Author: Lynsey Devon (Founder & Chief Executive of Heaven Publicity and member of The Sussex Collaborative) shares her experience of managing a PR agency through Covid-19 and why now its time to invest more in Public Relations.
The role of PR has been around for more than 100 years, but yet many people still aren’t sure what we do.
In a nutshell (according to the Public Relations Society of America) “Public Relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their publics”.
We are storytellers, we are sounding boards (for both clients and media) and we find the unique angles and translate them into positive, fascinating stories. But, perhaps even more importantly, especially during Covid-19, we can take negative news, formulate the best response, alleviate the damage and perhaps find a ray, or two, of light as well.
The pandemic has swept the world by storm, taking lives, jobs and opportunities. But amongst the scary unknown, my boutique team and I have managed to find those success stories to maintain clients’ happiness, keep our messages up to date and most importantly, make sure Heaven Publicity remains strong.
How Heaven Publicity navigated Covid-19
When the Foreign & Commonwealth Office advised against all non-essential travel on 17 March 2020 it was hard not to panic. Heaven Publicity specialises in resorts across Europe, accommodation providers abroad and was getting ready to re-launch Swan Hellenic (famous expedition cruise company from the 1950s). None of which we could pitch to press. However, PR is nothing if not adaptable. Instead of looking overseas, we focused our efforts on the UK; in place of enjoying the Easter holidays in Europe, we looked at ways of bringing different ideas and traditions for enjoying the holidays at home; and whilst everyone may have been itching to leave their house, we sent them inspirational content from around the world so they could think about planning their future trips away. It was different, but it meant we kept our lines of communication open and travellers continued to see positive coverage.
The desire to travel is for many a hard to give up habit, so as the restrictions started to be relaxed, its been fantastic to get back to working on bigger campaigns inspiring those itching to travel, find safe and secure alternatives to their usual fly and flop break. One such campaign has been with Le Boat, (the no 1. self-drive boating holiday specialist in the UK and Europe) which has been incredibly popular with media. We organised ITV This Morning to experience (and film) some of the most beautiful waterways in Scotland. We spoke to journalists living in France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria (and further afield) and put together press trips for them that featured in top national newspapers when the borders reopened. We were also delighted to successfully launch Swan Hellenic to media, with article after article coming in with the positive, exciting news.
So why invest your marketing spend in PR over paid advertising?
PR is genuine opinion not paid for advertising and as such PR activity will always outlast and tends to be more powerful than regular advertising.
PR content does not have date limitations and is permanent, unlike advertising which is short-term and temporary. When you stop paying for an ad it goes away, but when popular media publish an article on line about your company, it remains there forever and it is third party endorsement which you can’t buy! The exciting thing about PR is it’s storytelling to engage an audience with a product or service they didn’t even know they wanted. I would stress that, unlike in advertising where big budgets can buy big space, PR is 100% dependent on real people having real experiences – which money can’t buy. And, as a result, what you get the transparent truth: the good (hopefully!) but also the bad and the ugly!
Relationships and collaboration are key to the success of PR, and our contacts – who in many cases are long term colleagues – have been priceless during Covid-19. Obviously, we’ve not been able to meet in person these past months, but the networking and connection building has adapted, we have chatted on Zoom, spoken on Skype, nattered on the phone and been more involved in discussions across all social media platforms. We’ve also listened in and contributed to Webinars and not a day goes by without a phone call (or 10) from journalists, clients and members of the industry wanting an idea, support or insight.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving”
For any PR Agency the ever changing news is keeping up on our toes. Whether that’s the government’s decision to change the rules on quarantine or where we can travel safely, the changing economic landscape or businesses innovating and launching new products. Needless to say, on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis these changing dynamics impact some of our up-coming press trips and campaigns, making everyone wonder ‘what’s going to happen next?’. The answer: no one knows, but we are ready to respond !
Although we, as humans, are notoriously creatures of habit, we, as PRs, can’t be. We need to remain flexible with our methods, available to talk to at any moment and above all calm in the face of the unknown.
A few weeks ago, a well-known journalist sent us a quote by Albert Einstein that’s stayed with me. Einstein said: ‘Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving’.
To me, PR is all about maintaining that state of equilibrium for clients, journalists and very importantly, my team – especially in the face of a pandemic. But also, to keep progressing in the face of change and to see what story we can inspire people with next to gain valuable third party endorsements. Above all else we also look to create long term value for all our clients marketing spend.
Members of The Sussex Collaborative have extensive business experience to draw on and would be happy to jump in to support, or recommend someone from our networks, should our skills not meet your needs.