17 July 2020 – IPRS Virtual Townhall – PR Leadership Series (The Independents)

Here are key takeaways from IPRS’ webinar that featured a diverse and exciting line-up of seasoned PR practitioners from “independent” agencies.  The hour-long session, the sixth in IPRS’ series of Virtual Townhalls, fielded a panel comprising Rebecca Wilson (Executive Vice-President of Singapore and Australia, WE Communications), Bob Grove (Chief Client and Operation Officer, Edelman Asia Pacific), Brian Witte, (Deputy General Manager, Ruder Finn Asia), Voal Voal Wong (Managing Partner, IN.FOM) and Wesley Gunter (Managing Director, Right Hook Communications), and was moderated by IPRS Past President Robert Conceicao (Founder/Director, Majic Communications).

The panellists shared how they had geared up to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 environment and were positioning themselves through innovation and technology to support brands as Singapore and the region encounters economic uncertainty.

The expectations of companies have shifted:

  • Displaying social purpose is key – Companies are being forced to act in ways that they have not done so before, or risk being judged. This level of transparency will continue to be important even after the pandemic. Companies must get on board to address key issues promptly and in a transparent manner.
  • These changes are not new – They are being accelerated and everyone has had to get on board in the last few months. The lines between brand and reputation have blurred. People can no longer talk about either in a vacuum.

The COVID outbreak is an opportunity to reinvent:

  • Ways of working and engagement have changed – Many organizations are now equipping themselves with skills to be more proactive and prepared for similar situations in the future. Digital conversations are rapidly incorporating other mediums apart from email, viz. Zoom, mobile Instant Messaging systems, etc.
  • Finding ways to inject the personal touch – Traditionally, communication roles, be it in events management, crisis communications, and client engagement, were mainly face-to-face. Without the usual feedback cues, remote communication could come across as being cold and distant to the audience. PR professionals must now reflect and build on these processes, which have been somewhat neglected in digital media.
  • Considering the long-term effects of “work-from-home” (WFH) – The COVID situation has forced us to embrace technology almost completely. It is now the norm to conduct media interviews and briefings virtually. Spokespeople stationed abroad don’t have to fly in to speak to the press. It is now just a phone call away. A balance must be struck between adapting to these changes while maintaining competitiveness and profitability.

Constant communication is essential:

  • For your staff – Ensure that employees are aware that they can always reach out to their seniors or management for support. As younger staff members would not have been through similar upheavals in the past, namely, the SARS outbreak in 2003 or the Global Financial Crisis of 2007/2008, they should be guided through the current challenges. With digital communication becoming the norm in the workplace, induction processes must be more regular and deliberate.
  • For your Clients – Be nimble, supportive and responsive. For many clients, their work processes, their priorities and their plans and ideas are shifting. Some of these clients might be taking on more responsibilities. Thus, it’s imperative for PR professionals to be attuned to their client’s needs and concerns.  They must create opportunities to change or strengthen relationships with their clients and seek ways to diversify and expand the services that they can offer in the “new norm”.