Post COVID, PR Industry’s Recovery and Rebound
May 24, 2022
This article originally appeared in PR Magazine in May 2022.
From the perspective of an international agency
With COVID entering its third year, people’s mindsets and behaviors have undergone irreversible changes. The PR industry, which is closely tied to the development of various industries, is highly dependent on the output of talents and intelligence. Whether it is a world-class 4A mega-network or a local nascent dark horse, it is inevitable to face unprecedented challenges and even undergo drastic transformations. In the past two years, after experiencing a sharp decline in global revenues, a tide of layoffs, continuous trials and experiments in strategic adjustment, integrations, mergers, and acquisitions, etc., the global public relations industry has also begun to slowly come out of the darkest times, showing a comprehensive recovery and growth. According to the latest statistics, the number of new jobs in the global public relations industry has exceeded tens of thousands at the beginning of 2022. This is undoubtedly exciting news for everyone in the PR industry to see the new prospect for the industry. Looking back at the various changes and trials the industry experienced in the past two years, I would like to share some of his observations and personal experiences from two perspectives – the external transformation of agency business mode, as well as how the internal culture drives innovative management.
In the “Cloud Era”, Intelligence Output Evolves with Needs
With the new normal and complex changes in the economic situation, enterprises are facing greater risks and challenges in operation, which also brings in new mindset and possibilities to the public relations and communication field. We can see that many offline activities of the public relations industry have been canceled or postponed due to changes in policies. Traditional communication methods become outdated, so brands and target audiences must seek new channels and ways to communicate. Integration of content marketing and network information technology has become an inevitable trend in the development of the industry. New sales models, such as live streaming e-commerce, have grown rapidly, alongside the digital economy. In the meantime, the communication industry is applying more new technologies, for instance, big data analytics and artificial intelligence, to promote the integration of media platforms and social platforms. Visionary PR agencies continue to increase investment in digitalized channels, data technology, marketing automation, as well as cultivating talents to build their own service supply chain, which is directly related to the company’s future.
Digitalized intelligence service provides more direct value for a brand’s marketing work to reach the target audience with high accuracy but low cost. Enterprises understand that they must get closer to the sales line in order to be closer to the consumers in the future. Clients expect to receive faster and more direct returns from their investment. In contrast, traditional PR firms that lack diversity and excellence in digital integration face enormous challenges. Agencies with less flexibility and relatively single client portfolio, even if it is the head agency for global, large-scale brands, may also face the huge pressure of extreme loss and massive layoffs due to sudden reduction of client’s budget. Similar cases are commonly found in PR firms in specific industries or those that are strongly tied to one or two core clients. Some well-known firms thus disappeared quickly. In another case, agencies that focus on a specific industry might be able to build a reputation, or even monopolize the industry if they are deeply rooted and without the presence of the pandemic. However, it would be a lethal blow to these complementary PR firms if the industry of their clients suffers great loss from the pandemic.
The leading international market communication agency, FINN Partners, is a classic representative of achieving exponential growth amidst the global pandemic – with its broad coverage of industries and strategic expansions through global acquisitions with capital support. As part of the agency, we have more than a thousand professional consultants in 28 offices distributed on three continents covering more than 14 vertical industries. We position WELLNESS as our core business and extend both upstream and downstream along the health mainline to aspects including medical technology, biopharmaceuticals, public health, health management, active lifestyle, and the leisure industry. All aspects surround our core business of human wellbeing. Such market segmentation in the larger industry facilitates networking among complementary industries. This is what FINN Partners visualizes as the global communications industry in the next few decades.
Given the far-reaching impact of the pandemic on mankind, brands should consistently communicate with consumers, to increase traffic and eventually turns into sales. Choosing the right track to seize opportunities becomes the first and foremost mission for PR agencies to evolve with the changing demand. After all, better communication is the foundation of the PR industry, especially in an ever-changing environment. With scarce resources, we pay more attention to the “value” of the service and how can the service help solve our problem. Intelligence consulting enterprises build their reputation and bring in new business opportunities as they prioritize value-adding to clients.
