By Sofia Serrano.
On October 26th Campaign hosted the webinar ‘The Comms survival guide 2020’ in association with Cicero & Bernay. The session was led by a panel of experts and composed of Campaign ME’s editor Austyn Allison as moderator; Tariq Al Sharabi Managing Director | Cicero & Bernay Public Relations; Zaib Shadani Managing Director | Shadani Consulting and Alex Malouf Corporate Communications Director Middle East and Africa | Schneider Electric. The panel discussed the PR adapting strategies and challenges of communications in a post-Covid world.
Have a look at the insights from our experts and take notes on how to handle your communications through these difficult times. Join the conversations and be part of the movement to make comms thrive, even in a crisis, particularly in a crisis.
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To have a broader understanding of these topics watch the webinar here. Underneath are some of the insights from the speakers.
I think for us, like for many people, it’s been twofold. The first, obviously, has been cashflow. So, it’s not revenue or retaining clients or sort of having those locked in. It’s the fact that yes, we have clients, yes, we’ve got commitments. We’ve got retainers for a year. Unfortunately, those funds are not getting released. Right, so how do we bridge that gap? A) funds are not getting released, and (B, payment terms that had been agreed to in the past are no longer valid, they’ve gone out the door. So of course, there is trust, we are going to support them (the clients). But at some point, it becomes a question of survival. It’s transcendent the whole relationship and we trust you and we know we’ll get paid, but I don’t know if I’ll be here three months from now, or six months from now, because we’re still paying salaries, we’re still paying overheads, we’re still paying… that’s the first and the second is demonstrating value. Because the first thing to get cut for most companies is advertising, PR marketing. Let’s put a stop to that… So, it’s that whole thing of how do we demonstrate our worth and our value, when people don’t see it, you know, and that’s where we’ve had to be creative. And we’ve had to come in and say, well, maybe the traditional things don’t work. Let’s try this or let’s try something different.
Tariq Al Sharabi
Absolutely cash flow is one of the biggest problems we’re facing as an industry. Right now, the difference between different crisis’s, let’s say that happened in the UAE and globally. If we take back in the day 2009 – 2010, during the financial crisis, there was maybe a handful of sectors that were really hit badly. And therefore, the other sort of clients in our different sectors weren’t as affected and so one would cover for the other when it comes to sort of payment terms and stuff like that. But right now, the issue that we’ve had, and that we’ve been facing for the past eight months, I would say is that it was across the board, every sector, government, private, public, you name it. So, this is where it became very much challenging. Number two is actually if you remember, the pandemic started really hitting us big time, somewhere around March, April, which is basically where I mean all of us know in this part of the world, especially in Dubai, the bulk of all the activities take place. So that’s when the city comes alive and so all our plans were just shelved instantly. So, what do we do then, we have to re-imagine everything as Zaib said, you become extremely creative. I always say to people that there have definitely been cons, but there are also pros from this pandemic, and one of them is the level of creativity that it pushed us to reach.
I think clients need to recognize that a lot of clients have had to cut budgets, we’ve just simply followed what global has told us to do. You want your agency to focus on the work, you don’t want your agency to focus on chasing payments, on thinking about cash flow. But, we’ve got to go back to devaluing agencies more, especially when it comes to retainers or to projects, we’ve got to stop paying people what they’re worth. And, you know, we are getting to the end of the year, and plans need to think what happens in 2021 because obviously, the virus is not going to magically disappear on New Year’s Eve, we are going to still face issues when it comes to business when it comes to health and safety. And the agencies, a lot of them have stuck around, they’ve been supportive. And we’ve got to find ways as clients to help out our agencies because we’re only as good as the people around us, who are supporting us.
The wider picture is that people around us are getting laid off. People with a lot more experience than me are finding it challenging to keep down a job. It’s difficult to find alternate employment. And I think that the mind frame right now is holding on to what you have.
And then the other thing that has been really, really important is rallying together as an industry and trying to generate business one, but also an understanding that marketing has value, especially during a crisis… We talked about Kellogg’s, for example, during the recession, you know, they were one of the few companies that pumped in a lot of money during the recession. And when the recession ended, their profits were up 30%. So, we have a history that demonstrates the value, but people don’t know it. So, you know, we started doing free webinars and writing and trying to come together and support each other in this way as well.
Tariq Al Sharabi
We’ve been struggling with this as an industry for a while, it’s getting better, especially in the Middle East, where PR is getting its fair share of, of cheerleaders, let’s say, you know people vouching for us, understanding the true value of PR and how much of an effect that can play on a business. And so, in the past, there were certain things we were advocating such as crisis communications, internal comms, thought leadership, and it was always like some clients would do it just for the sake of doing it, ticking the box, and then putting that crisis manual in the shelf somewhere in the bottom drawer and forgetting about it. This gave us a chance now to remind clients of the importance of crisis communication, the importance of internal communications, the importance of actual thought leadership.
I think we proved the most during a crisis and in the past 10 months if we haven’t seen the value of communications then there’s something very wrong in the organization’s we’re in. We’ve worked CCC on health and safety. We’ve worked internally in terms of showing that there is business continuity as well. Likewise, in the same with our customers, really smart brands have actually gone out, and they’ve communicated in a different style. You know, they’ve listened more, they’ve engaged more, they showed more empathy. But again, I’m giving the best-case scenario here. I think that the challenge is and I can say this is on the client-side, we need more good people. So, we need more people on the client side who really know what comms can do… So really, it starts with us on the client-side, agencies play a huge role in terms of helping but we’ve got to do a better job selling ourselves as clients, as communications – who are client-side.
Tariq Al Sharabi
We have to be connected, we have the means to, we have the solutions and the technology… you have access to information at all times and as PR practitioners we have to be connected, we have to be out there seeking this information like our lives depend on it because actually, it might. And you know the more we get this information and the more we understand it and engulf it and use it in ways that are still credible, at C&B we let the facts do the talking, we want to make sure we go out there with credible tactics and giving sound advice that has an impact on everybody. The only difference now is that we were very focused on our client or brand, I would advise PR practitioners to widen that scope, look at all the stakeholders.
I know we have deliverables and that we sign off, and certain things that we have to do for our clients. But, whether they ask for it or not you have to integrate digital and social into it, whether that’s through video content, a supporting meme on their social media, LinkedIn, corporate profiling all of that stuff because the way that we used to do it we focused a lot on print… However, over the last three or four months, there’s been a transition, your client might not have caught up with that transition in the ways that they operate, but when they look around them they do see that the trends have changed. Most of our titles are now online.
My one piece of advice would be to take a break and take care of yourself, we been working so hard over the past 9 to 10 months that people are coming to a point of burnout. If you can take care of yourself first then you can take care of your brand next. If you are not in the shape to do any work you are of no use to anyone including yourself, so take care of yourself and take a moment out, so to speak.