What Did The Pandemic Ever Do For Us? 4 Curious Ways How Covid-19 Has Changed The Shape of PR

Ok, so don't bother holding the front page. The world has changed. We know that. Yet as we reemerge from the undergrowth, us public relations specialist, publicists and PRs alike will be, at some point, taking a step back and wondering how the PR industry has changed, and more importantly will it ever change back?

There have been some good points over the last 18 months. As human beings, we have been forced to take a look at our lives in the cold light of lockdown. We have all being under some sort of self analysis, rather like buying our own couch and note pad. For PR, it hasn't been any different. We are probably done with delving in our minds for one year. The questions of what are we doing? Why are we here and are we doing anything remotely close to what we should be doing, are all questions which have ran rugged through my mind over the last year.

Of course, one of the good things that has happened, many would argue, is that we have dropped the 9-5, the endless commute that if it takes less than 3 hours a day, you were on to a winner. We no longer sit in endless streams of traffic listening to mind numbing breakfast shows on the radio hosted by overly cheerful 20 somethings.

As PR professionals, many of us have finely tuned our skills. We are probably reading more than we used to. I for one am glued to my BBC News app in the morning before I have even gotten out of bed, memorising the front pages before contemplating the bathroom.

As PRs we are in better shape. We are more self aware, more dynamic, sharper, wiser, more crafty and more cunning (as least I am.) Why? Because many of us took to our book shelves and re-thumbed through some old classics (Thank you Mark Joyner.) We have taken the magnifying glass to our personas in this business and revamped a lot of very shameful tendencies - well, most of us have.

Books have been written (thank you Sandra Coffey for giving us Breaking Into The Media...) Zoom conferences have taken place (London Fashion Week 2021 was 100% online - who would have thought it?) And thoughts have been collected by every single PR and Publicist known to man, reposted and written.

We have restructured ourselves and given way to a sharper way of working, a more productive system of storytelling. Not only have we turned Hans Christian Anderson into last years model, but we have even started boring our audiences by writing endless blog post about our new found reframe (cough.)

We aren't out of the tunnel yet. The light at the end of it is still economically dim (or is that a very slow moving train?) There are still ways of working that are yet to change. I for one, cannot wait to get back in to the office. Yes, I might be the only one, but I have to admit, when I am sat at my home desk, work doesn't feel like work. It's almost like I am passing the time with a hobby. We have become environmentally sensitive.

I am at home, therefore I am not at work. It's a tough nut to crack. But it started me thinking. What else is around me that makes my working world now so different?

So, today, I have come up with a short list of 4 things that have changed in the PR world, thanks to the pandemic, for me at least (and I might not be on my own here, I would like to know if there are any others.)

We have a love-hate relationship with social media.

It was the former media editor for The Times, Raymond Snoddy who penned the rather splendid book, 'Anti Social Media?' Which took a long hard reality check of the relationship between journalism and the way it breathes (or it s often strangled) in the world today.

For me, I love social media (when it's working) but then again, I can hate it. It is rather like an old saying I remember a larger than life colleague tell me when I joined the NHS back in 1991, 'keep your friends close and your enemies closer.' I will take a leap of faith here and suggest that social media will have it's day (and that might have already passed.)

We can't live with it, can't live without it. In the world of PR, there is no getting away from it. We boast and brand our clients and our businesses with these little posts, visuals and witty text. We strategically come up with ways to hit out in the dark at our audiences often taking some stick if we've got it wrong. It can be hit and miss. Yet she is a tough woman, is our social media. She takes no prisoners.

I recall an article at the beginning of 2021 which talked about the quickening rise of AI in public relations and how bots will (and do already) dissect the quiet reading habits and behaviour of target audiences to ensure that a press release will have all the right subminimal messages embedded in the text (not to mention the same messages targeting the secret values of the journo its pitching to.) It was a wake up call for most of us hardened PRs who have been around since the days of daily rolling about on the floor amongst sprawled out newspapers of the morning.

The world got more complicated but at least you didn't spend the morning rinsing ink off your fingers.

We have ditched boozy press launches for loungewear and comfy socks.

Up until the beginning of 2020, my wardrobe was stuffed with M&S suit jackets, mix and match uncomfortable blouses, equally uncomfortable heels and matching handbags. Now, I have a selection of tee shirts which have seen better days, jeans which haven't ventured outside yet and heels collecting dust.