In addition to providing positive “PUSH” support for enterprises from brand building, storytelling, digital communication, etc., FINN Partners also relies on teams in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong in the Greater China to provide brands with cross-market services on public health-related issues, as well as management consulting and crisis management services, namely the “Health Steward” of a brand. We build and secure the brand reputation and provide 24/7 services for unexpected incidents, especially controversial issues related to public welfare and health. Two months ago, we handled a public health crisis incident for a top-tier five-star luxury hotel in Shanghai. We went through an internal investigation and external media relationship management within two weeks. With our in-depth understanding of public health policies and close communication with the government, we explained and disseminated positively the crisis event that was once on the hot search list. The brand was able to regain trust as the government, media, and consumers had a better understanding of the incident. This is also a typical example of a value-driven intelligence service.
Working in the Cloud, Highly Efficient Collaboration for Cultural Cohesion
While the pandemic has pressed the pause button for many industries, it has also spawned an outbreak of new demand. Under the influence of the epidemic, “working in the Cloud” becomes crucial for enterprises to be back on track. The number of downloads of online communication software has increased as never before. ZOOM, TEAMS, Tencent Conference, and WeChat enterprise are essential applications for the daily work of the PR industry. Remote tools are constantly updated and evolving with the already mature Internet ecology. After the pandemic, consulting and communication enterprises will further accelerate the transformation of their own mobile, distributed offices so that the operation may become more agile. Not only in the conventional customer service chain, but it is also important to adjust the organizational structure accordingly, which involves cross-departmental communication within the enterprise, front and back-office collaboration, and communication with external clients and partners.
It is relatively easy to deploy and implement an upgrade of technology under the trend of “working in the Cloud.” After all, most PR professionals are young adults who can learn new technology and tools easily. The real challenge to the company management and operation, especially for multinational companies, is to enable seamless collaborations among teams in different markets and with different cultural backgrounds, as well as facilitating flexible allocation and sharing of internal resources. From my observation, this is the primary challenge that most international companies face.
In an internal email to employees, Microsoft Chief Personnel Officer, Kathleen Hogan, said: “The pandemic has changed the way we all think, live, and work. We will provide as much flexibility as possible to our employees’ individual working styles while balancing business needs. Microsoft’s corporate culture will drive and achieve this mission.” Successful businesses utilize culture as a driving force to accomplish the business mission and take care of their employees.
Again, take FINN Partners as an example. The partnership system and its independent nature allow the company to cherish talents and maintain the positive core values over the pursuit of sales numbers and business. Since the establishment of the company, Peter Finn, the founder of FINN Partners, has had the primary goal to create a distinctive and independent international communication agency. Not affiliated with any communication group allows FINN to enjoy the freedom to make a difference, and the win-win spirit of partners connects teams and members in all corners of the world. In 2021, FINN acquired nearly 10 communication agencies around the world, quickly integrating different communication teams into a synergy, which has also become an industry success story. For example, our China team can regularly meet and exchange ideas with FINN’s newly acquired communications company in Hawaii, USA, on the recovery of the tourism industry. We can use the synergy of this seamless connection of resources to win clients such as C-trip and Zepp Health globally, which are concrete examples of culture-driven efficient collaboration.
In terms of employee care, in addition to providing basic protection such as flexible working mode, office environment safety, and 24-hour remote technical support, what impressed me the most is that FINN Partners encourages employees to say “no” to businesses that do not align with the core values of FINN. Regardless of how huge the commercial benefits might be, FINN encourages employees to decline any business that is contrary to healthy living, environmental protection, world peace, and other universal core values in the 9 major aspects. The idea of “do the right thing” is not only a slogan but also the primary principle put into practice in each office, so that every employee can feel the trust, support, and care granted to them. No matter where we are, the Cloud connection maintained with value and culture is undeniably the strongest and most long-lasting.