The Coronavirus pandemic caused massive layoffs across PR and creative agencies, which left many clients with a loss of their account teams. Consequently, many brands and organizations found themselves with an ineffective or absent crisis communications plan to help navigate their response and outreach strategy. Of course, none of this could’ve ever been predicted, but nevertheless, the lack of crisis preparation made the impact that much greater.
Notable PR shops such as D&AD, VaynerMedia, and Edelman have all had to layoff employees for cost-cutting measures. CEO Richard Edelman recently promised staff there’d be no coronavirus-related layoffs at the firm, but the promise was later recanted, and 400 of their 6000 workers had to be laid off.
There’s no doubt that the pandemic has affected businesses across all sectors. Of course, larger shops without the nimbleness of smaller, more concentrated teams saw greater impact and deeper cuts in staff size and account teams.
But a deeper issue is at play, because even with the unavoidable staff cutting measures, clients’s should’ve still been better prepared to respond more quickly at the onset of the pandemic.
The traditional PR agency model failed clients in three ways:
- Too much emphasis on impressions and communications tactics as the primary metric of a campaign’s effectiveness vs an emphasis on business impact and transformation. Focusing on tactics adds very little strategic value to a brand. The pandemic revealed that PR teams were slow to adapt to the changing environment because agencies failed to integrate tactics into the business value to the client.
- Many companies had a digital communications presence that was good enough in a pre-pandemic world but proved to be mediocre and not sufficient for an all-digital pandemic world.
- The focus on communications planning often times abandons reputation management and crisis response. Many organizations realized that their current crisis communications plan was likely not updated in years and likely didn’t include a strategic digital strategy in the event of a crisis.
The verdict is still out on what will be made of PR shops and how the loss of accounts teams will force clients to rethink their entire communications strategy, but at minimum, the industry will be forever changed and will require that firms rethink their value to clients.