By PANKAJ TIWARI
As the impact of coronavirus cuts across nations there is unthinkable disruption in society and business.
The sectors most impacted by the outbreak are service industries that rely on traditional retailing for the bulk of their sales as public health officials warn against in-person interactions. So are industries that revolve around large gatherings.
The Media and Communications industry is not untouched by the impact of coronavirus. It is posing significant challenges for traditional media and is stoking a long-term upward shift in the integration of digital technologies into everyday lives.
Coronavirus is boosting almost anything that can be done online or with minimal human contact — grocery deliveries, online learning, takeout food, streaming video, etc.
Confined to their homes, Indians, both, young and old are now spending more time on their smart phones. This is boosting consumption of digital media and has prompted media houses to look at monetisation of their digital content and cut dependence on traditional media for revenue.
This pandemic is pushing broad societal shifts with industry-wide disruption thereby unfolding a new normal for economic change. Measures we are taking to save ourselves could permanently change the ways in which we live, work, worship and play in the future.
During these times, businesses are scrambling to deal with a wide variety of problems, from slumping sales and stalling supply chains to keeping employees healthy and making sure they can continue working.
There is fundamental change in the way many organisations operate with shift away from static organisational structures toward dynamic team forms.
Organisations are embracing several changes in the short term to navigate this uncertain and fast-changing situation. This includes dramatically reduced travel, more work-from-home opportunities for white-collar workers, and changes in business operations to reduce human contact and to improve workplace hygiene.
Technology has opened new windows of opportunities for businesses as we fight this global pandemic. Social media apps which were looked upon as a mere source of entertainment have become the primary mode of communication. It is now being used extensively for sharing news and has proven to be an important tool even for governments that want to reach out to people. News apps have also witnessed 8% more users with average time spent on such apps growing to 32 minutes. This is prompting media houses to reach out to customers through multiple mediums and popularise these among readers.
Organisations are now embracing technology much more effectively to operate remotely and conduct businesses. This is leading to fewer face-to-face meetings and is impacting productivity in a big way.
This trend is visible in the media and PR industry as well. Both media and PR fraternity are embracing video call, podcast interviews, virtual meetings, webinars to minimise disruption of work and cut unnecessary travel to save time.
In this difficult, fast-paced, and constantly evolving situation, consumers want brands to step up and protect their employees, work with governments, and direct their enormous resources to help solve problems during this crisis. The way brands deal with the crisis now may influence consumers in the future, and the penalty for companies that put profit ahead of people is severe. This makes it imperative for businesses to constantly revisit and adapt their PR and Marketing Strategy to communicate effectively with consumers and stakeholders during and aftermath of Covid 19.
This is the time for organisations to connect authentically with consumers to build long term equity. They must communicate with emotion, compassion, and share facts in a timely manner to show the intent to genuinely help customers. This is important as people are reassured by positive brand actions and commitments.
Brands and companies must respond to the pandemic more quickly and more effectively than government as there is the general belief that business is more competent than government when it comes to solving problems. Also, brands must associate with a matching social cause during these times as consumers trust brands that take a stance on social issues.
It is important for organisations to shift focus from the external to mostly internal as employees are the best brand ambassadors in present times. Organisations must serve as a frequent and reliable source of information for its employees and communications should be more personal, factual, frequent, emotional, and empathetic.
Organisations are expected to provide accurate information during this difficult time. Towards this, social media is the most effective tool to share latest and reliable information and that keeps brands at the top of the mind, but also speaks to the needs of your audience.
Last, but not least, organisations should avoid doing things which might be construed as taking advantage of the crisis. Towards this, they should promote their brand while still showing respect for the current situation.
In the post-pandemic world, technology will be as ubiquitous as it is now, if not more, and many unfamiliar business practices, such as remote work, virtual meetings and the online medical visits of telehealth which were slow to win widespread adoption because of behavioral inertia could witness speed in adoption.
I believe some of the interesting changes, be it change in purchase and consumption habits or the way business functions on a day-to-day basis will play out and even accelerate after this public health emergency is behind us. This should help businesses including media and communication firms move faster, act in more agile ways, as a result.
The evolving situation presents new challenges for industries across sectors with regards to maintaining productivity, easing anxiety, and effectively collaborating with both colleagues and external stakeholders. This will require organisations to quickly implement current best practices and even develop new ones.
The impact of Covid 19 crisis on the economy and business cycle is of course unclear and uncertain. Businesses need to plan their marketing and communication strategy after taking into consideration many different scenarios in times like these and those who can adapt fast, take advantage to span the gap and build long-term growth will win.
Indian entrepreneurs and professionals are extremely competent, hardworking and have shown a great degree of resilience in navigating through challenging times. They have the perseverance, adaptability and survival skills to negotiate tough, unforgiving, changing situations or push through when nothing seems to be working.
Communications is a central part of an organisation’s response to COVID-19. I am convinced that PR industry will rise to the occasion and play a key role in devising and implementing right business and communication strategy for organisations to help them emerge from this crisis stronger, more resilient, and better than they were before.
Stay healthy and safe.
(Pankaj Tiwari is National Representative, Public Relations Council of India (PRCI), Dehradun Chapter)