2020 proved to be quite a disruptive year! During the onset of the pandemic, there were many unknowns. And many things still remain this way. The only real known was that big changes would take place as a result of COVID-19. As change tends to do, this caused a far-reaching ripple effect. I knew that my clients would be impacted, and I could only guess as to what the impact would be on our working relationship. If their income took a hit, it was reasonable to think they would pull back on their public relations and marketing strategies.
Now as we come to a close on an unforgettable year, I wanted to offer insight into how the public relations industry (at least in my experience) was impacted and both the losses and gains I experienced as a small business owner and sole proprietor. Here is what 2020 held for Bennis Public Relations!
Rapid Change in Messaging
When all hell broke loose, clients’ messaging took a major shift. Content that was scheduled to go out on social media, by email, or on their website was immediately put on pause until we could determine the most relevant and helpful message we wanted to communicate. People were scared, uncertain, losing their jobs, or closing their businesses (both temporarily and permanently). So previous messages about “buy this, do that” came across tone-deaf and less than helpful. And clients who had events planned attempted to move them virtually or canceled them altogether. So, for the first few weeks of the pandemic, I spent a lot of time tearing down all planned messaging and making recommendations for new angles.
I have many clients who are small business owners as well. As they sustained loss, I expected that they would need to cut back on my work. Surprisingly this happened for just one client whose entire industry was shut down. Amazingly they returned at full engagement just a few months later and have gone on to experience a record-setting year in sales. All other clients stayed steady and found new ways to run their businesses virtually or safely in-person. We were all realistic that all metrics for success would be low for a period of time, and certainly not able to be compared to any other year, but we all kept a positive outlook that we would get over these hurdles together.
An Uptick in Need for Government and Media Relations
On the government relations side of my business, the need for strategic communications skyrocketed. New clients came on board for PR “sprints” where we took to mainstream media and social media with important issues like why certain industries should be allowed to re-open, how small business owners are being impacted, and actions people were taking to safely serve their customers. Now more than ever, every business had a message they felt urgent about sharing. During those early months, I likely sent out the most press releases, op-eds, media pitches, and social media ad campaigns in my career. Pennsylvania reporters and editors grew accustomed to my emails showing up in their inbox, each with a new angle and industry.
Working Through Roadblocks
The thrilling fast-pace that the world of Public Relations has taken on certainly came with roadblocks. A large event I produce every year for a client required a great deal more effort this year to make it virtual and still produce the same level of income for the organization. Through endless discussion and problem-solving, I increased my level of engagement with the client to help with more of the planning and the results with record-breaking sponsorships and raising in excess of the originally set budget! So much effort went into this, and at times I was less than certain we would hit all the marks. But through persistence and collaboration, we made it work and learned a lot from the experience.
And most amazingly, Bennis Public Relations is closing out 2020 with its highest gross and net income year to date. This is only possible because of new opportunities that came my way – and all of this was from relationships and word-of-mouth referrals. New clients needed help with media outreach, revamping the content on their website or marketing brochures, developing a new strategic communications plan, training staff to communicate virtually with customers, help with social media, and so much more. And I was more than happy to assist. My most exciting opportunity was to partner with several community organizations, including the Department of Health to launch the first-ever mobile COVID-19 testing unit in Pennsylvania. What began as a 30-day engagement extended the whole way through mid-December, and with the opportunity to grow further in 2021. I had the pleasure of giving life to the initiative by naming it, branding it, and then promoting it.
If I could describe my biggest lesson of 2020 in one phrase it would be “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I could have looked at the changes and challenges coming down the path and allowed clients to walk away or had been blind to new opportunities in front of me because I got caught up in the chaos of the pandemic. Instead, I chose to remain consistent to my clients, laser-focused on my business operations, and efficient with my work to maximize what I was able to take on. Easy? Not at all. Essential for being a successful business owner? Absolutely.
Every industry and every person was so uniquely impacted by COVID-19 that I’d love to learn about your experience! Before we close the chapter on 2020, I encourage you to reflect and share the challenges you overcame this year, personally or professionally. Leave a comment below!