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The catalytic impact of Covid-19 on client expectations

The loss of family members, friends and fellow professionals to Covid-19 has provided a deep personal focus for many in the PR and communications community. Many of my colleagues and clients are reflecting on their personal and professional values.

Some are asking deeper questions about the relationships they maintain. Others are thinking long and hard about their skills and how PR is changing.

Many settling back in, are bringing with them a new community spirit, nurtured during lockdown. Some are thinking about how these values can be translated into their working lives.

Clients are changing

Consultants need to be ready for clients who extend their lockdown behaviour to their professional partners. Much has been written about how clients are more comfortable with agency teams that share their values.

… in good ways

In challenging times there is a strong tendency for individuals to recalibrate what is important to them. Therefore, consultants should not be surprised if those awkward clients, the frequently demanding and intolerant of imperfection adopt a slightly softer tone.

… and other ways too

However, economic pressures may also drive other reactions from clients. As revenues tighten, scrutiny of PR spend is intense. Equally, many businesses are placing greater emphasis on how their behaviour impacts the planet.

How agencies must react

Agencies need to carefully read how their clients’ worlds have been changing. Empathy and adaption are vital.

Technology manners

As clients have grappled at home with Teams and Zoom over many months, ‘love-hate’ relationships with technology have emerged.

Whilst basic technological mastery has meant human contact can be maintained, new professional mores have evolved. Speaking too quickly, interrupting colleagues and using gestures to communicate disapproval are unacceptable.

Office fashion

It remains to be seen whether the uber casual look and carefully curated back drops will remain de-riguer.

As clients re-establish office habits, we might see the gentle return of the smart casual and the designer tie. Consultants need to be prepared to follow suit.

Campaigns of tomorrow

The sombre spring and summer of 2020 has nudged PR professionals towards more cautious programmes.

Recent client polling suggests that enthusiasm for creativity, stunts and events has waned.

An alternative mindset is emerging. One that is focused on strong planning, integrated thinking and deliverable campaigns. Agencies are under pressure to provide diverse teams that are agile and worldly. They are increasingly being judged by their weakest links.

When pitching this autumn, consultancies would do well to field teams with smart thinkers, flexible planners and empathetic handlers. Integrated campaigns are in vogue. As is the need to show that every penny spent has a purpose.

As clients recalibrate, consultants must adapt.

Written by Kevin Read, CEO of communications agency Pembroke and Rye

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