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Gaya Kumarasamy

Published on

September 21, 2020


communications, COVID-19, PR, public relations, Virtual Events

From Louis Vuitton swapping luxury goods for hand sanitisers to plumbers offering virtual consultations to help sort out leaky taps, the pandemic has impacted a wide range of industries, forcing businesses to adapt like never before.

The communications industry has certainly not been exempt from these changes. In this piece, we examine how the pandemic has impacted the industry and where we go from here.

A changing media landscape

The impact of COVID-19 on the media landscape has been truly exceptional. Suddenly, the entire news cycle turned to Coronavirus, 24/7. There was simply no room for anything else.

The ways of communications we were used to had changed overnight. You couldn’t send out a press release like you normally would without worrying if you were coming across tone-deaf to everything that was going on. You couldn’t just pick up the phone to give a journalist a ring to pitch in a story – most (if not all) of them were working from home and there was no news desk to get in touch with.

For a little while, it seemed like communications had come to a screeching halt, with media outlets and agencies alike having to prioritise their own internal operations before everything else could be addressed.

But that quickly changed – we saw that the pandemic was in fact spurring on a significant increase in media consumption across all channels. Kantar’s COVID-19 barometer recorded a 25% increase in podcast usage, 41% increase in social network usage and a 44% rise in news website and blog consumption over the pandemic period.

The record audience levels offered the comms industry a unique opportunity to reach new audience segments and increase engagement with existing ones across multiple platforms.

The key question on everyone’s mind is how this increase in media consumption can be harnessed to retain audience. The answer to that remains to be seen, but what is for sure is the importance of appreciating the increasing complexity and integrated nature of media outlets.

Messaging is everything

The importance of having a clear and concise message when communicating cannot be overstated. Whether it’s internal communication to employees who are working remotely en masse or externally to customers and stakeholders, a coherent flow of information is absolutely critical. This became an even more significant consideration during the pandemic.

The dangers of weak messaging can be confusing at best and deadly at worst – remember when Trump suggested people inject disinfectant into their bodies to fight the virus? Whether you are a leader of a country or a business spokesperson, the pandemic taught us all that there is never a good time or place for muddled messaging and inaccurate statements that could cause more harm than good.

No more physical events

With the world on hold, travel stopped.

This meant that international events, awards and conferences needed to be cancelled. Product launches had to be either delayed or moved online, and trade shows that usually saw hundreds of journalists in attendance had to be scrapped with very little notice.

Brands that relied on physical events to launch their products were forced to rethink their strategies overnight and get innovative. Many struggled with figuring out how to move launches fully online, having never done that before, and figuring out how to get the same impact virtually.

Thankfully, networking, collaborating and knowledge-sharing continues to play a huge role today, albeit through virtual platforms. Information-sharing is always a good thing, more so during these uncertain times where subject experts are in high demand (I’m sure we’ve all attended more Zoom webinars than we can count in these past 6 months!)

What comes next, no one knows. Without a sense of when things will get back to “normal”, it is challenging to forecast in the short and medium term. We’ve already seen the world’s largest tech conference moved to an all-virtual format ahead of January 2021. Who knows what might be next? One thing’s for sure, everyone will need to be prepared to account for exceptional circumstances for longer than perhaps initially expected.

What does this mean for the future? Will physical events like Mobile World Congress and CES be a thing of the past? Should we all be mentally ready for endless Zoom webinars to come our way for the foreseeable? Only time will tell…

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