The impact of COVID-19 has been felt around the world – it feels pointless to say this anymore. When exactly its impact was first, or most severely experienced, differs. For those of us in Austin, Texas, we started feeling its impact in mid-March. This is when major institutions started shutting their doors – UT Austin closed its events centers, Bass Concert Hall and the Frank Erwin Center; bars and restaurants followed five days later. As of August, we have officially hit six months of a COVID lifestyle, and we’re breaking down the before and after from the perspective of our small but mighty PR firm.
Breakaway Public Relations, 2020 B.C. (Before COVID-19)
At Breakaway, a workday could involve anything from client meetings in and around Austin to early mornings at TV stations to a regular day at the office. Our work week already consisted of a nice office/work-from-home balance, so that particular transition didn’t hit us too hard.
Before the pandemic, a large part of our jobs included face-time activities. Client meetings usually happened face to face, whether down the road at We Are Blood or in the city of Georgetown. We attended events produced by AIA Austin, visited the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, and sat down with the new CEO of Explore Austin. We never imagined we’d meet our newest clients for the first time at the socially distanced, mask-clad store opening of Pavement after months of correspondence. And although collectively we’ve consumed our fair share of Blue Norther, we’ve only met the men behind the new hard seltzer beyond the screen once.
While we miss getting to see and speak with those we work with daily, meeting virtually is a small price to pay to ensure everyone’s health and wellbeing. Communication and collaboration has proven very possible from the home office.
The Industry Shift
Public relations, in short, is the development and maintenance of awareness and reputation over time. Its many specialties determine idiosyncrasies that outline an average day. Different areas of PR include everything from crisis management and media relations to our favorite, nonprofit PR. MarketingProfs published a report on COVID’s impact on the industry as a whole from a survey of 400 PR professionals. The results showed that almost 57% of respondents said their clients changed strategies due to COVID, and 49% said clients reduced their PR budgets.
We experienced both – shifts in strategies and a reduction in budgets. Mandates postponed events and shuttered doors, but as online adaptations emerged, the course of work progressed (mostly) back to normal. For other firms specializing in different branches of PR, the results may vary. Business Insider dove into how some specialities of public relations, for instance crisis communications, have understandably flourished in this new climate.
As communications professionals, we are accustomed to being nimble and ready to adapt to myriad changes. Online interactions have, and always will, play a big role in our daily operations. But just as external programming and adaptations came to fruition, we realized internal adjustments were also required.
When sitting across the table from coworkers, it’s easy to ask a quick question or brainstorm an idea, but now every question is another email in an all-too-crowded inbox. Therefore, we have adapted some of our procedures for smoother interactions. We have implemented a bandwidth tracker for our interns and dedicate more time to our weekly Zoom staff meeting. And, when possible, we’ll enjoy a safe, mask-wearing, socially distanced day at the office.
As a small team, it’s not surprising we came to be close-knit over the months and years spent working together pre-COVID. Despite the recent necessary distancing, we maintain this dynamic, celebrating birthdays, personal triumphs and unusual days from afar. In missing our regular chatter, we send weekly updates to catch up after the weekend, sharing everything from photos of beautiful hiking trips to yet another dog picture.
As we continue to wade through the pandemic together, it becomes more obvious that the “old way” of doing things will never quite be the same. Six months in, PR has remained an invaluable part of our clients’ communications strategies despite the challenges presented by COVID. Although internal and external processes have shifted slightly, consistent, clear communication remains the name of the game.