6 Ways COVID-19 has Changed the Public Relations Industry

By Hannah Schuller
March 11, 2021

At the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is easy to note how the entire world has changed, adapting to new regulations and safety protocols. The public relations industry has shifted, as well—the ways we communicate completely changed in the past year. See six ways that COVID-19 has shifted the way PR pros communicate and do their jobs—and why some of these changes are likely here to stay.

1. Media relations shifted to include more virtual interviews.

A huge part of media relations is coordinating interviews between clients and reporters, from prepping the client to traveling to a physical location for interviews or meetings. Because COVID-19 limited in-person interactions, public relations professionals pivoted to conduct virtual interviews, often via video. This can be an advantage because it saves time and budget and reduces the need for people to be in the same place at the same time. Using virtual tactics to connect with reporters may put everyone more at-ease, too, and gives more control over the interview.

2. Virtual events offered new options—and challenges.

From influencer gatherings to press conferences or conventions, holding events is a common way to bring people together to foster community and raise brand awareness. Moving events online has offered new challenges, but it also offers new ways to stay involved. Creating online communities has helped people get together and feel a little more normal, and online events allow more flexibility with schedules. In addition, new platforms like Clubhouse rose out of the chaos as venues to host organized, informational meetings that fill the gap of in-person events. The ease and accessibility of virtual events has proven to be helpful. While in-person events will come back, online options are expected to stick around and offer new options for bringing people together.

3. Communication has become more asynchronous.

Before COVID-19, communication was often synchronous – conversations happened in real time, and people were expected to always be “on.” Impromptu chats were quick and common. Now, communication is more asynchronous, which may give people more time to think through responses. Since being in-person has not been as possible, written communication has become more prevalent. While synchronous communication still occurs through phone calls or live video chats, there often is more planning involved before a conversation happens. This has helped individuals be more thoughtful in their communication and scheduling because they have more time to plan and work through issues on their own time.

4. Social media has played a pivotal role in keeping people connected.

According to Business Insider, between 46 percent and 51 percent of U.S. adults are using social media more since the pandemic began. While social media was an integral part of our society before, it has become even more important as a tool to stay connected when physically apart. Apps like TikTok have exploded because of their ability to offer short, interesting content that is easily digestible and catered to the user. After interacting on the app, a user’s “for you page” shows content based on what was previously watched and created, which gives a level of personalization that keeps people coming back. Human connection is important in our world, and, when we cannot gather in person, social media fills those gaps.

5. We have new words and phrases.

When something that has never happened before occurs, like the pandemic, new words and phrases are bound to appear in our language. A year ago, no one had ever said “social distancing” or “flatten the curve.” “Quarantine” and “isolation” now have totally different meanings; in the past, people would use them interchangeably. In addition, words take on additional weight – no one could have predicted that “unprecedented” would be used to describe so many situations in the past year, and “the new normal” has a new universal meaning representing how the world has changed. It is important that public relations professionals are choosing their words carefully when communicating with audiences regarding the pandemic and that these phrases that have become part of our everyday vocabulary do not get overused.

6. Accessibility has increased.

Out of everything the pandemic has changed in the public relations sphere, increased accessibility is perhaps what stands out most. Geographic location matters much less in an online world. Virtual events are available to people all over the world, not just those who can attend in person. While it is hard to replicate the feeling of being together face-to-face, the pandemic’s increased accessibility offers opportunities to bring more people and perspectives together, which may continue to erase geographic and physical barriers moving forward.

The last year of living through a pandemic has changed so many things in the communications world, but these trends are expected to stick around, even as we start to return to life more as it was pre-COVID.

While the past year has presented many challenges, the opportunities to learn and grow have showed that the PR industry is sustainable, adaptable and resilient in times of crisis.