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The impact of Covid-19 on the agency, the industry and associated businesses as we mark ‘one month in lockdown’

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By Sunny Bird Founder of Sunny Bird PR

As we hit a month in lockdown today, Sunny Bird, Founder of Sunny Bird PR agency in Bournemouth, reflects on the impact of lockdown on her clients and her business, and how the agency has adapted to its new environment.

“I’ve worked in PR my whole life, through thick and thin, recessions and booms, and it’s safe to say nothing compares to this! Similar to most of the agencies I know, currently cashflow is a massive issue and we’re adapting to a 30% decrease in retained clients. Adapting and evolving to this new environment has been key for me, I spent much of the first few weeks working on a strategy that would mean we’d still have an agency at the end of all this.

Luckily, some elements of this strategy already had legs, so it was more about giving these ideas and concepts the extra push they needed to become fully-fledged. Prior to Covid-19, we worked with a number of start-ups, and have always had lots of eager entrepreneurs knocking on our door keen to see what PR can do for them. As passionate as these companies are, the majority don’t have budget for a full retainer but I hated turning them away. So, in the last couple of years we’ve been working on our offerings for this type of client. Starting with delivering monthly ‘Reaching Millions’ courses on how to do your own PR and social media, we really wanted to give people the tools to do it themselves, with the idea being that they can come back to us when they are ready for a full retainer. The course turned into the ‘Reaching Millions’ book which was the ideal take away or purchase option for those unable to make the courses – which we only held in London and Bournemouth.

Following the courses and the book, we found that people now fully appreciated what PR could do for them but needed more guidance to enact it themselves. To support these people, we created a Director’s Board: A monthly meeting with up to six businesses at any one time, we would create a strategy with them, they complete the majority of the work with support and direction from us and we would hold them accountable to it – all at a fraction of the cost of a full retainer. We also introduced a new agency model, Pay by Results, designed specifically for those businesses who were wary of PR or who had had bad experiences in the past. The Pay by Results model agrees KPIs in advance, and if at the end of the term, those KPIs are not met then we would refund a proportion of their fee – we’ve as yet had to do that I’m happy to say!

And now fast forward to today, yes, we have lost some clients, yes the majority of my team are furloughed, but thanks to the work we’ve put in over the last few years, we have been able to offer support to SMEs during this difficult time. We’ve turned our course into an online version, I’ve personally taken a stack of books home so we can still post them out, and we’re still getting new members join our Director’s Board. There have been a number of challenges; logistical, technical and emotional but four weeks in, the dust has settled, and the team are happily offering a business as usual service for all our existing clients, and our new ones – yes, we’ve won new business during lockdown!

Lockdown has actually given me the time to sit back, look at the agency and what we offer, and think about what else we can do, what else we can offer. When life carries on as normal at 1,000 miles per hour, we rarely find time to sit, reflect and be objective, and this lockdown period has certainly given me that.

We’ve always wanted to be able to offer a fuller service to clients and I’ve used this time to collaborate with brands, and now we are able to offer website design, digital support and design services. Looking ahead, we are starting our own agency podcast and planning on bringing out a range of the ‘Reaching Millions’ books which are sector specific, as well as working on our own awards.

It sounds like we’re busy and we are, the team have been working hard to support our clients and drive the agency forward. Team morale has been key to keeping the engine running, we make sure to have a full Monday morning meeting where we set our objectives and aims for the week, a call every morning to catch up, a mid-week catch up to check where we are, and of course lots of Friday afternoon cocktails and birthday celebrations. I think the key is not letting lockdown become shutdown.

We feel very fortunate and thankful to our paying clients that we’ve been able to continue as an agency, which has enabled us to support clients that really need it. We do the PR for a number of clients in the third sector and a couple of these in particular have needed our support more than ever; The Hampton Trust, a domestic abuse charity, and The Rob Hill Foundation which supports people with addictions. We knew that more and more people would be calling on their services while many of their funding routes had been cut, so we’ve done our best to support them by giving them additional hours for free.

What next? It’s difficult to say as we still don’t know when this will all be over, or how businesses will fare during it, and more importantly after. We foresee that the PR industry as a whole will inevitably be hard hit, as businesses tighten their belts, PR is often one of the first expenses to be cut as businesses take their PR inhouse. This is where it pays to be adaptable, I can see that offerings such as our online courses, Pay By Results Model and the Director’s Board will all flourish in the recovery period following lockdown as these can be not only a money-saver for clients, but also a tool for those that are now tasked with ‘doing PR’ for their company.”

2018