The PRAO Highlights of the Year

PR team

It’s that time of the year when we can take a step back and look at all we have achieved. Like many companies, we were on for a record year of growth before Covid came and turned everything on its head. Our clients were pausing activity and our company budgeting looked desperate. As things turned out, we ended the year up slightly on the year before that – quite how that happened can only be down to the hard work and dedication of our team. Here is my overview of 2020.

“2020 was a great year…” said no one ever.

I am sure I speak for most business owners that this year was tough – unless they had a nice side-hustle in PPE equipment or ecommerce.

After the UK locked down, the furlough scheme came in and I am not ashamed to say that I wept tears of relief knowing that I would not have to make any redundancies. We can’t guarantee what 2021 will look like but at the moment we are in a good place to keep our talent on board.

Even after the the downturn, we still managed to close our year end accounts in June, up by 8%, despite March, April, May and June being terrible.

Slowly but surely as lockdown was released, clients grew in confidence and business started to resume as normal.

Our company’s performance is only a function of the ability of our people. When I look back on this year, I will try not to remember the virus but the humanity and talent of our people that brought us through it.

People Power

Our team really put themselves through the grinder to help the business during Covid and I was impressed by everyone’s reaction and performance. It is no word of a lie that each and every one of us gave blood, sweat and tears at some point.

This year we were joined by Stephen Sanders and Emily Hume, while Gemma Cowburn returned into the fold. Gemma Eccleston went on maternity leave.

Stephen joined about a week before lockdown. I can’t imagine how worried he must have been, joining our company just as Covid struck. In the end he had nothing to fear. He’s done a cracking job!

Emily joined as we needed more resource on our B2B/corporate team and she really hit the ground running, despite moving from the sunlit uplands of the home counties to peak ‘lockdown Manchester’. She’s not exactly had a typical start to agency life but she’s doing better than anyone could have hoped given the circumstances. And she’s bought herself a ‘big coat’ to survive our harsh winter climate of the north.

Gemma Cowburn has rejoined the team too, despite being forced to shield and not having met a single member of the team face to face. She too brings oodles of creativity and passion and is a great asset.

It was the youngest members of the team that I worried about the most. Younger people are often stuck in flats or house shares with no outdoor space – staring at screens and Zoom calls all day. I worried that, for them, home started to feel like a prison.

People with young families struggled too of course and had to work from their houses while home schooling. I really felt for their situation. I was lucky that my kids were old enough to just get on with the work I set. Others were less lucky.

We also had staff on maternity leave. Some might say 2020 was a good year to take maternity leave but let’s be honest, some of the rules around parents attending scans, or even not being allowed to attend the birth were downright diabolical. Then there were the months where new babies and grandparents were kept apart. I don’t envy being locked down with a newborn baby. Not at all. They deserve a mention too.

The world of PR has changed over the past twelve months

The previous barriers to working from home were well and truly smashed.

At the start of lockdown we all went Zoom crazy. We had a Zoom call in the morning and in the evening to check in on everybody. We felt it was the right thing to do to chat and see if everyone was OK.

It quickly became apparent that Zoom fatigue was kicking in, and these calls became weekly. As much as we liked to chat, by the end of the day we had all had enough of screens and our own four walls. 

Then we had the mental health worries. Work had become much less enjoyable. Working from home has its place but the consensus is that it needs to be used in moderation. The energy and creativity of working together in an office had been replaced by soulless video calls and work felt like one long job list.

A big part of PR is the social side. Gone were our Friday drinks in Electrik, team night outs, or our Christmas parties in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Budapest.

It sucked!

Even pitching didn’t have the same vibe. Pitching over Zoom is just functional and lacks the energy of in real life communication.

We all miss travelling too. Part of the fun of pitching was getting out into the world and seeing new places and people. And we all miss the post-pitch pint to celebrate a win!

People management became harder as those quick queries that might happen informally over a desk all took an email or a call to achieve.

It certainly became harder to achieve excellence in public relations. Media relations has become a real battle, with calling journalists more difficult because they are less likely to give out their personal phone numbers, or even answer mobile phones. It is a battle that we are winning though, and we’ve tweaked our approach to become more effective.

Back to the office

In the summer we made the office Covid secure, in conjunction with our HR partners Citation. We spent thousands of pounds on getting it ready, only to go back to work for a week before lockdown hit again.

This time we took a different approach to our daily working routine. There was a clear business need to be in the office, at least part of the time. 

We split the company into two teams and picked two days each when these teams would work from the office. Anyone who needed to shield could shield, and strict processes were in place around illness and other issues.

Those who, for their own mental health, preferred to work from the office could also do so. It really was a surprise just how badly working from home has affected people’s stress levels and general happiness. 

The slightest sign of a cold or a cough and team members would work from home.

There were countless other processes too to safeguard our team. This allowed us to work more normally.

What about our great work?

We’ve delivered some great work over the course of 2020 – despite Covid. We’ve won a UK Search Award for Best Use of PR for our work with Auto Trader, and we have also won four gold AMEC Awards. This was a year when we had planned not to enter any awards, but we had to bag a couple! It was just too tempting.

Our B2B/corporate team really came into its own in 2020. Without their hard work and support, the company would be in much worse shape as consumer PR was hit the hardest. The B2B/corporate team performed well, kept winning work and helped keep the business profitable.

Our team don’t need awards to validate their performance, I hope they all know that they have done a great job. We’ve had our ups and downs but we’ve had more positives than negatives, which is remarkable given the context of 2020. I wish I could give them all a trophy.

And so it is Christmas

And as we push towards 2021 the teams are putting to bed the final Christmas campaigns of the year. But our attention now is on 2021 and now – as we head towards mass vaccination – we look at how we can have a strong first and second quarter, as we approach our financial year end in June.

My priority is to make coming to work enjoyable and rewarding. I want to remove the grind of working from home and bring back human connections as much as we can.

I want everyone to have something to work towards. Yes, we need to be profitable but first and foremost we need our mojo back! That’s why we had a company catch up in December to look at ways to make 2021 more enjoyable. Once the UK unlocks I think 2021 is going to be a crazy year, lots of holidays, a baby boom and a desire for people to go travelling and see the world to make up for lost time. 

We as directors of companies need to be ready for 2021 being a year of change for many people and sympathetic to the changing situation.

One thing is certain. PR Agency One will continue to grow, innovate and deliver for its clients thanks to the hard work of its people.

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