Public Relations

State of PR Around the Globe

By Sandra Fathi | On April 3, 2020

The With Global Alliance is an international network of agencies specializing in tech PR and marketing. The Coronavirus pandemic is affecting agencies around the world in a variety of ways. Each country and region is at different points in the lifecycle of the virus and its economic impact.

Founding members of the Alliance share their views on how COVID-19 is currently affecting their business, their clients and the markets they serve. These insights can give us a window into our future by understanding the evolution of this disease as it travels around the world.

How is the business climate in your region right now?

Nearly two months of nationwide quarantine required most businesses and operations to shut down, especially in the service industry. Workers were trapped in their homes and villages and factories could not operate which severely impacted the supply chain. The overall price of this anti-virus war is huge and many SMBs faced big challenges in order to hang on. Fortunately, as the virus situation started to come under control and decreases in cases occurred in more regions, the service industry and other companies have started getting back to work. People are even expecting a rebound in consumption, manufacturing, and the finance sector.

Where do you feel your country/region is in the Coronavirus cycle? Early/Mid/Late Stage? How Long do you think it will last?

Late stage. The experts said it’s expected to be over around April if no more disruptive episodes occur.

How have your clients reacted to this crisis? Have they paused activity/reduced budgets/invested in online activities etc.?

Yes, many planned projects and programs for clients have been affected and basically all the offline activities, such as trades shows and exhibitions were postponed or cancelled. Companies and brands are now transferring those programs online by leveraging innovative formats and approaches such as livestreaming new product launches and customer workshops/seminars. Clients have not reduced or increased their overall budgets but rather reallocated them to online activities.

What is your agency doing right now internally (with team members) and externally (with clients/prospects) to ensure business continuity?

We are working closely with clients for their online activities and planning. Clients are proactively trying to leverage online broadcasting for product launches, press conferences, seminars, ceremonies, etc. Since a lot of work will be postponed, we are now encouraging the team to do more housekeeping work such as editing credentials, developing new digital PR tools, and trialing new approaches for online activities.

How is the business climate in your region right now?

India is in the early stage of the pandemic, as the numbers depicted are increasing at a dynamic level. The panic in the country and the volatile market has led to a lot of businesses anticipating a situation of concern and ambiguity. Presently, businesses are aiming at streamlining the sudden state and central government order to work from home which has been the most challenging from an infrastructure and planning perspective.

Where do you feel your country/region is in the Coronavirus cycle? Early/Mid/Late Stage? How long do you think it will last?

Early Stage. It is not something we can predict in terms of the longevity. Currently we are quarantined and will be following public curfews mandated by the government.

How have your clients reacted to this crisis? Have they paused activity/reduced budgets/invested in online activities etc.?

It is too early to state the condition as we are still in a stage of identifying its long-term impact, but I must say the government is taking all necessary steps to keep the people informed and an environment of control over complete chaos. Clients so far are being understanding and patient, and we also have been agile in terms of approach over defined scope of work. As partners, we are working towards a value-add approach to ensure the sentiment is positive.

How do you think this crisis will impact the communications industry in the long term in your region?

The service industry always gets hit first when there is a business crisis and the environment of uncertainty is having a negative impact. On the positive side, I believe this crisis will drive a push for innovation and disruption as people will have the time to think, plan and prepare for recovery. This will help us realize areas of priority.

How is the business climate in your region right now?

Asia Pacific has had a mixed rate of exposure to Coronavirus. Some markets, such as Singapore, are in a state of improvement with others, such as Australia, rapidly implementing lockdown regulations to contain the spread further. Asia Pacific is an incredibly complex and interconnected region and so regardless of some markets improving over others, there is an overall impact that will likely be felt for many months to come.

Where do you feel your country/region is in the Coronavirus cycle? Early/Mid/Late Stage? How Long do you think it will last?

Given the rapid spread, it’s impossible to accurately forecast the duration of COVID-19 however, at this time it does feel that Singapore is in remission for now. Singapore was an early victim of the Coronavirus but was able to manage the spread quite well due to a successful public information campaign, robust quarantine measures for exposed groups, and the fact that it’s a small island state, with one airport, one ferry terminal and one bridge connecting it to continental Asia. Many other markets in Southeast Asia are still in the midst of the spread and most have implemented border lockdowns which will likely impact business growth.

How have your clients reacted to this crisis? Have they paused activity/reduced budgets/invested in online activities etc.?

It’s a real mix. We’ve some clients whose businesses have been devastated by the impact of COVID-19. For them, it’s about managing overheads and innovating, fast, creating new products or services that cater to the new business environment. This could mean taking offline initiatives online, changing strategies entirely, or moving away from shrinking sectors like travel and into growing ones like entertainment or fast-moving consumer goods. We’ve also had some clients in the gaming and e-sports sector for instance who are experiencing tremendous growth as consumers spend more time indoors on video games and brands adjust their budgets accordingly. In both cases our strategy is to move fast and tactically to help clients seize upon the opportunity.

What is your agency doing right now internally (with team members) and externally (with clients/prospects) to ensure business continuity?

