Challenges and opportunities facing communications agencies during the pandemic

By Hannah Tait, Senior Account Manager at PLMR and Adriana Sanchez, Group Director at Alterpraxis

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 created a seismic shift in working practices around the world, the effects of which continue to be felt in businesses today. From making the transition to remote working, to adapting to changing priorities for our clients and dealing with the economic impact of the pandemic, we were both struck by the similarities and differences between our experiences of working as communication consultants during this turbulent period.

Adriana’s perspective

I am currently working as a group director at Alterpraxis, a communications agency based in Mexico which specialises in corporate media relations, public affairs and digital services. Similar to PLMR, Alterpraxis operates within a variety of sectors including energy, education, finance, healthcare and automotive, and has a growing specialism in sustainability. I have been at Alterpraxis for over eight years, and my experience lies in public affairs and corporate communications for agriculture, energy, education and software-based clients.

For my team similarly to Hannah’s, Covid-19 sparked a long-term shift to remote working. However, it was only in April this year that the company decided to return to the office for one day a week. Most of my team joined during the pandemic, so they are unfamiliar with the usual face-to-face work, and finding the advantages beyond the remote format has been a challenge. However, implementing the hybrid format (one day of in-office work) has helped the teams get to know each other face-to-face, understand what the other members do within the organisation, and work in a respectful and more coordinated way. Every Tuesday, my full team meets to get a weekly status of the accounts and to have their meals together. While we each have our own personal routines and match professional KPIs, we all have in common that the pandemic has also helped us to aspire to something we had not had time to think about: our individual well-being.

Technology helped is to keep in touch despite the lockdown, so communication tools and platforms became the every day norm. Face-to-face meetings that used to take two hours commute into the office were reduced to 30 minutes by Zoom or Teams. On the communication of government decisions to contain the contagion, it was a challenge for official newspapers to match the speed of social media: Twitter and Facebook became the communication channels of choice for authorities, which, for highly regulated industries, left doubts about the details that each decision implied. Core and non-core industries shared the same situation.

The sectors which my clients operate within have faced unique opportunities and challenges during Covid, including the initial uncertainty of the pandemic: not knowing how short or long this process would be, until reaching a point where, without knowing it, we were already adapted to living in the pandemic.

The same can be said for the world of public relations in Mexico. The PR world demands creativity and thinking outside the box to make our clients’ content attractive, so working remotely was an extra challenge, as the attractiveness of the events could be lost in a virtual environment… besides, how many webinars can the media withstand?

Hannah’s perspective

As a senior account manager in PLMR’s education practice, I have seen, similarly to Adriana, how Covid-19 has continually changed the goalposts for the schools and multi-academy trusts (MATs), education technology (edtech) providers, charities and education organisations we support.

Lockdowns, remote learning, dealing with staff and pupil illnesses and isolations and keeping Covid-19 at bay in the classroom; schools have had to adapt quickly and navigate a myriad of difficult scenarios and situations. The communications support we provide for clients has therefore adapted too.

Schools have been required to deliver a new level of responsiveness and communication with parents, pupils, staff, wider communities. Teachers and school leaders have, however, risen to the challenge and shifted tact to not only continue providing exceptional teaching and learning, but also share best practice and advice to support the wider sector.

For all the disruption caused by the pandemic, it has also sparked an edtech revolution with education settings seeing the long-term benefits of incorporating technology in the classroom, from providing a more inclusive learning experience to automating marking and aiding lesson planning. This provided a renewed interest and demand for our clients to share their edtech expertise through thought-leadership articles, virtual speaking opportunities, interviews and more.

As Adriana notes, the PR industry has faced various obstacles during Covid-19, with one being the fluidity of the media landscape. Staying abreast of the constantly changing education and media landscape has never been more critical, as well as ensuring education organisations are able to stay competitive, cut through the noise and add value to the wider conversation.

Whilst navigating the changes in priorities for clients, we were also adjusting to working from home. Alterpraxis’ experience of remote working is very similar to ours at PLMR, being aided by Teams, Zoom and other communication platforms to meet with clients, catch up with colleagues each day and unwind with virtual all-staff yoga sessions, drinks and quizzes along the way. This provided important touchpoints for teams and the wider business to continue connecting and supporting one another, something which I definitely appreciated. As Adriana highlighted, working remotely also encouraged many of us to reflect on our work life balance and what we need to be happy and take care of our mental wellbeing, as well as the value of in-person connections.

While Alterpraxis re-joined this April, our agency began the transition to hybrid working and a return to the office in the spring of 2021. This provided an important opportunity for everyone to meet in person the wonderful new colleagues who joined the agency throughout the pandemic and learn about, as Adriana says, what colleagues are doing and working on across the wider business. This is particularly important when working in a busy integrated communications agency like ours!

It has been a wonderful opportunity to learn about the similarities between Adriana and myself and our day-to-day life and work in a communications agency through the GCA peer mentorship network.


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