as well as stories that are authentic, and purpose and convenience-driven.”
All three agreed that the next few months will be crucial for all industries.
“Admittedly, businesses are bleeding. It will be tough and painful. But we remain optimistic. I think the most important thing right now is to just be flexible, persevering, and creative,” Joven said.
“We have to accept that we cannot suppress this virus, with an effective vaccine not coming out for maybe another year,” Guioguio said. “But this does not mean will become willing to sacrifice our livelihoods. We have to reject the false choice between public health and the economy and unleash personal productive capacities from all corners of society to move towards a future way better than what the world was before COVID — one that is more secure, more inclusive, and more responsive to the needs of vulnerable Filipinos.”
Retrenchment, weather, and survival will also be factors to consider, Vito said.
“From now until July, the country will not only transition from ECQ to GCQ and MECQ but also from summer to the rainy season, which brings other concerns such as typhoons, floods, and other illnesses. We are most definitely not out of the woods yet. This is also when we will be seeing how businesses and organizations will adapt to the now normal.”
“Work from home is now normal. Face mask fashion is now normal. Sadly retrenchment and furloughing are also now normal. Helping businesses not just survive but thrive, through new ways of working, communicating effectively to its employees, communicating what it stands for to its customers, this is where public relations finds a renewed purpose.” – Rappler.com