The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the whole of humanity and changed every aspect of human behavior. The pandemic resulted in a crisis time for almost all the organisations, institutions, including the all-powerful government machinery. Effective communications and readiness of adapting to a new environment is the key to endure during this unique crisis time. Public Relations is one of the most effective ways to build on such strategies and create a strong brand image with a powerful message. Organisations have now become very conscious during this pandemic. They want to show their empathy towards their existing as well as prospective stakeholders with the help of public relations.
However, the pandemic has completely changed the role and responsibilities of public relations. There are many twists and turns in the traditional PR tools. In these tough times, it’s very much necessary to recalibrate PR plans not only to gain the trust of the stakeholders but also to remove the lies that have been continuously being generated and dispensed by the people having vested interests. Here I would discuss some of them which are detrimental to the whole exercise the government is involved with right now to get rid of the pandemic.
Take the case of vaccination drive. The government agenda is very clear – vaccinate everyone by December end. But there are powers that be, active on social media platforms, hell bent on putting hurdles before the efforts of the government. The medical team visiting rural India is facing great difficulty as people are not coming out to get themselves vaccinated. Many health workers and doctors have been beaten when they persisted. The rumor mill has a stronger impact on the rural population as smartphones are in their easy reach wherein anyone can become a news spreader with a YouTube account and Telegram Channel. A message with a possible outcome of vaccination is being transmitted very fast. And the space of mischief is wide – right from death to becoming impotent. As long as these rumors are not mitigated the government’s effort will go in vain and the country cannot get away from the deadly pandemic.
Although it may seem out of place but my strategy as a PR person would be to involve all those influencers who have strong presence in rural hinterland like Gram Pradhan, Sarpanch, Patwari, Asha Workers & Anganwadi volunteers, local teachers etc. Only they can hit the nail in the right groove. The opinion and advice of a leader always matter. People want to hear from their leaders especially during tough times. Designing a PR strategy using the experience and knowledge of the key people and placing their expertise for the welfare of society could go a long way.
Influencers are the new buzz and their role is becoming bigger day by day. Due to the increasing popularity of social media, every social media user is an influence on others. Followers and friends always pay attention and participate in the endorsements done by their friends, family, and opinion leaders. In the time of covid-19, people are searching for real experiences from trustworthy sources. Conveying messages through influencers is a smart and convenient way of reaching the public in this pandemic.
Effective health information campaigns play an important role in raising public awareness and encouraging preventive and health-promoting behavior. We find that relative to the information provided via text messages, discussing various precautions over the phone can significantly improve rural people’s awareness and induce compliance with COVID-19 public health guidelines.
And things are indeed happening around us. Take the case of the “My Family, My Responsibility” campaign initiated in Maharashtra. Many districts did wonderful work for preventing the pandemic and identifying those with co-morbid health conditions. The State Government is implementing the campaign to stop the spread of the coronavirus across the state. With the involvement of social organisations, NGOs, people’s representatives, and political parties in the campaign, it is very successful.
Likewise, Bharti AXA Life Insurance launched its crop insurance campaign – ‘Bohot Zaroori Hai’ – for farmers in Maharashtra and Karnataka to encourage them about their crop protection and financial security. The campaign was aimed at making the farming community aware about the relevance and significance of crop insurance that mitigates the rural distress caused by crop failure or damage due to factors like unseasonal rains, monsoon failure, storms, floods, pests and diseases.
We already have seen business growth of the country’s rural consumer markets, which is expected to be faster than urban consumer markets. The size of the prize in India’s rural hinterlands is growing bigger than many businesses initially thought. The agricultural development programs of the government have helped to increase income in the agricultural sector. These in turn have created greater purchasing power in rural markets. Increased literacy and greater awareness in rural markets create new demands and discriminating buyers. So there the reach of the campaign would be faster compared to cities and metros.
The next step could be using different media platforms, NGO’s and other social bodies. Social Media Posts, Blogs, Interviews, Podcasts, Panel Discussions, research articles, etc. can be very effective tools of public relations. Content and reviews generated by these communities work as testimonials. After all, as PR person we had been using comments and experiences of customers for publicity and to develop brand equity. The CSR activities could be aligned with this strategy with an increased presence on social media platforms or planning an event that is in sync with the present happenings could give fabulous results.
The objective is to generate media attention and spread positive news.
By Dr. Ajai Kumar Agarwal
(Dr. Ajai Kumar Agarwal is a veteran Public Relations person. Public Relations Council of India in its global conclave held in Bangalore has conferred on him the prestigious Dr. KR Singh Memorial Life Time Achievement Award in the field of PR at the national level. It speaks a lot about his achievements. Presently he is VP Corporate Relations of the CBSL group of companies and former national president of the Public Relations Council of India (PRCI). He was heading Corporate Communications of Central Bank of India before retirement. He is also an advisor to the SME Chamber of India and has been a very prominent speaker at various gatherings, including a keynote speaker at an international conference on Media held in Rome.)