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Revival & Survival: This is no longer about CSR, but sheer corporate citizenshipMay 26, 2020

Prepared or not, India has to gear up for an exit strategy for the lockdown period. It is definitely a changed world that India is entering now, and we will have to learn to live with the Coronavirus in our midst.

A lot has been written, debated and discussed over how much the economy and business operations have been hit. We, at Adgully, aim to look at the revival story. What does it take to jumpstart an economy? That is the great narrative that we are following up as part of our ‘Revival and Survival’ series.

Prema Sagar, Chairperson and Founder, BCW India Group, envisages the roadmap for the public relations and communications industry in the new reality of a COVID-19 disrupted world.

What does the new normal look like? How much has the COVID-19 crisis disrupted business operations?

With every passing week, the effect of the pandemic on businesses has been getting worse. Till the time there is a recovery in manufacturing and consumption and a return to regular operations, it is going to be trying times for the economy.

Fortunately, the public relations and communications industry has been able to quickly adapt to the changing realities and has managed to get employees to work from home and seamlessly serve its clients. However, the effect on other sectors has impacted our business too. On the one hand, there is an increased demand for services like crisis communications counsel, employee communications and executive communications, but on the other, some clients have had to pause or reduce their communications spends.

What should be the blueprint for a post-COVID-19 economy?

While I would not like to comment on the blueprint for the larger economy as I am not an expert, but from a communications industry perspective, I see clients going back to engaging with their stakeholders, whether it is consumers, employees, partners, the government or the community at large. This would require our industry to think of more creative models that will shape these engagements. I see investments in technology infrastructure, digital and reskilling of talent to be the key drivers for differentiating and growing in these times.

What are the 5 key measures needed to ensure a speedy business revival for the PR &Communications Industry?

I see the following areas where we need to focus:

  • People first: In a people-driven industry like ours, we have to focus on our people first. We have to consider how we can ensure the best outcomes for them – help them cope, grow or develop to take the lead in this turbulent phase. Reskilling talent is going to be a big priority to ensure they are better able to address the changed requirements of our clients.
  • Collaboration: The Public Relations Consultants Association of India (PRCAI) is taking the lead on this on one front and the Public Affairs Forum of India (PAFI) on the other. However, each of us has to consider how we can collaborate better as an industry so that we can give a stronger voice to our concerns.
  • Technology investments: As people increasingly work from home, we will need the support of technology to build creative engaging models.
  • Co-create solutions: We should look at working together with local, state and central governments as well as non-profits to help them with the much-needed citizen advocacy and community engagement programmes.
  • Multi-stakeholder approach: Given that we are the only marketing discipline that touches all the different stakeholders of a company – customers, media, government, employees, partners and others – we are best poised to support organisations through their reopening process. We must play on this strength.

How are you strategising for the remaining quarters of this Financial Year 2021?

For us, the focus will be to constantly adapt ourselves and help our clients adapt to the changed scenario and the resulting change in their stakeholders’ needs.

  • Focus on differentiated services: There is an increased need for differentiated services like crisis management, employee communications, trend-spotting, creative content, public affairs, advocacy, digital marketing, CSR communication and more. These will remain our focus.
  • Thinking creatively: We have seen that a lot of innovation has been crunched into a very short time and now the idea would be to make it effectively work for both clients and teams in their communications programmes.
  • Partnering clients for their changed needs: Our clients may have come to us with a specific mandate, but in this scenario, we have to be agile to the changes they may decide to make in their strategy. For instance, a retail client may have planned new store launches, but they have had to defer it. So, can we look at other ways to support them? Can we drive traffic to their website, for example? The idea is to support our clients with a problem-solving mindset. Most importantly, we are prepared to support them if any crisis breaks out.
  • Supporting our people There is no doubt that people everywhere are stressed given the uncertainty and disrupted ways of working, and our people are going through the same. We are constantly looking at ways in which we can help our people cope better with this personally as well as professionally.

How do you see businesses and the Government working together to undo the lockdown disruption and address the market uncertainties?

If ever there is a need for the Government and businesses to collaborate, this is it. It is critical for the government to provide focused support to the sectors that have been most severely affected by the lockdown and at the same time coming out with smart and practical advisories that facilitate smooth resumption of business operations. Businesses, on the other hand, can support the government and the communities by supplying critical goods and services to ease the pain of the people. This is no longer about corporate social responsibility, but sheer corporate citizenship. We have already seen many examples of organisations answering this call, but as we reopen for business and operations start again, we shouldn’t lose focus on this.

How do you visualise the economy and your sector a year later? How much would it have recovered by then?

Given the impact, I see a very gradual recovery. The recovery also depends on how and when we manage to curb the pandemic globally and in India. Having said that, I am a cautious optimist. Even if we haven’t recovered in a year, we would have certainly learned to adapt to the changed environment. Most of the public relations and communications sector, especially in India, is made up people with high levels of entrepreneurial agility and energy and I see them taking on a bigger role in supporting companies in their road to recovery.

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