Published on Oct. 19, 2022, at 2:55 p.m.
by Kelsey Nayman.
It goes without saying that every business and industry was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in some way or another. The public relations industry definitely took a hit, yet this was also a pivotal moment for the field.
Budgets were the first things being cut, making brands rethink how to connect with their target audiences. This was show time for the industry. PR practitioners stepped into a role that was now more important than ever.
How the COVID-19 pandemic affected PR
COVID-19 changed PR forever; whether that was in a good or bad way depends on the agency. Media relations, crisis communications, strengthening relationships, building trust and keeping brands relevant were some of the most important factors PR practitioners had to consider during uncertain times.
The core of public relations didn’t change as much as others, but PR practitioners had to transition from the traditional way of implementing strategies and tactics and adapt to new ways of connecting with target audiences. The sudden overtaking of the pandemic forced PR practitioners to form innovative strategies and tactics, ones that could stand through the “unprecedented times” permeating across the globe.
Preparation is key, especially in PR. After all, with so much uncertainty from the pandemic, PR practitioners had to prepare for any crisis or press release that came their way.
One of the multiple ways in which PR practitioners had to adapt was their outreach. In fact, during the heat of the pandemic it was crucial for practitioners to pitch pieces to bring forth positivity in a dark time. PR practitioners had to be more vigilant in the way pitches were sent out, especially with the societal changes.
Navigating the day-to-day
As most practitioners would agree, there is no “typical” day in PR. This industry is constantly evolving, and in the midst of uncertainty, it transformed even more. Generally, public relations practitioners are drafting pitches or creating ways in which they can maintain a positive brand image of the company.
Kaitlin Jarvis is vice president and group account director at Telemetry Agency, a strategic communications agency focused on creating a “powerful” approach to storytelling and helping its clients find their brands’ voices.
Jarvis explained how the PR industry was impacted day to day most during the pandemic.
“With the pandemic, much of PR was able to continue business as usual. However, the unique
structure of a PR agency with teams and multiple clients across different time zones became a logistics nightmare with the realm of challenges not necessarily unique to PR introduced by the pandemic, such as limited access to childcare, eldercare, schooling, etc.,” said Jarvis. “Quick and convenient huddles suddenly became formally scheduled meetings in the intimate locations of our homes. Account directors and managers were tasked with navigating this blurring of professional and personal boundaries not only for themselves but for their direct reports, teams and clients.”
Prior to the pandemic, Jarvis was one of only two employees who worked remotely at her agency. Now, she manages a fully remote agency with many team members whom she’s never even met in person, which she said introduces a new set of challenges.
“The hardest part now post-pandemic is hiring and managing work styles — particularly with entry-level roles,” Jarvis noted. “Working remotely full time offers a welcome freedom for some, but an overwhelming responsibility for others. It’s not a work style for everyone. In addition, those first three to five years out of college are so pivotal — and sometimes detrimental — to a young person’s career trajectory, we’re trying to determine how we cultivate that same growth and value that you get in person when we’re across the country from one another.”
How COVID-19 affected PR practitioners
FleishmanHillard is a “global PR agency developing creative and strategic communications and specializing in public relations, reputation management, public affairs, brand marketing, digital strategy, social engagement and content strategy.”
Dylan Lanas, an account executive at FleishmanHillard, explained how PR practitioners like him were affected during the pandemic.
“Early 2020, I was a senior at The University of Alabama studying public relations. At that time, I was looking for my first job to start my career. I was dead set on working at an agency. On March 13, 2020, the day the world basically shut down, I was in this exact St. Louis FleishmanHillard office interviewing for an internship. In May 2020, I received a call from the office at FleishmanHillard stating that because of the pandemic they were issuing a hiring freeze for the time being.”
The pandemic weighed heavily on everyone, especially students. Many students were looking for first-time jobs and starting their careers. Students like Lanas found this time difficult due to the decline in job opportunities.
“It was tough,” Lanas explained. “Things suddenly felt a lot tighter and opportunities felt a little more limited. You had to find ways to apply yourself when logistically companies weren’t able to hire and bring new people on. During this time, I found ways to practice my skills wherever it was possible. I had moved back home and had extra time on my hands, so I volunteered at the local Red Cross chapter in the communications department.”
How the industry recovered
The pandemic has changed the way PR is used in other industries. “Business has to happen, and the pandemic made it a weird circumstance. Whether that’s seeing clients or colleagues face to face or virtually, we found ways to communicate. Finding ways to adapt and meet what our customers need from us is what has kept us going through this uncertainty,” Lanas noted.
As the PR industry has ventured through this “new normal” over the past two years, many of the strategies and tactics that were introduced at the start of the pandemic have proven to be more critical now than ever. As Amanda Albert noted in a blog post for The Castle Group, PR practitioners “will never be able to predict” what is to come within the industry, but because of the pandemic and its uncertainty, “we can be prepared for whatever comes our way.”