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International Series - PROI Worldwide

CIPR International Committee asks PR professionals around the world their take on Covid-19 and its impact on the profession. We hear from Jeff Altheide, Global Managing Director of PROI Worldwide, the global partnership association of public relations companies.

1. What are the most important ways in which you believe the PR industry will change following COVID-19?

Because it effects so many different aspects of our lives – public health, economic, social, even environmental – the full impact won’t be known for years. The good news is that the PR industry was relatively healthy going into the crisis, which will buy time for businesses riding out the storm. Longer term, we will see a dramatic acceleration of trends which were already underway. Digital communications. Increasing expectations of corporations and leaders in general. Disruption of the media landscape. Reputational challenges for brands. The ability to react at warp speed will be a minimum expectation for PR people in the future. The truly successful agencies and corporate communications leaders will be those who can anticipate and proactively prepare for challenges and opportunities that will arise on a frequent basis.

2. Which skills and capabilities will PR professionals need to develop in the next year or two in order to stay relevant and effective?

Certainly anyone working in public relations will need to be conversant in digital technology and social media channels. Those who understand data analytics, at least at a practical level, will have a big advantage. And, those who think and speak in business terms will find their opinions carry more weight. Otherwise, the requirements of success in public relations haven’t changed that dramatically – the ability to understand complex relationships, tell powerful stories and, perhaps most importantly, solve problems for their constituents.

3. Which aspects of PR will be the most important after this pandemic? Crisis communications? Reputation management? Stakeholder engagement? Digital and social media?

In a June survey of PROI Partner agencies, respondents identified employee communications, corporate reputation and crisis management as services they expected to be in high demand as their clients emerge from Covid disruptions. Integrated marketing programs that drive sales will be priority for marketing companies striving to make up for lost business in a recession; or to build market share in anticipation of a stronger global economy. Executive communications is another area our PROI Partners have identified as key – as consumers and other constituencies will come to expect stronger leadership from the brands with which they have relationships.

4. In which ways will the business community and wider society change - and how can boundary scanning and boundary planning play a role in delivering insights?

One of our PROI Partners recently said, “a crisis either builds or breaks relationships.” As organizations emerge from the Covid crisis, they will be dealing with a range of “new or broken” relationships. And, the heightened expectations of businesses and very, very rapid pace of change will require understanding and managing relationships on a proactive basis. In a recent PROI webinar, author Martin Lindstrom said strong brand values will become more critical than ever, and will be a competitive edge for some marketers. For PR leaders, these brand values may also be a strong metric to decide when, how, or when not to engage with a given audience and issue. Within PROI, the objective is to leverage a deep knowledge of client brand values at a macro level with the ability to understand and influence audiences at a very local level, working through Partners in multiple countries.

5. How can the PR industry practically position itself as a discipline of the future, rather than being intrinsically tied to media relations, and a bygone era?

When you consider the increased expectations and complex relationships that will drive business in the future, it seems PR should be more critical than ever. However, PR should not be a distinct discipline operating in a vacuum. Many organizations are finding that, by beginning with a strong PR sensibility and problem solving mentality, they can best deliver results over time using a broad range of disciplines. The majority of our PROI Partners, for example, have evolved their businesses in recent years to include a broad range of integrated communications tools delivered from a core PR strategy. As entrepreneurial business owners, they are closely aligned with their client needs, and are agile and able to quickly adapt to serve those needs as they change. Despite the obvious short-term challenges, our Partners express great optimism and excitement for the future.

About PROI Worldwide

PROI Worldwide harnesses the collective power of the world’s most ambitious entrepreneurial communications firms. By sharing global insights and best practices, PROI agencies remain best in market trendsetters, supporting the drive to deliver the most impactful communications campaigns for their clients. In 2019, PROI encompassed 78 partners with 7,300 employees in more than 165 cities and 50 countries. With combined revenue of nearly US$ one billion, PROI ranked 4th among consolidated communications groups, and was the only one in the top ten that is based on a unique partnership of independent business people.


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