By Jessica Hann

As is the case in so many industries, the COVID-19 outbreak has complicated things for people working in PR. Between the interruption of business for individual companies and the disruption of content consumption more broadly, many in this industry find themselves facing an uncertain future.

In some cases, this has led to a search for supplemental work in communications-related fields. This was the focus of Utah Valley University Communications and PR graduate John Kovach Jr.’s piece on PR jobs, which was posted here back in the spring. In that piece, Kovach correctly highlighted a number of different lines of work that PR specialists can thrive in when uncertainty strikes the industry — such as freelance writing, editing, or even teaching. Indeed, many people with the skills to work in public relations will find success in these areas, possibly even leading to new career paths.

At the same time however, COVID-19 has presented some interesting opportunities more directly related to PR work. While it’s undeniable that some companies have taken a hit, and as a result some jobs have disappeared, the broader impact may actually benefit those who take a forward-looking approach to the industry.

This is primarily because the COVID-19 outbreak and its effects on our culture have helped to speed up a shift in how media is consumed. And in fact, Inc.’s report on consumer behavior and media consumption indicates that since March, we’ve actually seen an increase in overall content consumption. However, the nature of that consumption is changing as well. Consumers are even more dependent on digital sources (as well as on social media) given that they’re staying home more often, and spending more time on computers, tablets, and phones. So, basically, we’re in something of a digital content boom — and one that some believe will be here to stay even when pandemic concerns subside.

The reason this matters with particular regard to PR careers is that such careers are increasingly being pitched as part of a tech-forward industry. Pandemic-related shifts have sped up technology-driven approaches to academic and business challenges. Maryville University’s discussion regarding the use of an online masters in communication speaks to this evolution clearly with talk of “growing integration in marketing and PR campaigns.” Expanding on this idea with points about content in social media channels, voice search and SEO, and a generally “evolving field,” the discussion makes a case that those going into PR need to be up to date on current trends in communication — virtually all of which are based in tech.

What this means, essentially, is that PR work in general is already moving further into the digital realm, which is where media and communications appear to be headed in earnest as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. In theory then, even if PR jobs have been lost, the field may be well suited to make a comeback given the growing need for digitally driven content engagement.

The key question about the ongoing evaluation of the PR landscape, though, is what changes as the outbreak subsides and society gradually returns to normal (or at least some version of it). PRWeek’s surveys of PR in the post-pandemic future, released in May, painted an uncertain picture. On the one hand, data indicated at that time that roughly 64% of companies had reduced their budgets for PR. On the other hand, there were also clear indications that many companies are looking into remote work and reduced contact moving forward — which could free up some funds, as well as make it easy for communications work to be contributed digitally. It also needs to be kept in mind that recovery is ongoing. We don’t know what the near future will look like, but depleted budgets and lost jobs will likely come back in some cases.

All in all, the picture is mixed. Unquestionably, people in PR have taken a hit, in some cases resulting in a total loss of work. At the same time though, the ways in which COVID-19 has changed the nature of media consumption may be favorable. The growing thirst for digital content matches up well with PR and communications industries increasingly moving toward digital operations and outreach.