PR and Coronavirus

Category: Agency News

By: Rich Leigh

Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those ‘9 things PR can learn about the effective spread of Coronavirus‘ thinkpieces. (Please don’t be the person to write that).

This is, instead, a look at how it’s impacted and impacting us and what we’ll do moving forward if things escalate.

As it’s likely to ring true for other PR agencies, it might be of some use/interest, as I’ve already talked to the team about what we’d do if we have to enact Operation Stay the F**k Away from the Office and PLEASE for the Love of God, Wash Your Hands.

Image result for spongebob don't panic

In summary though – we’re in a fortunate position as an industry and as a small and nimble agency in that we can work remotely, certainly more so than many other industries and businesses. After all, this agency started 5 years ago with a phone and this very laptop (I KNOW, I know, I’m cheap), and technology has only got better. Indeed, many agencies that already work virtually/with freelancers will be ready with processes already too.

How is it impacting us?

  • The agency itself – other than the same vague feeling of ‘uh, anybody know what’s going on?’ that you’ll all have, it’s very much business as usual.
  • The media – at a national level, we’ve had a lot of ‘sorry, we’re stacked with Coronavirus stories’ feedback, but that’s not stopped national coverage this past week. Regional and more specific/trade titles and broadcasters seem to be much less affected. We’ve rejigged story orders for some clients, and it’s given us an issue everybody is talking about to pitch clients for relevant features and opinion pieces around. Of course, there has to be a sensitivity around it.
  • Social media – we’ve not noticed a difference in terms of either organic or paid social results across any of the main platforms, and don’t foresee there to be. Bloggers and influencers are still delivering as well as they ever have for us, especially on the performance marketing side of things.
  • New business – we’ve had one client that was ready to sign on the line this week say that investors have advised them to hold off proactive marketing until things are clearer. I’ll be honest – this is £4,000 a month we won’t see this month, and don’t know when we will. But, happily, a) I’ve always taken the approach that it’s not money until it’s money (which means contract signed and invoice paid) and b) we’ve got other leads that are going ahead unflustered – with one contract out this morning to be signed and another new client coming in at the tail-end of last week. Weird transparency there perhaps, but I think it’s important we don’t give in to the idea this is some sort of economic apocalypse just yet.
  • Current clients – it really is a case of advising clients not to panic – of course the media is focusing on Coronavirus, but there’s still a media and audience interest in editorially interesting stories of all flavours. Results for media relations-led work are still coming in, plans are still being worked to and we’ll advise or work in collaboration with clients if we have any concerns planned work will be scuppered. We continually review client plans, of course, and have seen an increased interest in preparedness, which brings me on to…
  • Events – we’ve had a couple of clients reschedule or pause events we’d worked on/were in the process of putting together, and one active large-scale event brief we’re working on is being reconsidered – which would impact a huge number of people and suppliers. This seems sensible and in line with other gatherings, and fortunately forms a small part of our service offering. There have been a couple of events I was either talking at or we were going to that have been cancelled – but to provide balance, a couple that haven’t yet been.

Remote working if things escalate/government advice is to work from home

Image result for gif man working from home kid

School and childcare closures would be the start of a slippery slope, and no doubt impact us and many other businesses and industries.

We are in the fortunate position of being able to work remotely.

It’s not ideal, but processes, tools and other technology make it relatively straightforward to say ‘right all, take your laptops home each evening and if be vaguely prepared to work from home’.

Here’s the advice I gave the team – again, ONLY in the event it can’t be avoided:

  1. We work from home, to our usual office hours
  2. We use our mobiles to make calls
  3. We ensure everybody has up to date access to Google Drive both on laptops and phones
  4. We continue to speak in the PR WhatsApp group
  5. Continue using our shared weekly grid
  6. We have a daily Google Hangouts call at midday
  7. We have Hangouts for creative ideas meetings
  8. Use Hangouts, conf lines or WhatsApp group calls for weekly/regular client calls
  9. It’s business as usual with clients. Invoicing, day-to-day communication, writing, pitching, adding to Coverage Book etc
  10. Working from home can initially feel weird. You’ll feel odd being in your pants and at the kitchen table with your laptop, so do get dressed – power suits advised – and see it as short term

Maybe this is of interest, maybe not – but it’s funny running a business in what are uncertain times, and I thought it was worth talking publicly about how this is actually impacting us as a business. Other agencies in different spaces might be harder hit.