"We doubled our training budget" - Kirsty Leighton, Milk & Honey PR

From employees permanently moving out of London, structuring the business for more uncertainties ahead and moving back to office work, Kirsty Leighton provides a candid, birds-eye view of life in the Milk & Honey family.

“Diversification did help us”

“We’ve been quite fortunate that as a business we’ve been enjoying some great growth over the last three years and we had planned to continue on that trajectory this year, and that just wasn’t going to happen. So, we found ourselves experiencing quite an immediate economic impact as soon as lockdown happened.”

“We’re very fortunate that we’ve been winning on average a new client a month, which means that there’s that constant growth, but also that constant change which needs managing. So, we found that several clients which had come in as projects which we were hoping to convert to retainers, didn’t materialise.”

“We don’t specialise in any particular sector and that diversification did help us.”

“We rallied together and put together ‘Project Prosper’ which just gave us a rallying cry and gave us some focus. We put some very short-term goals in place for the whole agency and then made sure that everybody’s contribution to that was very clear. We did put a couple of people on furlough whilst we worked out what we needed to do. But we were able to bring them back immediately after the three weeks and then we very much focused on protecting them.”

“Being able to both upskill the team and keep them focused on new opportunities was important”

“I wanted to make sure that from a client and a market offer perspective that we were upskilling ourselves as much as possible so that we were able to deliver all of the materials and work that we had in place.”

“With a distributed workforce, where you haven’t got that expert to the side of you, being able to feel more confident as an individual on the areas that you’re delivering was really important to me. I also wanted the team to be very focused, I didn’t want anyone having gaps in their day where they could worry about what was potentially happening.”

“We were doing twice-weekly check-ins with the whole team. Individual line management check-ins were happening daily. To make sure that client teams weren’t working like little islands, we introduced some agency-wide initiatives. For example, during lockdown we went after the Investors in People accreditation. We were able to work collectively as a team to deliver on that. I’m delighted to say that we got that accreditation.”

“For us, the keyword is being equitable, rather than treating everybody equally. It’s about making sure that those that need a bit more support are getting the support, those that need to be in the office because they need the camaraderie in a more physical manner are able to do that, those that are working remotely and are creating thinking time for themselves, that they’ve got that opportunity as well.”

“Very sadly, we would ordinarily have taken in a number of interns over the summer and to give people their first view of the PR universe. All of that, both for economic and sadly for practical reasons has sadly been put on hold. That’s a big loss for us. As an organisation, it’s really important that we are looking to create new opportunities to get people into the industry.”

“B Corp is not for the faint-hearted”

In August 2019, Milk & Honey became the fifth marketing agency in the UK to become a certified B Corp business.

“[Milk and Honey] was set up from the get-go to be a shared ownership organisation. I wanted everybody that was part of the business to feel that it was their business by giving them some ownership and I think that was really important. Within that, we’ve always thought about how to construct the business to work around our people. The great thing about B Corp is that it takes people centricity out from workers, into our customers and clients and then further into the community.”

“B Corp is not for the faint-hearted, it really is quite an undertaking.”

“We do need to keep creating those in-person moments”

“At the moment, I’m in a stage where there’s a little bit more pressure because for us the financial year is the year-end.”

“Right now, whilst it’s great to have 12 members of the team that are coming in at least a couple of days a week. With the ongoing community lockdowns that are happening and the reduction of social gatherings that are happening, we’re preparing ourselves to go back into lockdown. To that end, we’re trying to make sure that not only are we functioning very effectively as client teams. But also broader as a total unit.”

“Ordinarily, we would have all gone to Marrakech for three days planning in May. Obviously, that didn’t happen. We pushed it back to November, but to be honest, that’s not going to happen either. But we’re trying to think about ways around that because I do really want to try and bring the whole team together to be able to agree what the plans are for next year. We do need to keep creating those in-person moments.”

“Traditional media has been under massive economic pressure”

“We’ve been seeing the evolution of the PR industry for some time… unfortunately traditional media has been under massive economic pressure, just to get to the right journalists to tell stories is becoming more difficult.”

“From our perspective, we’re a reputation first agency. We’re seeing at the moment some slowing down amongst the investor community which has impacted some of these more innovative companies that are evolving and growing to not quite deliver the expansion they expected. But there are certain areas that are doing well.”

This episode of PR in Lockdown was recorded in September 2020.

PR in Lockdown is a podcast series produced by Access Studios in collaboration with the PRCA. It is available on YouTube and all major podcast libraries.