Dr Martina Byrne, CEO, Public Relations Institute of Ireland (PRII), on how those across the spectrum in PR have managed to get to grips with Covid-19 in recent months
When I used to teach writing skills to younger colleagues, I told them to avoid superlatives like ‘unique’ and ‘unprecedented’ as the terms were rarely justified. That is no longer the case. While before March of this year, 60 per cent of PRII members rarely had the option to work from home, by the end of the month over 90 per cent operating remotely.
After the initial shock when people wondered how any work was going to get done, or would there even be any work to do, with some exceptions, it was a very busy period. A PRII members’ survey in June found 45 per cent reported working more hours than normal.
Time saved on commuting quickly became absorbed by client demands and employers going through major change. Those with crisis and issues management skills were much in demand. Events and work on sponsorships and consumer brands were hit hardest.
In event management, people were busy, but it was ‘unpacking’ the work already done, cancelling or postponing rather than completing the job. However, there was a notable increase in work in internal communication, public affairs and Covid-related media relations, none more so than in social and digital channels.
Healthcare and technology companies and corporate/financial communications were all busier than usual. So it continued with consumer brand owners increasingly feeling more comfortable about undertaking non-Covid related communications, such as back-to-school. In June, over three quarters were unaffected in terms of job conditions.
However, 16 per cent had experienced a salary reduction, three per cent were made redundant and one per cent experienced temporary layoff. Remarkably, August proved to be an unusually busy month for recruitment of both in-house and agency staff. Currently there are nine vacancies to be filled in public, private and charity sectors on the PRII website.
Similar to the PRII, communication teams have recently begun to return, on a staggered or rota basis, to their offices but as a result of the Government advice in mid-August a significant increase in those numbers is not expected until the next review of that advice on September 13. Working remotely, the PRII team has been busy supporting members.
We have produced Covid-19 related resources and information such as a guide to re-opening events in line with official advice. As well as delivering a virtual Awards for Excellence in PR ceremony, we moved all our training online almost overnight and have re-designed our diploma in PR so this winter it can be delivered in a blended manner, mostly online.
But there will be occasional opportunities to meet fellow students and lecturers. We have hosted a number of webinars which act not only as a platform for exchanging information but as a way of retaining a sense of community and professional networks. The profession’s PR Meitheal matched nearly 60 PR professionals to various charities.
Through all this activity and new ways of working and living we are experiencing an ongoing global pandemic and many people are stressed so we are launching a membership assistance programme (PRII MAP) which will provide 24/7, 365 free and confidential advice on subjects from health and well-being to financial and parenting/elder care issues.
We are now planning our first virtual annual conference for November, using tech to involve speakers from the other side of the world. People and organisations have achieved amazing things in recent months. As summer turns to winter, and the crisis becomes an ongoing issue, the next test is to continue to look out for each other, be kind, and ensure we have the reserves of stamina, confidence and creativity to get around, through, up, and over, Covid-19.
The PRII annual conference, Turning Change into Possibilities’, will take place online over two half days on November 3/4. Accepting the reality of Covid-19 being around for some time to come, the topics include the contribution PR can make to the emergent Irish economy and society and the new post-Covid consumer and marketplace.