As the Covid-19 story unravels around the world, brands are forced to react to our new reality as quickly as possible and adjust their marketing strategies accordingly. This requires  a sense of immediate creativity, paired with sensitivity and cultural understanding –  qualities the PR Industry is known for, making this the perfect opportunity for PR to take the lead in brand creativity right now.

Welcome to the New Era of Marketing

These past few weeks have been filled with change.  For instance, you have probably had to hear the phrases “We’re in this together.” and “Stay at home” more than usual, predominantly in various brands’ ad campaigns. These phrases are a sign of the current shift in companies’ marketing strategies from a profit focused consumer marketing to purpose driven community relations.

This trend makes sense, considering the current public climate: In the midst of a global pandemic, things are uncertain, people are scared. Launching big ad campaigns, with the clear motive to sell products right now would be, tone-deaf, to say the least. So as brands step back from overt selling, their marketing work has become heavily focused on expressing support for their customers or, as Social Studies CEO Brandon Pearlman puts it: “making people feel comfortable with the new normal”.

To achieve just that, marketing campaigns have to be carefully crafted. Even before this pandemic, the smallest mistake could cause severe damage to a company’s reputation.  Now, that the public conscience is more fragile than ever, timing, sensitivity and a deep cultural understanding are of grave importance. Thankfully, these qualities are second nature to the PR industry, making them the driving force in brand creativity right now.

“Our unique ability to read pop culture, assess the zeitgeist and ideate on the fly make us so well-suited for this kind of immediate creativity.”, says BCW New York brand practice leader Karen Kearns. She is right: As demand grows for creative solutions that sensitively address all stakeholders, that are low-cost, can be delivered quickly and communicate through earned conversations rather than paid messaging, the opportunity for the PR industry should be clear. 

Pace and timing

Like most things in life, good PR requires the right timing. Especially now, that  there seems to be a new development every few minutes, reacting quickly is crucial.  Companies are now forced to channel creativity on the spot, something PR agencies are used to.

“Without question the current scenario demands pace – and the kind of pace that PR is probably better-placed to deliver,” adds Hope&Glory co-founder James Gordon-Macintosh. “The situation and the briefs change on an almost hourly basis at the moment, it feels. PR does have the ability to read and capture the mood and respond far faster.”

Cultural understanding

Of course, just timing isn’t enough. The quality,that really makes the PR industry so crucial now, is our deep cultural understanding.

“Our creative process begins and ends with culture – listening to it, unpacking it and then adding to it with campaigns and creative ideas that are worth sharing,” says M Booth chief creative officer Adrianna Bevilaqua.

This understanding makes it much easier to capture customers’ moods and respond accordingly . Only if you understand the people you’re targeting, what moves and motivates them- you’re able to be sensitive towards  them and reach them with your message.

Budget friendliness

With lower sales and a recession incoming, companies are resorting to more affordable methods of advertising, something the PR industry is trained in, as we have been operating in between traditional advertising and social media for years.

 “Brands are urgently looking for more cost-efficient, timely and low-fi production solutions (in order to react to the situation), which many of the traditional ad agencies are unable to make the right margins from, at least not sustainably,” Rob Lowe, co-founder of Australia’s Poem, points out. “This could show brands what’s possible and still effective using smaller budgets and therefore play to the offering of those PR agencies in the future, that play in between the traditional silos of advertising and PR.”

“More than ever right now, brands have that opportunity to win hearts and minds, by earning a place in people’s lives,” says Lowe. “To achieve this, they first need to realise and understand the needs, fears and psychology of the people they’re looking to win over and instead of just broadcasting sales messages through advertising channels, they need to do things that are real and meaningful.That kind of earned creative thinking, flexibility and more human understanding, is a huge opportunity for both brands and the PR agencies that support them.”