Not going to lie – I woke up on January 1, 2021 and let out a huge sigh. We did it. We made it. Like so many, last year my family was personally affected by COVID, I experienced loss, I took up new hobbies, and I put on a few lb’s (don’t lie, you did too). I saw many aspects of life through a whole new lens – including business.
I used to think that a strong company was one that was always hustling, expanding and increasing revenue. Then in June, I gave the ARPR team a company update. My Powerpoint charts were anything but uplifting. But with every grim-looking slide I shared, I reminded them, “the glass is half full, dammit.” Adding a cuss word to a cliche has a way of sticking. It turned into somewhat of a mantra. We even made it into a T-shirt.
The realities of Spring 2020 forced us to pivot and get agile; and as it prolonged, we increasingly focused on what mattered most – our people and our clients. We got to our core. And ultimately, that made us exponentially stronger.
As the quarters passed, those Powerpoint charts improved. And by year’s end, there were three focal areas that kept our glasses well more than half full:
Keeping Culture First
Over the 8+ years we’ve been in business, we consistently hear in team surveys, Glassdoor reviews, etc. that our employees love who they work with. So, when COVID deprived us of office shenanigans, traveling together, volunteering as a team, and more, we were bummed to say the least.
Major credit goes to our Chief Operations & People Officer Blair Broussard who quickly pivoted ARPR’s culture initiatives and continued to trial new virtual methods of connectivity all year long. There was no guidebook for HR leaders on how to keep culture alive during a pandemic. It took sheer creativity and lots of intentionality. But from Blair Ruth Riley’s yoga livestreams to Christina Dela Cruz’s FinTech Family Feud game to Renee Spurlin’s kid-friendly Thanksgiving craft social – we became intimately acquainted with our colleagues’ pets, children and (almost) every room in their homes.
Retaining Fiscal Health
The pandemic’s resulting economic crisis didn’t spare the PR, marketing and advertising industries. Marketer optimism plummeted about 12 points, global ad spending fell by $63.4 billion, and in December Gould Partners reported that 56% of PR agencies expected a decrease in YoY revenue, with the average decrease being 6%.
Gould also found that only 23% of PR firms anticipated growing YoY revenues in 2020, and I’m proud to say that ARPR is in that small minority.
I’d be a liar if I said 2020 wasn’t difficult to financially navigate. However, I started ARPR in 2012 during an economic upswing, so I always knew I’d operate the business during a downturn. Cycles are nothing if not predictable.
Therefore, early on I put measures in place to ensure that we could withstand a recession without reducing our workforce. Those strategies worked. In 2020 we avoided furloughs, promoted seven colleagues, and were able to honor portions of both commissions and bonuses for every team member.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of our strength and forward-looking optimism is the caliber of our client roster. Of course, we lost a few clients. Recessions have consequences. But we ended the year still arm-in-arm with tech brands that we’ve partnered with for 2, 3 and 4 years.
Throughout 2020, these tech brands collectively raised hundreds of millions in VC & PE deals, announced a total of 8 acquisitions and 19 new executive hires, landed an aggregate 150 Tier I headlines, and earned thousands of new leads and customers.
As a result of our team’s focus on client work, our year end client satisfaction survey was as solid as it’s ever been, with 100% of clients reporting that their c-suite and Boards were either satisfied or very satisfied with our results for the year.
My favorite response in that survey came from a CMO who said “I realized this isn’t just a regular agency full of ‘agency people’ throwing out a bunch of tactics. My ARPR team cares about our business (almost as much as we do), our results and helping us improve it.”
While the past 10 months haven’t been easy, in many ways, they were transformative. Looking ahead, we are already starting 2021 with multiple new clients, new hires and yep, even new swag. The glass is definitely half full, dammit.