One of the questions Jay Evans, Mobas' Head of PR has been asking himself repeatedly during this pandemic is not only WHEN will we go back to normal, but IF we will – and SHOULD WE?
Having been working from home for several weeks I have noticed a change in not just mine, but the whole team’s attitude towards work. That, however, is not a negative statement, but one of pride at everyone’s ability to adapt and how, if anything, they appear more motivated, dedicated and productive.
But that is easy for us, as the team are still working full time, albeit working from home. I personally have limited distractions at home – my dog doesn’t demand a huge amount of my time (although he seems to suddenly have a much weaker bladder), I have no partner at home and no children. The same goes for some of the team too. So, adjusting to this new way of working has been quite easy. We are providing quality written work; delivering creative, co-ordinated and passionate new business pitches using Microsoft Teams; having regular video calls – even brainstorming across the different disciplines of the agency to deliver second-to-none, fresh and unique ideas that Mobas prides itself on. It very much is (excuse the cliché) “business as usual”.
The media impact
The same cannot be said of the people we used to speak to every week. I have been shocked at the impact this pandemic has had on the media. Journalists, some with decades of experience, have been put on thurlough – some have even lost their jobs after decades of dedication to their publications. Print magazines have halted print runs and moved to solely online, with just an editor and one, maybe two, journalists. The hardest hit being B2B publications as businesses pause their PR – possibly due to inhouse professionals currently being on furlough. We must remember; some companies do not have agencies and so PR suddenly gets pushed aside and forgotten about as business owners adjust to keep their businesses afloat.
What does that mean for coverage?
Honestly, it doesn’t seem to have caused us much of an issue. As a team we are still able to deliver great coverage for our clients – in some cases better coverage than typically, as with less PRs delivering releases to journalists inboxes (those who are still working), we are less likely to get lost. Some publications are now spending more time interviewing our clients, spokespeople or case studies than they would have done before this pandemic took hold.
The change of communications practices
The biggest adjustment in any of my working practices (now that I am used to seeing my face on a screen with 2-30 other people every day) is being creative with communication. Long gone are the days where we would send out our well-crafted release and follow up with a nice, friendly phone call. Nobody is at their desk! Landlines ring out – very few journalists that are working full time have their phones diverted. For the first few days I felt like I was hitting my head against a brick wall. But it suddenly struck me - social media. Why follow all these great journalists on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn and not make the most of it. Suddenly, we found a new way to communicate. Providing a slight nudge to the story so they are able to find the release. And voila – coverage!
Has the pandemic changed the PR industry forever?
The simple answer is that nobody knows! We, as an industry, have adapted. Public relations are one marketing discipline that has always had the ability to adapt to the changing environment in which it works. Social media was going to be the death of PR – it wasn’t. The reduction in newspaper print runs and shrinking readerships was going to destroy the PR industry – it didn’t, we adapted. The PR industry, and the professionals that work within, are an essential tool in a company’s marketing toolbelt. Agreed, some companies are still finding it difficult to understand the power of PR yet understand that reputation is the biggest influence in purchase and business growth. The education of business owners and marketers will always be a PR persons biggest challenge. Personally, I enjoy changing opinions on the importance of PR because I wholeheartedly believe in the power it has.
Should we go back to the ‘old normal’?
These cliché phrases are everywhere now, so sorry to use one again, but is this the ‘new norm’? I honestly don’t know…do you? Let’s face it, nobody does. If I were to speak personally, I have enjoyed not having to commute for an hour on a packed train to Cambridge at 6:30 every morning. I love that I can take my dog out at 6pm as opposed to 8pm. I like that I don’t have to pay a dog walker to spend an hour and a half with my dog Monday to Friday. So, for me, there are some positives.
But I am a bit of an extrovert and I have a creative and active mind – and I love a good natter. Although we have proven that we can brainstorm via video chat, it doesn’t feel the same as being in a room together. Bouncing ideas around and watching people’s reactions - body language, facial expressions – even sighs! It is in our nature as humans, and especially as creatives, to need reassurance on our ideas and that comes predominantly from our physical interactions.
I have read many an article about SMEs holding back on office upgrades to allow employees to work from home more, if not permanently. A recent BBC interview featured a small business that had decided to forgo having an office at all, saving the overheads and holding their weekly and monthly creative meetings in hired rooms in hotels. Perhaps this is wise, but it is not for me. As I commute quite a distance for work, I may find life easier to perhaps only go to the office for two days a week. Use these two days to satisfy my need to be with others, to get the creative juices flowing and spend some time having conversations with colleagues about what we got up to at the weekend, what silly things their kids did and having a pub lunch in the office local. But that is a long way off yet as we must observe social distancing, possibly for some time to come.
If someone had come up to us in September last year and said “You are all going to be working from home every day and communicating over a new Microsoft business app” we would have laughed in their face, It seemed unreal when it was announced we would be going into lockdown, and a mammoth task to adjust. But it wasn’t. There is so much talk of this being the “new norm”, but I don’t think it is. It is the “current norm”. But, as always, as businesspeople – as humans in fact – we have adapted. It is the chameleon effect, we may not change colour, but we have blended into our surroundings and adjusted to fit into it. When the lockdown is over, we will adjust again. If we are forced to wear facemasks to travel or visit the supermarket or DIY store, we will adjust again. When social distancing is over and we are able to shake hands or air kiss our clients, it will be strange – but we will adjust again.
In my humble opinion – come this time next year we will be back doing all these things, because we will adapt. When we do, I will enjoy a handshake more than ever, I will reach out and hug an upset colleague and I may even do my first ever tea run since starting at Mobas (I’ve got away with it so far). But more than anything, I will look back at this challenge with pride in myself, my team, my colleagues, the agency heads, my clients and the journalists we miss dearly with extreme pride, respect and love.
For now; stay home, stay safe and if you, like me, are stuck on your own in isolation and just want a chat, my socials are always there, I respond to all emails and my mobile is always on. And as my colleagues will concur, I love to chat.