Why PR companies need to adapt to the new normal

Ben Simon Lazarus, Senior Account Executive 

We don’t have to be reminded that pandemic has not only meant drastic changes to the PR industry but also the general work ecosystem at large. As a result, young employees just entering the industry have a very different perception of what it means to work in an agency than established professionals do.

On a professional and social level, the culture is changing. And, whether business leaders decide to embrace or repress it, the time has come to play their hand.

Before Covid struck, MDs of PR agencies had idealised visions of what the future of work should look like for their businesses.Forward-thinking companies were hopeful that attitudes would move with the times. Priorities differed amongst businesses and their leaders, but one consensus was that they would be implemented primarily in the same office environment.However, times have changed quicker than we could have ever imagined, and, as a result, this forced businesses to change with them.

For many decades, this was the focal point of any organisation, but Covid-19 has meant that the office is no longer the principal place where work gets done for many businesses. Like it or not, seeing clients or colleagues face-to-face has become somewhat of a rarity, now being replaced by regular virtual meetings, amongst the other changes we’ve been forced to get used to.

Ben Riley-Smith at the Telegraph reported recently on the Prime Minister’s stance against large-scale working from home becoming permanent. He recounted Boris Johnson’s statement, insisting that he ‘wants people back in the office as soon as possible’. Something that is causing an air of uncertainty in agencies and across the PR and communications industry. Businesses all around the country have been scrambling to implement ways in which they can adapt to the future.

Most employees prefer a hybrid work environment

Forbes’ Joe McKendrick notes that, “in a recent report out of Accenture, 83% of 9,326 workers surveyed say they prefer a hybrid model — in which they can work remotely at least 25% of the time”. Although, without an industry-wide consensus regarding to the right way of working, businesses still come under fire about their decisions.

The question for the PR industry is this; should PR companies comply with Boris’ demands about getting people back into the workplace, or should they take an alternative approach?

Over the last 18 months, many business leaders have seen the benefits that remote working brings and how it can complement the traditional office-based environment. These benefits have led to the development of this relatively new concept that we all now call ‘hybrid working’.

Due to its success, businesses worldwide, not just within the PR sector, have approached the ‘hybrid-first’ theme and reflected it in how they think about productivity, employee engagement, and organisational agility.According to Kalyeena Makortoff at the Guardian, “Deloitte will allow its 20,000 UK employees to choose how often they come into the office, if at all, after the pandemic, making it the latest firm to throw out the rulebook and embrace ultra-flexible working”. Inevitably this announcement started a trend, and many companies have started to follow it.

To understand a little more about the pros and cons of hybrid working, in a PR agency context,, I asked two fellow young PR professionals at Spreckley PR to give me their own thoughts on what it has been like to start their PR career in the midst of a global pandemic.

Alex Henderson, Junior Account Executive

“I joined a PR agency in April 2021 and was pleased to hear that the office was open every day. That said, there has never been any pressure to be there at all, and I’ve really appreciated the freedom to work in a way that suits me.”

“My previous job was entirely remote which I personally found to be quite restrictive. Living in London means that space is like gold dust and so I found myself couped up in my living room fantasising about delayed trains and overpriced coffee.”

“I think the freedom and flexibility to make your own choice that can fit around your life is one of the best things about working at a PR agency. I have colleagues here that are entirely remote, and I believe having the opportunity to work with people that are based anywhere in the country or even anywhere in the world is incredibly positive.”

“Personally, I come into the office most days as I find it easier to focus, the commute isn’t particularly long, and I enjoy the routine and structure. I’m also still learning the ropes of PR and being in the office means I can always turn to one of my colleagues and ask a question quickly if I need to.”

Charlotte Kelly, Senior Account Executive

“Don’t get me wrong, joining a PR agency just two weeks before going into national lockdown wasn’t easy, particularly when considering this is my first role in PR. However, the time and effort put in by the team really shone through during this difficult transition, not only in helping us to perform day-to-day tasks as usual, but also in ensuring we were happy, comfortable, and safe at this time. From regular ‘all agency’ meetings to chat about our days, to quizzes, fitness challenges, and even wine tasting, there was a massive emphasis on staying connected while working remotely and making sure every team member felt involved.”

“I believe in a hybrid working model – where the team can pick and choose when they want to come into the office, and when they need to work from home. I personally love this approach, as I still get that in-office contact that everyone has been craving over the past eighteen months, while also benefiting from the flexibility and autonomy you gain from working remotely. Most notably, the money I’ve been able to save on commuting into London everyday has allowed me to buy my first flat – something I never thought I would be able to do a year into my job! I appreciate hybrid working might not be for everyone, but for me personally I find it motivating, with a greater ability to focus on both work and home life.”

Happy employees just need your time and support

For businesses that operate in any sphere, not just PR, it’s undeniable that it’s of upmost importance to keep their employees happy. Not only to encourage loyalty and productivity but also on a human level, for the sake of their mental health. Sometimes, keeping someone happy can be as simple as working alongside individuals to accommodate for their situation. No two people are the same. Everyone has different flexible working habit preferences due to their personal circumstances.

This falls under the bracket of companies wanting to spend the time to get to know their employees personally, not just professionally.

When companies think that their trendy employee benefits packages are enough to keep people happy, think again. All employees want is time and support. Get to know them and accommodate for their situation.

(This blog is reposted from the original post on the PRCA blog here).