Yet the comfy side of life is something that I do struggle with. Is it guilt that I'm conducting a client meeting in pink fluffy My Little Pony slippers or that I might be unwashed as of that morning? Are these habits that will some how find themselves peeking into my working life when I do venture back into the office? God forbid that I find myself on the tube one early morning hurtling down the black hole that is the Circle Line only to find myself with teeth not brushed and the faint aroma of bacon about me. I just hope that when I do return to my adoring colleagues in Shoreditch that I haven't forgotten how to get dressed.

There is something about being suited and booted (that's such an old fashioned term these days) when you are conducting a meeting: even over Microsoft Teams. There is an old saying that you should always conduct business standing up, if nothing at all. One is more focused when one is wearing something vaguely matching. I do miss the office, the commute and the agonising train journey to work, only because it that FEELS like work and not WFH which for me, has always been a pastime if I am unwell.

I don't love leggings - I never have done. That's said. I feel I can step back on a train to normal-dom fairly soon. I will always be the first to admit, that work feels more productive if I am dressed correctly. It is a psychological thing. We are ready for work. I often go for a cycle round the block in the mornings which mimics a commute to the office. It makes me feel better, but without the mid morning moan about late trains, I do feel as though there is a long lost friend missing.

Our audience might not be who we think it was.

Now here's the thing. When is an audience not an audience? When it's not being spoken to or when it's not listening (which is even worse.) The world of the 2020 syndrome has meant that in some areas, we just might have got our target audiences all wrong. Have they stopped listening? Are now talking a different language?

For many of our clients, it has been fairly black and white in the passed. If you were a plumber by trade, you spoke to people who were currently standing in 3 inches of water in their kitchens. You were a hairdresser, you can guarantee your target market were people who couldn't see you without hair grips.

Yet now, while our target market are also working from home, exchanging suits for sloppies and the gym for jogging around the block, it means that they have changed the way they live, think, behave and work which means we have to rewrite the book. Literally.

What were values 18 months ago aren't necessarily going to be high on their agenda now. Many of them have had to switch careers let alone jobs. Audiences have taken on jobs they never thought they would do, or want to do, they have ditched their cars, the way they take a holiday. Let's face it, no one ever saw this coming. Yet it has and so that means everyone changes. No one is exempt. What your audience loved about your client once might be the other way around now. You might irritate them. We've seen clients had to shift their language, their tone of voice, everything. Out with the old, and in with the something that is new, yet for some of our clients, hasn't quite fitted, yet.

We've had to shift industries (and possibly become Jacks of all trades)

Before the pandemic, my love was the theatre, the arts and all things events and festivals. I lived for the expos, the hyped up trade events, the home shows, the rock concerts, the county shows. My world was flea markets. Even the word 'pitches' stood for stalls first, press releases second.

My secondary world was celebrities and lifestyles. I traded around the glossies and mixed expensive photo shoots with celebrities, a trail of make up artists and wardrobe stylists. I hired out mansions for days on end and huddled in freezing landscaped gardens attempting to keep expensive lighting equipment dry under giant golfing umbrellas.

Over the last year, my PR world shrunk before expanding again under a different kind of umbrella. A prop I didn't think I would rely so heavily on, ever.

Today, my work tends to edge towards marketing consultant, Google expert, SEO provider, business development, growth mentor and PR guru who dips into sales and advertising at will. We have all had to adapt. I am sure the boozy launches will return and it won't belong before we are all crowded at the bar attempting to chat up and journalist or grab the attention of an assistant producer again.

There is nothing wrong with the way we work now. If the world has changed, then PRs were the first to embrace that. We had to. The world relies on us to make sure the bridges between client and press are still firmly in place. Our job is to look after these two precious commodities all for the love of audiences and products alike.

We keep the wheels of industry moving with our stories, our love of words and our love of what we do which is to enrich the world with feeling, inspiration, wit and a big dose of engagement.

Our clients need us, our businesses want us. The world needs us to find truths, showcase the brilliant, turn on the lights, brush up the tea chest, tap the mic, and turn the dull into dazzling.

And if it means we do it in slippers and Minnie Mouse trakkies, then so what? We'll keep doing what ever it takes.

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