With some counties and countries facing and dreaded “second wave” of coronavirus outbreaks, while some of us are still fighting the first one, it can feel like this pandemic will never end. But there will come a day when all of this is behind us, and we are marching forward into a world free from the oppressive grip of pandemic… but also a world that’s changed because of it.
Most experts agree that COVID-19 is here to stay on some level, but that doesn’t mean it will always be the same level of threat or at the forefront of every news cycle. All indications are that, at some point, it will meld into part of life for most people. That is likely not for some time yet, though, and it’s that uncertainty that has a lot of people questioning and rethinking their PR programs and plans for the new year.
The public relations industry as a whole has taken some hits due to layoffs, lost contracts, furloughs, and shifting dynamics in almost every avenue of communication between entities and audiences. While there is still a need for strong and effective PR – there’s a new crisis in the headlines every week and countless other stories that go unreported – that doesn’t mean post-covid PR will look the same as it did before the world heard the name COVID-19.
One of the primary dynamics reshaping the future of public relations is the number and the type of conversations that are happening, as well as the tools that are being used. People are interacting more and they are doing so in different ways. Tens of millions had never or rarely used virtual conferencing software before spring of 2020, and now many are using these communication tools very frequently.
There’s a more casual and consistent connection between many audiences and the brands that want them as fans, and that’s not the only proximity shift. Many PR professionals are connecting more with their clients, working through these “unprecedented times” with new and innovative ideas based on tried and true communication tactics. These dynamics are creating stronger connections between communicators and their clients, and these brands and their customers.
Meanwhile, the nature of much of this communication has shifted as well. When speaking to a nation in crisis, where stress and fear are hanging over hundreds of millions of people every day, a softer, more empathetic touch is necessary. The tone and nature of narratives shifted. Aside from the political, which continued to be mostly negative, many messages felt more positive, optimistic, and appreciative. People reached out more and asked for less.
There were, of course, difficult questions to answer, and some of these are still on the table in one form or another. Throughout this year, brands and communicators have had to determine how saturated their communication would be about COVID, a question that has required multiple resets and reassessments. How often they would talk about this “difficult time” and in what way they would address the massive elephant in the room. Now, those questions have shifted a bit to “when should we shift away from addressing or acknowledging the pandemic entirely?” For most, that’s a wide open question with no easy answers.