Preparing for the post-Covid-19 world
Your invitation to join our Virtual Mind The PR Gap Conference
About the author
Richard Bailey FCIPR MPRCA is editor of PR Academy's PR Place Insights. He teaches and assesses undergraduate, postgraduate and professional students.
The most striking words I heard last week came from the mouth of Francis Ingham, director general of the PRCA, the world’s largest public relations membership association. He was being interviewed for an influencer marketing podcast, so the questions were about the convergence of marketing and PR and the new opportunities and challenges presented by influencer marketing.
But Ingham had a message he wanted to get across, even when it cut against the thread of the interview.
He wanted to mix praise for the central value of communication demonstrated during the lockdown with the reality of what the economic downturn will mean for his 30,000 members. This is what he said:
‘The blunt, hard number reality is that there are going to be more people unemployed at the end of this year than at the beginning of the year and the industry is going to be smaller. It’s resilient and it will recover, but it is going to be smaller because the economy is going to be smaller and both employers and employees are going to have to make decisions just as consumers are, frankly.
Speaking with members, the current crisis that we’re in is going to see a lot of redundancies, and I expect that when we are at its nadir we’ll be about 30% smaller than we were at the beginning of this – and we will end the year about 15% smaller.
The highest estimate I’ve seen for the size of the UK public relations industry comes from the PRCA: and it’s 90,000 people employed. That 30% figure takes us back to just above 60,000.
We’ve already heard about freelance practitioners losing much of their work; we know people who are facing redundancy, and know that those graduating in 2020 are going to find it much harder to get a foot in the door and start building their careers.
Think how quickly the narrative has changed. Francis Ingham spoke in the same podcast about the 12 years of continuous growth in the sector – and for the PRCA – since he joined in 2008 during the last economic downturn. Each summer, I’ve become used to employers contacting me to ask if I know of any good graduates who could apply for their vacancies.
The change this year is sudden, and shocking. But we can’t say we weren’t warned. I don’t mean warnings about pandemics or catastrophic climate change, though we certainly had those.
I mean warnings about the impact of technology on our working lives.
I reported on emerging business technology back in the 1980s, the first decade of the personal computer, and at the start of mobile telephones (we called them carphones back then).
I had clients and employers in the 90s who were in the forefront of the next wave of automation: networking, shared software (‘groupware’) and the internet.
Technology investment promised returns either from greater business effectiveness or from efficiency savings. Computers are much cheaper than people.
Yet something else happened. The more we spent on technology, the more the whole economy grew, generating more work and creating more jobs. This threw up occasional anomalies, such as the wayward overpricing of technology startups who had never made a profit. We saw that in the dot com boom just before the millennium and much more recently with the hype around unicorn businesses. And yet, employment continued to grow even as Amazon threatened the high street and Facebook and Google hollowed out journalism.
Yet we’re now facing mass unemployment, and trying to estimate how big the numbers will be. Yet the big mystery persists: how there were more people in work at the start of the year than at any time in history.
Technology seemed to be giving us all the upsides with very few economic downsides. It seems that we had our cake – and were eating it with little regard for the future.
Now that Covid-19 has administered a short, sharp shock to the economy, we should brace ourselves for change.
To give a simple example. Will employers be so keen to take graduates on, even at modest starting salaries, just to crank out press releases and contact journalists? Particularly as the media industry has become so much smaller.
How far would that £24,000 starting salary go in terms of technology to automate the process of news release writing and media outreach? Even if there wasn’t much saved in year one in money or in efficiency, what about years two, three and four?
Will employers be keen to return to the old ways or will they be looking for ways to get ahead of the curve?
That’s why I’m looking forward to this year’s #MindThePRGap conference. It addresses two pressing questions facing all of us and our industry in the post Covid-19 world:
- AI, creativity and fake news
- The future of work, careers and learning
What had been planned as a one day meeting in Greenwich is now taking place across two days: with 90 minute sessions on each day comprising keynote speakers and a discussion panel.
It’s still a collaboration between University of Greenwich and PR Academy and it’s free to attend online. All you need to do is to register on Eventbrite for either or both sessions, and optionally for the virtual networking session at the end of day two.
Here’s the outline of each day’s session with the link to the Eventbrite booking form. You’ll need to enter your details for each session you’d like to sign up for. I’m looking forward to seeing you there.
AI, creativity and fake news in a post Covid-19 world
Date and time: Thursday 9 July 12noon to 1.30pm
Keynote speakers: Professor Andrew McStay and Professor Vian Bakir (both at Bangor University)
Panellists: Kevin Read (Pembroke and Rye), Stuart Youngs (Texture AI), Vian Bakir and Andrew McStay
The future of work, careers and learning in a post Covid-19 world
Date and time: Friday 10 July 12noon to 1.30pm
Keynote speakers: Satyen Dayal (Edelman), Dr Heather Yaxley (Applause Consultancy and Knowledge Management Consultant at CIPR) and Dr Sarah Roberts-Bowman (Northumbria University)
Panellists: Satyen Dayal, Heather Yaxley, Sarah Roberts-Bowman, Jon Gerlis (CIPR) and Steve Miller (PRCA)
Virtual drinks, networking and PR quiz
Date and time: Friday 10 July 5pm to 6.30pm