Nicola Koronka, co-Founder of strategic communications consultancy, Missive, tells the PR in Lockdown podcast about how her lockdown experience can be split into two halves.
“The first 2-4 weeks were incredibly challenging”
“In that first period…there was a lot of change in peoples’ personal lives…I had two children at home all of a sudden…my husband working next to me in one office…worrying about older relatives…so I think people were quite distracted from business life”.
“I think [media] became quite addictive for everyone for a while to keep checking in on counts and numbers and government briefings”.
“The biggest challenge was just the anxiety of the unknown and not really knowing what we’re preparing for”.
Nicola believes that the challenges she faced before lockdown prepared her for what was to come. Last year her co-Founder, Emma Ross, received a severe cancer diagnosis.
“It enabled me to be a lot calmer about lockdown and coronavirus than I think I perhaps would’ve been without that perspective”.
“Having experienced those previous 6 months, it really put things into sharp focus in terms of, if we could set a commercial plan which meant could protect everybody’s jobs…and keep clients happy…everything else didn’t really matter…we could easily ride out this year”.
“I was left in August holding the baby, so to speak…thankfully we’re now enjoying her being out the other side of that”.
“We shut our office about a week before lockdown hit”.
Missive took the decision to close their office prior to the Government announcement, after consulting with the team.
“We just asked everybody, we talked to people in a lot of detail about what they were comfortable with.”
“From an operational perspective, nothing really changed. Everyone settled into home working overnight.”
Like many businesses, Missive relied heavily on new technological tools to communicate and stay in touch. “We talk about Missive being an evolving cooperative”.
“We turned some of our physical meetings into Zoom meetings. We’ve kept our weekly stand up. Which in some ways is a bit laborious, it’s like a reporting meeting rather than a learning meeting, but on a Monday morning it’s really nice. The team really enjoy checking in on Zoom and being together in a room, so we’ve kept that up”.
“It’s fair to say from contacts that I have across the industry…particularly the B to C part of our industry got hit really quickly and there was a lot of uncertainty and anxiety from the industry I think around job protection, and we wanted to make sure that the team felt really communicated with”.
“It affirmed our priorities as an organisation around being centred on people”.
“We just tried to do everything we could to make sure people felt well looked after, cared for, thought about. And commercially so people were in the best position possible to continue with continuity of client service and looking after our clients”.
Nicola introduced “a fortnightly business health check meeting.” This included opening up to the team about “cost reduction measures…and steps that we’ve taken…to make sure that we’re putting jobs first and protecting everybody”. “We’ve always shared a huge amount of financial information, commercial performance information with the team”. The meeting has recently moved to a monthly timetable.
“It’s been great to see people take their own initiative”, such as the Missive Pub, which still happens virtually every Friday. Team members also created private Slack groups for people they sat next to in the office to maintain the less formal chat online.
“Over the last 4-6 weeks, things have really returned in terms of business”
During the initial lockdown period, one of Missive’s clients, a co-work space and fin-tech company focused on international travel, decided to pause their work overnight. “That was quite alarming…I was really worried that this was just the beginning of a process that we were going to have to endure in the next 3 to 6 months”.
“We went into planning mode…we quickly cost cut”.
Fortunately for Missive, Nicola explained that the “B2B side of the industry has been quite resilient. Tech has been quite resilient”.
“We haven’t actually experienced the commercial pain that I was concerned about…we prepared for it…we’re a stronger business for it, because we have to see what’s to come”.
“Over the last 4-6 weeks, things have really returned in terms of business…I think a lot of brands recognise that…things aren’t going to change anytime soon”.
“I’m delighted to say that we’ve haven’t had to make anybody redundant and we certainly don’t foresee that being a problem for us”.
“The big challenge is just the unknown”, especially the risk of recession.
“We’re cautious…we’re keeping a tight hold on costs…and protecting everybody’s job at the same time”.
“It would be absolutely bonkers not to prepare for some contraction…and it will be our first year where we don’t grow…that’s disappointing…our pipeline went on pause overnight as well”. Missive had experienced about 20% year-on-year growth since its inception in 2015.
“We’re definitely not opening up our office in Q3”
“I do feel that we’re in the new normal…everyone is very settled. Many members of our junior team who are working around the country at their parents, and don’t have any plan to come back to London anytime soon, they’ve even given up a London flat share to save some money”.
“We’re definitely not opening up our office in Q3…and we’ve got Q4 under review. That is in direct consultation with the team”.
“I still very much see a place for a physical location where we meet and work together. For an organisation that prides itself on having a really strong culture…I think it would be increasingly challenging over time to upload that culture virtually”.
“I think we all miss an element of it for sure…that collaborative creative element of our job”, noting how important it is for creating plans and campaign ideas”.
“We’ve had the upside of people feeling that they’ve got more time to be thoughtful about things…to dedicate more time to client ideas…but conversely the ability to bounce ideas is obviously harder”.
“We’ve had feedback from the team that in some of the new business work…which is often very fast paced and deadline driven…we’ve left team members behind sometimes…so we’re working on that”.
The new virtual working world presents a challenge of how businesses can innovate.
“The challenge will be, in this virtual environment, how do we grow, and how do we improve and how do we innovate?”.
“So I think we need to think about that going forwards”.
“It’s really healthy for our industry to stand up and be counted”
“The industry has turned a corner in the last 5-10 years…we’ve haven’t had our budgets cuts by many clients at all and we’re still seen as a really vital service…it’s because we’re an integral part to helping them grow and develop their businesses…and it gives me a lot of comfort that hopefully at a minimum we can keep doing what we’re doing”.
“It’s really healthy for our industry to stand up and be counted for the content and ideas and plans and proposals and our methodologies rather than just the good rapport in the room, which I think is such a cliche of PR of old”.
Reflecting on how the industry is changing, Nicola says “we’re definitely seeing more emphasis around digital content and that’s across social media…and also own channel content”.
Missive is doing a lot of work for LinkedIn for clients as a “virtual networking channel”.
“They’re turning to evaluate the quality of their own content”.
Nicola also believes that lockdown will accelerate existing trends in the industry, especially accelerating “clients’ appreciation” for digital content “as part of their mix”.
“I think they’re [businesses] now recognising both the value of that content but also the need for it in an environment where face-to-face opportunities to network and build their businesses are diminished”.