COVID-19 and its impact on the work of experts and public relations specialists in Poland

Dariusz Tworzydło,
Faculty of Journalism, Information and Book Studies, University of Warsaw,

The presented analysis results from research carried out in 2020 within the public relations and media industry. It was conducted at a particular period when the world was fighting the first waves of the pandemic. The research made it possible to identify the changes that have been taking place, which permanently or temporarily would change the scope of the tools used and the relationships established between selected groups of stakeholders. In this study, a synthetic analysis is carried out on projects that concerned both journalists and public relations specialists. It also includes the main conclusions and assessments resulting from the research[i].

The analysis begins with a closer glance at whether PR professionals are concerned about the impact of the restrictions on the performance of their professional duties in public relations agencies. Research conducted at the turn of November and December 2020 jointly with the Association of Public Relations Agencies on employees of agencies affiliated with the Association, indicates that concerns are present among the respondents, but they are not as strong as in the first wave of the coronavirus (March-April 2020). People representing the PR industry, who have experienced functioning in the new reality, get used to the necessary restrictions and the resulting changes. Almost every third respondent has no concerns (31.9%), and every fourth is moderately worried – their fears are lower than during the first wave of the pandemic (26.4%). 13.9% of respondents are as afraid as during the first wave, while 8.8% of respondents are even more afraid. Interestingly, as many as 19% of respondents answered “hard to say” to the question “Are you concerned about the negative impact of the current restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic on your PR agency?”. Therefore, they were not able to precisely define what their assessment was, which may have been largely due to the fact that the changes taking place in connection with the pandemic are, on the one hand, very dynamic, and, on the other hand, difficult to estimate in terms of long-term effects.

Concerns are a common phenomenon that accompanies the work of people associated with professions that react flexibly to the introduced restrictions. This is also the case with the profession of a specialist or manager dealing with public relations. This problem is visible and important from the perspective of changes taking place in the analyzed industry. Looking at the total percentage of responses indicating the presence of certain concerns (49% in the entire sample), it is worth noting that the scale of their visibility depends on the position held by a person and the length of service. The future of work in the agency is especially disturbing for senior management (72%)[ii] and people with the longest work experience (61.5%). In particular,  those people who have already experienced other crises, e.g. economic ones, are able to predict the potential consequences of subsequent events of this type, and COVID-19 is certainly an unprecedented crisis, an event that the global economy has not experienced so far. Hence, the fears that arise are not only justified but also have rational grounds.

Concerns of the surveyed specialists are usually closely related to the assessment of changes that will take place in the future, but also to the issue of forecasts. The concerns mentioned above persist in relation to the research that was carried out in the first months of the pandemic in 2020. In this research project[iii] public relations specialists were asked to assess how, in their opinion, the market of advisory and communication services will change in the era of the pandemic. The vast majority of respondents (69%) emphasized the need to change the work mode and move to the home office. It was the fastest change that occurred immediately after the outbreak of the pandemic. Not only more duties, but also performing tasks remotely – these are trends that will be more difficult to break. To save costs, many companies have given up expensive offices, reduced their size, and transferred activities partially to the network, dividing employees into groups – those who work in the office and those who can perform their duties remotely. A work rotation system has also been introduced in some entities. A significant reduction in employment was also predicted. In the case of 12% of respondents, the necessity to change the industry became real. The respondents indicated that one of the trends that will continue after the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control will be the reduction of employment (57.9%). For several months during the pandemic, personnel changes were made in the industry. They were mainly a reaction to adjustments in the number of employees needed to complete the changing structure of projects for clients.  During the above-mentioned projects, the respondents also indicated that the pandemic is the most serious crisis that the public relations industry had to deal with in Poland (57.9%).

There is also one additional important observation worth noting. Respondents assessed that for several entities forming the communications industry in Poland, the sequence of events associated with the pandemic is more of an opportunity than a threat (43.0%). The opportunity was seen, among other things, in moving to a higher level of management in terms of using available technological tools, e.g. for conducting meetings, workshops or online conferences, and even operational management. Another favorable circumstance was the possibility to make savings, which are easiest and fastest to implement during crisis events. From the perspective of the changes that are taking place and will continue to take place in the public relations industry, the next opportunity was connected with a very dynamic transition of many clients of the agency towards digital PR, which forced companies to adapt to the new realities and changes occurring on this market. In addition, research has shown that crisis management, CSR, and internal communication activities have started to become increasingly popular on the market. Thus, it can be assessed that COVID-19 has indeed caused significant changes in the public relations industry and will force permanent trends. Therefore, companies from the industry will be obliged to adapt to them if their strategic goal is development.

[i] The research and analyzes presented in this study were prepared by a team led by prof. Dariusz Tworzydło, composed of: Przemysław Szuba, Marek Zajic, Mateusz Lach, Sławomir Gawroński.

[ii] Chi-square = 14.860; df = 4; p = 0.005; Kramer V = 0.185.

[iii] Exacto’s own research from May and April 2020. The aim of the research was to understand the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the PR industry and to gather views on the future of the industry after the COVID-19 situation is brought under control. Ultimately, 242 PR specialists took part in the survey.


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