ITL #427 The bizarre ‘gift’ of 2020: public relations in the new normal

1 year, 3 months ago

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How the pandemic forced a Cape Town agency to make some painful changes to its business model that put it in a better place to help clients. By Nicole Capper.



Public Relations has never really been a ‘normal’ career choice. It’s a deadlined, frantic and very strategic job that often relies heavily on non-guaranteed editorial coverage. So, our pivot or turnaround or adaptation to a global pandemic could possibly be defined as business as usual. Enormous expectations and dealing with an ever-changing media landscape were emphasised – but not new. What was new were the clients.

For the last five years, I’ve been working with 360 degree strategies, often forcing the pull of messaging and narratives into all-encompassing strategic plans that include owned and earned platforms. In many cases, this included working with unwilling client supplier agencies to ensure that PR strategies got the exposure they deserved through content use on owned platforms and the creative and strategic use of PR-generated narrative and multi-media productions in as many ways as possible.

The year 2020 turned out to be a bit of a bizarre ‘gift’ as it saw the fast-tracking of this element throughout my strategies.

Rapid change

My business model had to change almost overnight and some painful leadership decisions regarding staff had to be made. The adaptation to home working and an office suddenly in storage were not enviable tasks. But the result of 2020 is a lean and mean, fighting machine – serviced by specialist freelancers and given more authority by clients than ever before.

I was able to lower my rates by reducing overheads and we became a communications support team for the frontline in South Africa. Assisting clients with rescue missions for their industry, assisting clients with rescue missions for themselves and utilising all tools and tactics available to us to support the initial client base to survive almost catastrophic and totally unplanned change.

This meant that suddenly my agency was the driver behind owned platforms – working directly with client web developers, bringing in my own suppliers, generating content plans and taking over social media platforms. We accessorised this all by liaising with the ever-changing media landscape, where retrenchments, staff movements, illnesses and more were a daily event whilst holding leadership hands as they navigated treacherous waters.

And then the brand-new clients came – the clients who had heard that we were agile, that we had a spiders web network of value-driven and highly ethical specialist agencies that worked with us, that heard that we cared and would jump on that boat with them and row alongside.

Steepest learning curve

It’s been the steepest learning curve of my life. Not the skills required to implement the enormous amount of work, but the adaptation to my own business model of external staff. It’s also been one of the most fulfilling.

A short case study illustrates this:

The Hospice Palliative Care Association was a strategic client. I was in the process of completing a communications and marketing strategy for them that was so near completion that we requested an adaptation of the project to one where we immediately started implementing. And we did. We cleaned up the website, we took over the social media channels, we opened communication channels with media that were unfamiliar with palliative care and we worked with the Advocacy Manager to form relationships with hospices.

The results have been phenomenal. Since commencement in 1 April 2020 to date, we have achieved 63 online clippings, 34 broadcast, 18 print and an overall Advertising Value Equivalent of over 5.4 million South African rand. Their website stats show a growth of 44,080 new users and in May 2021, their Facebook channel showed a 485% increase in engagement (a result of a campaign).

I have a marketing background, which is useful, but my marketing and brand management background has been supplemented with a public relations filter. Everything that we plan and implement is viewed through a storytelling, educational, information driven and multi-media narrative. Everything that is planned includes content that can be re-used, revised, recycled, exchanged, distributed and more. And it’s working.

Another example is the South African Association of Social Workers in Private Practice. It’s a similar scenario to the above in that strategy turned into implementation overnight. A new website, social worker search mechanisms, updated banners, media outreaches, social media content plans, advertising, marketing and relationship building – rolled into one. Through one agency, with multiple agency partners, and one trusted client relationship.

Siloes don’t work

I have never seen the above as the ‘future’ of PR. I have however, for many years, worked with the knowledge that the siloed environments of advertising, marketing, public relations, influencer marketing and more, do not work anymore. But it has taken a pandemic for a new client base to allow me to implement that. For a Public Relations consultant to become a Communications Consultant and to bring all the specialists to one table with singular goals.

To ensure the sustainability of the client, to meet their business objectives and to do so through a multitude of different tasks that span digital, advertising, marketing and PR skillsets. I am not saying that it’s easy – it’s a “to-do” list that can be frightening. But the proof is in the pudding.

The alignment works. Collaboration works. And there is enough for us all.

 

 


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The Author

Nicole Capper

Nicole Capper, Managing Director and Owner, MANGO-OMC. mail the author    visit the author's website

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