Coronavirus impact: Here’s how one industry is adapting to change in job roles

Ankita, a public relations professional has had to change the way she works over the past 10 days. Hired in the Mumbai team of a PR agency, the 25-year-old was responsible for an appliance launch event that now stands cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

“A product launch is a big event as far as the PR industry is covered. Since we cannot hold large gatherings, we are devising strategies to make this a closed-door digital event. Press kits will be individually sent to media houses. For me, it is my job and my career depends on this,” she added.

While COVID-19 outbreak has impacted a host of sectors from IT, travel and tourism to aviation, and education, a mini-crisis seems to have hit the PR industry with some agencies looking to put employees on ‘bench’ till the situation improves.

“A large portion of the staff is into client servicing and event management. With events being cancelled all across India, we do not know what to do with the additional staff hired for year-end product launches and events,” said a senior HR head at a pan-India PR firm.

On one hand, large product launch events by retail/FMCG and automobile firms are cancelled, and on the other companies are deferring initial public offerings (IPOs). The immediate impact is on PR firm employees who now have to realign their daily responsibilities.

Travel and tourism, FMCG and auto are the biggest spenders when it comes to PR activity. With activity in these sectors curtailed, revenues for the PR industry are hit, which in turn translates into a lower number of hires.

A tourism-event in Dubai had to be called off – costing a Mumbai-based PR firm loss of several crores due to the tickets that had to be booked for guests and local arrangements for food and stay. However, the agency is now mulling an e-press conference.

Here, the idea is to hold a regular media event. The only difference being that media professionals login through a video link from their respective locations. One-on-one interactions would then be held over Skype calls. The promise, however, is that a Dubai trip would be planned later in the year once the effects of the coronavirus outbreak subside.

According to the PR Consultants Association of India, the PR industry is expected to grow at 15 percent to reach Rs 2,270 crore by FY21. Every year, an estimated 1,00-1,200 individuals join the estimated 30,000 professionals strong sector.

A Delhi/NCR-based PR firm that was hired for a 2020 listing for a financial services company is now in a fix as the client is looking to postpone the IPO. This PR firm had hired seven new freshers to handle the IPO right from filing of the draft papers to roadshows and media trips and is now uncertain about whether the firm will even list in 2020.

“The COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent market crash have left investors worried. New staff members are too young to be put on crisis communications or regular client servicing. We are now discussing internally to see how they can be accommodated,” said the Western zone head of the PR firm.

In the meantime, local visits are being arranged for individual media persons where they would get an opportunity to interact with the company management.

At a time when 81 positive cases for COVID-19 have been discovered, social distancing is being advocated as a priority across companies. For PR professionals, how they adapt to remote-working India and cater to their client needs for the next few months will determine their future.