Working without ceremony: COVID changed in-person aspect of some PR work, but industry was able to adapt

Scott Marioni. (File photo)

By now, there were supposed to be many more red ribbons sliced into two halves — sometimes with comically oversized scissors — and more shovels ceremoniously plunged into soft earth than there have been.

And a commercial real estate-focused public relations professional like Scott Marioni would’ve had a hand in getting the word out about these events.

But the pandemic, for a time, kept ribbons intact and shovels unsoiled.

Marioni, owner and president at R&J Strategic Communications, said that, for as commonplace as these media-attracting ceremonies had been before COVID-19 upstaged them all, their absence most of last year — or deferment, in some cases — didn’t take a toll on the everyday work of PR agencies.

“Between the ribbon cuttings and the groundbreakings, the conferences, the trade shows and other in-person events, we were missing a normal part of our repertoire,” he said. “What’s amazing is that, despite all that, I don’t think our media engagement or pitching changed all that much.”

It hasn’t taken away from his agency’s ability to get news about construction or other developments into print, he’s found. He added that he believes it hasn’t detracted any from the value he and his peers have brought to clients.

Even as more agreed-on safety guidelines for gatherings introduced certain in-person events back into the mix this year, PR agencies that work with clients in sectors once more reliant on face-to-face encounters with media have found a new comfort in connecting virtually.

Sometimes, these events are still taking place online and in-person only in a limited fashion, if at all. The merrymaking around a new real estate project, business opening or building expansion isn’t likely to ever go away completely, so the thinking surrounding these events — and how PR agents go about getting the word out about them — might not remain altogether changed.

But a change the pandemic did usher in is more urgency to the communications that R&J and other PR firms facilitate. Their clients, particularly those in real estate and health care, have needed to get messages out quickly about exposures, protocols and other COVID-related news.

“So, while the frequency might have changed, us having to rely on virtual tools for our engagement hasn’t impaired our ability to represent clients,” he said. “We’re just having to conduct business in a new, unique way.”

Remote relations

Chris Rosica never thought of himself as old school.

He’s head of a PR firm, Rosica Communications, that tries to stay on the cutting edge of the latest trends in social media and technology. He tries to stay open-minded on most things.

Chris Rosica.

But, he had to admit he had at least one blind spot. When it came to remote work: There was no denying it. …

He was, in fact, old school.

“I just didn’t believe in it,” he said. “We had this beautiful office in Fairlawn — really a cool, unique space — and we were all working together out of it.”

Today, it’s sitting vacant. Everyone is working from home.

They’re happy about it. When his team was given the option of continuing to work from home or coming back, they chose to continue with the remote setups.

And he’s happy about it. How could he not be?

“They’re doing the best work they’ve done — all from home,” he said. “We’ve been winning more PR awards since the pandemic. And everyone’s productivity is really high.”

Among other accolades, the firm was recognized by Forbes this year as one of the country’s best PR agencies.

So, what’s next? If remote working is what’s working — he’s going to hire remote workers.

“We’re looking far and wide in our talent search now,” he said. “We don’t really care where the person lives, as long as they’re what we’re looking for … as long as the attitude, outlook and skills are there.”