Internally we’ve implemented a work from home policy and helped the team to adopt a remote working routine using tools and structure to ensure we don’t feel siloed. We have a company check-in at the start and end of each day and use tools like Slack, Zoom and Trello to maintain everyone’s visibility on progress. For us the emphasis with remote working has to be on over-communicating and that’s been quite effective to keep energy and output high. With our clients, its crucial we have empathy to understand the challenging situation many of our clients are in and helping them navigate the pandemic. We’ve moved beyond rigid scopes of work to ensure we’re looking holistically at how we can truly support clients, not just in a communications capacity but in a business consultative one also. Challenging periods can often lead to a myopic outlook on short-term business so we’re encouraging clients to look beyond the immediate weeks ahead and ensure any strategy has their long-term brand in mind. When COVID-19 abates, its critical businesses don’t lose sight on their long-term brand purpose.

How is the business climate in your region right now?
Uncertain is probably the best word. The best indicator of this being recent stock price volatility. However, the most recent ad spend predictions were only downgraded by 0.4%. The daily twists and turns of the Coronavirus situation mean it is changing rapidly.

Where do you feel your country/region is in the Coronavirus cycle? Early/Mid/Late Stage? How Long do you think it will last?

The UK is mid stage, but Europe as a whole is a far more mixed view with some tragic statistics coming out of Italy and Spain. We are about a fortnight behind Italy and a month or so behind China and the East.

How have your clients reacted to this crisis? Have they paused activity/reduced budgets/invested in online activities etc.?

As humans, our clients are shocked and saddened first and foremost. However overall, businesses in the tech space are typically agile and resilient. They are aiming for “business-as-usual” as far as possible and so looking to us for ways to bring physical marketing events (from roundtables to breakfast panels and conferences) online, which we are doing already. We are helping them unlock social media campaigns both for external and internal communications and increasing the amount of video and visual communications we are undertaking. We are also discussing account-based marketing approaches and helping generate ideas for tailored approaches for key accounts.

What is your agency doing right now internally (with team members) and externally (with clients/prospects) to ensure business continuity?

With the team, it is about keeping contact regular, helpful, positive and fun. We still all get together (virtually) to read the papers with our coffee in the morning and now share a #mugshot photo of a team member’s favorite coffee mug. We started ‘With Cribs’ – a virtual tour of colleagues’ homes, and we are sharing photos from the home desks we have all set up. Getting people involved in making team memes really helps keep that sense of camaraderie. We check-in in the mornings and check-out in the evenings, so we have a chance to pat each other on the back for a day well done; something that can get lost otherwise.

With clients, we are making sure that every single one of them knows we are here for them, as a sounding board, as a partner in their business or as a communications advisor, and are checking in regularly. We have done or are doing audits with all of them to review any work that needs adapting and are changing content themes to ensure they remain appropriate and topical. We are helping in both consultative and practical ways, whether clients face challenges or need to move fast to capitalize on unexpected opportunities.

What is the most valuable thing we can do for our clients to support them at this time?
Be human, be adaptable, don’t overwhelm, make things as easy as possible.

How is the business climate in your region right now?

At the moment, we are in the third week of what feels like a free fall – from Main Street to Wall Street, the volatility is real and palpable. Although some sectors have already experienced devastating effects, like in travel, hospitality and retail, other sectors have so far remained relatively unscathed, such as financial services and tech. However, the U.S. doesn’t seem to have touched bottom yet so everyone is bracing for both the near and long-term impact.

Where do you feel your country/region is in the Coronavirus cycle? Early/Mid/Late Stage? How Long do you think it will last?

We are still at the early stages of this crisis. Most Americans were prepared for a two-week shutdown of business operations and that has just been extended for at least 30 days in most states. However, other regions have not even begun to feel the repercussions. Although I believe that the immediate medical crisis will begin to dissipate in the next 2-3 months, the economic crisis is going to have a very long tail.

How have your clients reacted to this crisis? Have they paused activity/reduced budgets/invested in online activities etc.?

A small percentage of our clients have paused marketing activity or reduced budgets – in particular those that service some of the more vulnerable sectors. However, we have been extremely fortunate that most of clients are stable, and some are even gaining traction as demand peaks for some industries such as supply-chain and logistics and cybersecurity. We are also encouraged by new business opportunities with companies that are planning major marketing initiatives 30-60 days from now.

Unfortunately for some agencies with significant practices in consumer services, travel, hospitality and retail, business is down anywhere from 30-70%.

How do you think this crisis will impact the communications industry in the long term in your region?

I started my agency six months after 9/11. Although many thought it was the worst time to start a company, right after such a tragic and devastating event, in hindsight, it was perfect timing. COVID-19 is like no other healthcare or financial crisis we’ve ever seen in the U.S. or on the global stage. However, if there is one thing America loves, it’s a comeback story. We are all going to come out of this more determined, united and committed to building a better future. The communications industry is going to be a key part of that process and a primary catalyst for business recovery.

This post originally appeared on BusinessWire.com

Sandra Fathi

Sandra Fathi has spent the last 20 years helping technology, healthcare and professional services companies achieve their goals. As President and Founder of Affect, a public relations, marketing and social media agency, Sandra has successfully led the company with consistent growth since the agency’s inception in 2002. Sandra is also active in the communications industry and professional community. She has been a board member of the PR Council and has served as Chair of PRSA’s Tri-State District, President of PRSA-NY and President of the PRSA Technology Section. Adding to her accolades, Sandra has been recognized as one of PRNews’ Top Women in PR, a PRNews PR Professional of the Year finalist, and a Bulldog PR Agency Professional of the Year.