Scaling a communications agency in a pandemic

By Shayoni Lynn FCIPR CMPRCA, Director and Principal Consultant, Lynn PR.

The COVID-19 crisis has affected every business in the world. Here in the UK, we’ve seen PR and communications agencies face significant challenges – from furlough and redundancies to adapting to a virtual world. Few were set up to work remotely and many have had to make tough decisions on how they adapt their business in the face of a pandemic.

Disruption can act as a force for good, leading to positive outcomes. It can move us out of status quo inertia and enable us to take bold action, where preciously we may have been risk averse. And this is how Lynn PR dealt with the challenges that COVID-19 threw our way.

My background lies in data-driven strategic communications and applied behavioural science.

After many years in public sector communications, I founded Lynn PR in 2019 with the aim of creating an agile, virtual communications agency rooted in strategic communications that can deliver organisational impact. Data, research, and a strong understanding of behavioural science is at the heart of everything that we do – and we pride ourselves on measuring outcomes, not outputs.

Behavioural science has arguably come to the fore during COVID-19; it has been integral to worldwide response and will be key to recovery from this pandemic. Never has the salience of behavioural science, and how it can support communications programmes, been higher!

Over the past six months, we have noticed organisations across the public and private sector becoming increasingly sensitive to the need to truly understand their audiences – what motivates them, who influences them, and what barriers exist that stop audiences from taking action. Leaders are waking up to the mindset of quantifying instinct – testing these approaches in a data-driven and scientific manner to see if they indeed resonate with audiences.  And this is where we come in.

We use organisational insights combined with data to develop hypotheses on why things aren’t working. Why aren’t specific groups listening to your COVID-19 message? Why are individuals not doing what’s good for them? Why aren’t your messages cutting through? We use data, science and robust frameworks to truly understand diverse audiences. We test within your local communities to see if our interventions motivate your audiences to inch towards that organisational objective. We monitor in real-time so we are constantly adapting and refining our communications to keep them relevant and meaningful. And we do this all at lightning speed.

We have been fortunate in that our approach has resonated with organisations across the UK – from the NHS to local government, from civil service departments to tourism boards. As an agency, we know where our expertise lies and have placed this at the heart of what we offer.

We have, like all agencies, had to adapt to continue to scale – and remain on target to reach a headcount of 10 by the end of 2020, from one just four months ago.

I have never met my team face-to-face, which could be seen as daunting, but it has given me the advantage of being able to recruit a powerhouse team from all corners of the UK (and it has been a relatively pain-free experience, thanks to processes learnt well from my public sector days!).

Creating an agency atmosphere in a virtual world has been challenging. Where we could have bonded in the pub, celebrating a win after work, these opportunities have just not been there. As a team, we work hard to bridge these gaps – ensuring we have clear channels of communications, strong processes and know that the team has your back no matter what you need. We are developing the company culture as we go along – from virtual pub nights to wellness days and more.  One thing I am working towards, and looking forward to, is getting the whole company together – when the current situation allows it.

The other key area where we have had to adapt has been in the pitch process.

The lack of face-to-face pitches has arguably meant that those in charge of procurement might be more impressed, or willing to consider, established agencies than the new kid on the block. But our strong track record of success and honest, transparent partnership working has appealed to every single client we work with. We are regularly pitching virtually and have developed a harmony in how we “sell” Lynn PR.

Recent news reports suggest that there is optimism returning to our sector, one that has been rocked by COVID-19.

For those scaling communications companies, don’t hesitate to take a risk and be bold right now. Our success will lie in our ability to embrace and thrive in the face of disruption.

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