It has been a brutal quarter for all of us in the communications sector. JCDecaux, the outdoor advertiser, saw revenue shrink by two-thirds, from $1 billion a quarter to $350 million. The holding company numbers were grim, especially Omnicom, down nearly 25 percent in revenue. PR is hardly immune, with the Omnicom PR units down 14 percent and IPG units down low double digits. This parallels our own experience at Edelman and Zeno. But the creative agencies such as BBDO saw revenue down 27 percent. What’s going on here?

The reputation aspect of PR has never been more important. Government is investigating the four largest tech companies. Employees are demanding a more activist approach to issues from systemic racism to sustainability. CEOs are expected to exercise public leadership, speaking out to change policy. Companies want to lead change instead of waiting for regulation. Trust depends on ability to deliver, but three-quarters of trust capital is in dependability, integrity and purpose.

The murder of George Floyd has prompted a massive reconsideration of the responsibility of the private sector on race. We have 300 engagements of our Floyd Forward team, from repairing historic problems to setting a new standard for hiring and promoting diverse talent. We are educating and learning at the same time with employee engagement, crisis, brand and public affairs teams fully engaged. We know that brands speaking up on race gain four times more trust than those remaining silent.

We are deploying Communications Technology. The sweet spot for us in a B-to-B context is enablement, to repeatedly communicate with a prospect increasing the likelihood of a transaction. We use predictive analytics to guide our engagement strategy. PR becomes a value center and revenue driver, moving beyond our classic publishing model of measuring impressions or clicks.

We are faster and more attuned to the news cycle. Our work for Dove Men’s for Father’s Day went from concept to execution to on-air in 10 days, providing an important news hook for earned media. We offer trustworthy content that prompts discussion on social channels. Our creative is designed to provoke and inspire movements.

We are advising clients to act, not just to communicate. From including black and Hispanic-owned small business in supply chain to brokering donations to food banks to helping clients on their new, safer and distanced service offers, we are evolving the offer and committing to different. We are moving PR from defense to offense, from license to operate toward license to change. It is down to the private sector to bring us back to a new normal; government can only provide temporary support.

As I watched Steve Barrett, editor in chief of PRWeek, interview Michael Phelps, American Olympic hero, about his struggles with mental illness as part of the PRWeek Awards dinner, I had a deep sense of satisfaction about my choice of profession. What we do matters, more every day. Push for the better. Clients are listening as never before. 

Richard Edelman is CEO.