“We’re considering quitting the office entirely” - Vanessa Pine, Founding Partner, Atlas Partners

Vanessa Pine, Founding Partner of Atlas Partners, aims to lead the 'happiest agency'. From using voice notes in the team to prioritising internal communications, Vanessa explains the realities of managing lockdown from their hub in London and why "the sun is now coming out".

“We believe that when people are happy, they are more creative and productive.”

“It was a strange time. Transition-wise it was relatively easy as everyone has their laptops and we use the cloud. But the emotional side was much more disruptive.”

“I wanted to give us a sense of meaning and control in a time when we had little of either. So, we started in the first few weeks doing working from home survey, asking the team to reflect on what aspects of their job were easier or harder.”

“We’re a small team so we try hard to create a mentality of being in it all together. We tried hard to be open about the fact that things were not okay.”

“Our mission statement at Atlas is to be the ‘happiest agency’ not to be the biggest or the most successful. This is because we believe that when people are happy, they are more creative and productive.”

“My relationship with my competitors has become closer”

“We’re lucky that our client base is quite diversified. But our options financially were changing rapidly and that placed a high premium on the importance of internal comms.”

“We didn’t ever feel that we could be confident in terms of predicting what was coming, but we did know that as long as we continued to behave in a manner that is true to us - and that’s being transparent, open and inclusive with the team - that we would come through it.”

“We have always had an informal network of partner agencies, people who do similar things but slightly differently. We’ve improved our relationships with them and have spoken to them a lot more informally as well as having done some partnership work too. My relationship with my competitors has become closer and I’ve appreciated that growing sense of community we have with them.”

“Communications is a relationship business and the quality of those relationships, whether they’re with clients or other agencies has always been important to me.”

“We’ve tried to send fewer emails in terms of our internal traffic and send more voice notes”

“The difference in tone of voice in terms of how words are delivered is important. So, we’ve tried to send fewer emails in terms of our internal traffic and send more voice notes. Using voice notes are kind of the same thing you would do in the office and means that you don’t add to the extra traffic in your email inbox.”

Vanessa also stressed the importance of routine explaining that “we’ve been encouraging people to put blocks of time out for their lunchtime walk or for doing the shopping.”

“We’re considering cutting the office entirely”

“We asked the team about working in the office as normal, and roughly a third want to continue working from home. We’re considering cutting the office entirely - we wouldn’t go remote but what we’re contemplating is renting a really big space one day a week."

“This way we could all be together once a week. We’re also looking at renting smaller, more local spaces so that our people aren’t working at their kitchen tables all the time and have a shorter commute.”

“Pitching feels like it’s all about establishing rapport and what we’re missing from that right now are the non-verbal cues and the body language."

“We’ve made an effort to cut down the content and increase the time for conversation. That felt like a more constructive way to pitch.”

“Our representation as an industry is woeful”

Vanessa thinks that the pandemic was a catalyst to accelerate changes that already were required in the PR industry. “This isn’t necessarily COVID-related, but the amplification of the Black Lives Matter movement has started to accelerate conversations in our industry. Our representation as an industry is woeful. I think the CIPR and PRCA’s diversity stats show that the industry got less representative of Black, Asian and Minority ethnic groups over the last three years.”

“I feel like the crisis has accelerated the need to have conversations about diversity, flexibility and generating a return on investment in creativity.”

“I’ve had the opportunity to reflect and acknowledge the level of white privilege that’s baked into most agencies, including mine. This is something that should be a more pressing conversation in the next couple of months and years.”

“The sun is now coming out. We had two big pitch requests in the last couple of weeks. We have weathered the initial storm but will also have to see the consequences of clients having to cut back on budgets across the year. So, we’re not out of the woods yet.”