"What if we ran out in the rain?" - Roxy Kahla, Managing Director of The Romans

Roxy Kahla provides a fascinating insight of how she focused on people over profit during lockdown. Roxy tells PR in Lockdown about how The Romans approached the COVID-19 pandemic with a unique attitude: "what if we ran out in the rain?".

“What if we ran out into the rain and saw this as an opportunity?”

“We got a lot of work in lockdown. A lot of agencies had stalled, but we got six big campaigns out. I think the reason why we were able to do that and continue working hard for our clients was two things. We decided at the beginning not to furlough anybody. We discussed that we knew everyone else would be battening down the hatches, but we thought what if we didn’t? What if we ran out into the rain and saw this as an opportunity?”

“We have a dedicated creative team, headcount wise we have the biggest in the industry, and we’ve got a dedicated account team. So, we were able to look after our accounts but also come up with new ideas and reflect on the ‘new normal.’ Yes, some things were paused or changed a bit, but actually, we were able to continue working with them.”

If you go on pause with clients and you’re not speaking to them every day, it’s very easy to be forgotten… So, if you keep working with a client as a partner, it’s very hard to get put on pause. In terms of the types of campaigns, we saw an appetite for campaigns that gave something back or helped the consumer.”

“We thought if this was our brief, how would we as an agency survive lockdown?”

Roxy also found that working with traditional media during lockdown was a lot slower than what it would usually be. “As lots of different teams had either been made redundant or had been furloughed, you’d have one person looking after three areas of that title, so things were a lot slower.”

“But it also meant that because a lot of campaigns were on pause, there wasn’t as much going to the journalists so you could have more of a conversation to see what they were after. Some of the journalists were doing coffees, giving updates on what they were looking for because the news agenda was changing so quickly.”

“We approached lockdown as a brief. We thought if this was our brief, how would we as an agency, survive lockdown. Our most important asset in communicating with clients are our teams. And if we start furloughing team members, we would be on a skeleton staff, so these clients who are the lifeblood of our agency would not be getting the service they expect. It just didn’t make sense.”

“However, we also knew that things would be a bit tough financially, but we thought if we don’t back ourselves then who will? We did as a management team take a sort of pay cut of 20%. With the knowledge that we would take that back when we later earned it. It paid off. I’ve pitched twice a week for the last six weeks and we’ve won six new clients and made five new hires.”

“We’re already creating campaigns with a corona-proof lens”

“The office is opening in the next few days, and we chatted to everyone to see what people wanted to do to know numbers. Everybody wanted to come back. I thought it would be around 50% but it was everyone. We are opening Monday to Wednesday to start with and then we will see how that goes.”

“Face to face time will become more precious. Zoom is very efficient and I’m hoping some of that efficiency will roll into the office. Also, client relationships will shift a bit. Knowing them more as people will mean that we’re able to feel more like a partnership than a client-agency relationship.”

“We are worried about a second wave, but we’re already creating campaigns with a corona-proof lens on them to make sure that we can pivot. We’re not doing many things that have an event so that if a second wave comes that we don’t have to pause any work.”

“I’m hoping that clients have seen the value of PR. Particularly the broader marketing teams who give the bigger budgets to ad agencies. It would be nice to see more of those agency agnostic briefs where it’s more about the idea. We might not always be the right fit but it would be good to have more of a chance at them.”

“I would love to see more senior women. I’ve got friends who have kids who couldn’t make it work with agencies. So, either had to go in-house, which is sometimes a little bit more flexible or went freelance which brings money worries”.

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.