Public Relations and the Pandemic



Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR

Besides raining chaos on everyone and every industry, COVID-19 also afforded some Public Relations  professionals unique opportunity. Such was the case for many brands, including Avon, which recognized that women and children were at greater risk for domestic violence than others after lockdowns were declared. Through its foundation, Avon partnered with three nonprofits and launched #IsolatedNotAlone, a campaign that reached more than a million Instagram users in India through influencers and opinion leaders. They also lobbied the government to be more pro-active on the subject.

Some Good News

The pandemic created lots of work and opportunities for PR professionals, some of whom had no experience managing a crisis. A survey of 400 PR American and European professionals this May and June by Fractl and Buzzstream revealed that the majority (73%) felt confident about the value of their work during the pandemic. Another 58% felt confident about their effectiveness.

As might be expected, COVID-19 was the centerpiece of what most PR people focused on. 63% of those polled said the mention of COVID-19 in subject lines was most popular. 60% reported sharing “feel-good” stories. Connecting COVID-19 to the brand and creating content relevant to the pandemic were other obvious strategies used by 57%. Another popular strategy employed by 50% of respondents was sharing business innovation to assist with COVID-19.

If the saying that great minds think alike is true, 98% of respondents said they used at least one of these tactics. Another 85% reported using two or more. All admitted that the most popular verticals were COVID-19 related with a big focus on health and wellness (50%), lifestyle (42%), and education (41%).

And Some Bad News

What was troubling was the finding that more than a third of agency clients (38%) canceled their contracts after the pandemic hit. Another 49% reduced their PR budgets while 21% increased theirs. Even more perplexing was the revelation that 42% admitted to sending out opportunistic COVID-19 pitches. While these may have been questionable, 19% actually confessed to disseminating unethical pitches.

Why does this matter? PR’s biggest professional organization, the 30,000-member Public Relations Society of America, has had a long-standing code of ethics that implores all its members to serve the public interest. Failure to do so can result in expulsion.

Worse yet, public faith in so many sectors like government, law enforcement, and certain industries is already being stretched, tested, and placed under suspicion that brands cannot afford to lose or minimize that trust. Reducing budgets and canceling contracts with PR professionals in these times can only serve to speed up any erosion of trust in the absence of such support.

Add to that the finding that more than a third of PR folks said they were considering a career change because of COVID-19. In spite of the desperate need for good PR and communications, 53% reported cuts in their salaries while 57% saw or experienced furloughs at their agencies.


Brands and good PR professionals need each other more than ever to emerge from the pandemic as strong and vibrant as possible. There have been enough media reports about both large and small businesses shutting down forever, and only close teamwork between the two can result in a strategy that makes the world a better place and results in a win for both.

About the Author: Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading consumer pr agency.

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