Looking back at 2020

Every year, when I write my annual blog, I reflect on all that’s happened, good or bad, at work and in my family life. Then I look back at what I wrote the previous year, which I find to be quite a cathartic experience. I note that I wrapped up last year’s blog filled with hope for 2020 and that I entered the new year with energy and optimism.

It all started well – we commenced work with some new clients, such as Securiflex, and we began an exciting new long-term campaign with our old friends at Generation Financial Services. In February, four of us took part in the St Wilfrid’s Hospice charity pancake race in Eastbourne town centre, showing our support for a charity that you all know is very close to our hearts. Ian and Matt put the finishing touches to two high quality new websites for our clients Lamb Chambers in London and Marshall Tufflex in Hastings.

Then, as we neared the end of March, whilst busy preparing to celebrate PRG turning 40 years, the world changed and we found ourselves in the grips of a global pandemic! This was, quite frankly, terrifying for all of us; it has turned everyone’s lives upside down and we’ve all witnessed some incredible hardship and some true bravery in the face of adversity.

I’ve been mulling for some time how best to approach writing this blog. Do I go into the details of our ups and downs, the challenges we faced and the decisions we’ve made that have brought us to where we are now? Or do I share the positives from PRG’s 2020 and leave the tougher bits in the past?

I’ve decided to go with the latter, as that’s what the PRG family is about – rising to the challenge, finding the positives and powering on through.

In 2020, PRG turned 40 years old! 40 years since Ray took the plunge and started the business, leaving his job in London and setting up a PR company in the spare room of our house. Over the years, PRG Publicity (as it was called then and is still our registered name) has grown to become the full-service marketing agency that you see today, but we still retain our core family values and drive to deliver excellence in all that we do both for ourselves and our clients.

We’d hoped to be able to celebrate this amazing milestone with an event for all of our clients and friends of PRG, but clearly COVID put paid to that. So, we’ve tried to grab small opportunities to celebrate where we could. The highlight for me was working with my good friend Sam Thomas at Sussex Business Times to put together a front cover and 6 page spread in a recent issue. In it, we told the story of PRG, some of the highs and lows, as well as highlights from some of our great clients along with some insight into mine and Jo’s plans for the next 40 years of PRG. You can read more about it here.

As well as PRG’s 40th, we celebrated both Kathryn and Ian turning 40 this year. We just managed a socially distanced meal in the office for Kathryn in September, but Ian’s fell in November right in the midst of Lockdown Mk.2, so we intend to toast that properly next year when we’re allowed.

As always, it’s the team at PRG that continues to make the company great and make me proud. This year has really challenged us, but all in different ways. I think the phrase, “we’re all in the same storm, but in different boats” has been banded about a lot in 2020 and is very true here. Once the first lockdown was announced, we took the decision to continue working, but to relocate to our homes. This was, in no uncertain terms, the right course of action as it allowed us to support our clients when they needed us.

Some of them needed to increase activity during lockdown, like our long-standing logistics client GoPlasticPallets.com, who were given key-worker status in order to help keep essential supply chains moving. This meant Kathryn needed to rapidly pivot the marketing and PR strategy to respond to the new focus for the business, which she managed seamlessly and helped to ensure that their business remained visible and prominent. She also worked with me to try to capitalise upon new business opportunities that arose (more on that later).

Amy became a master juggler – juggling her usual workload from home whilst home-schooling two young children every day as well. Having also spent the first lockdown trying my hand at being a teacher, I know how truly challenging this is and I take my hat off to Amy. Working from her conservatory at home, she managed to develop and execute strategies for Energy Technology and Control and Generation Financial Services amongst others, whilst preparing sector proposition documents for the Let’s Do Business Group team.

It was an unusual year for Matt, who can spend a lot of his time working on artwork for the local theatres. Sadly, COVID has temporarily halted live entertainment like this and we’re all really gutted not to be going to the panto this Christmas. But, as he lives so close to the office, Matt had been coming in every day and keeping everything in order. He’s used this year to step up his personal development, further improving his website design and UX skillset but now also learning video editing. He’s continued to work with the owners of The Upperton development here in Eastbourne to finalise all the materials to assist with the sales process, but then to create the interior signage, welcome packs and the final finishing touches as the first residents moved in last week.

Matt and Ian have designed, developed and launched some outstanding websites this year; including our long-standing clients Simpsons Financial Advisors, the hugely popular relaunched pub in Eastbourne The Rainbow, and they are wrapping up the year making some extensive improvements to Resin Bonded’s web offering. When he wasn’t building websites, Ian managed a lockdown running challenge that was incredibly unique, completing a 100-mile distance across a four day period whilst adhering to lockdown rules! Read his incredible story here.

The web team has also been, along with Jess, working with our recently acquired client 83 Associates to launch their new site along with their cosmetics brand site Q7 Paris. Jess has been busy planning and launching the digital marketing campaign for Q7 Paris, including setting up social channels and commencing an advertising campaign. The launch of the first product line was a complete success, backed up by a cracking promotional video.

Jess and Kathryn also got their teeth into Albion Languages, following Kathryn meeting MD Alistair at a Gatwick Diamond Business networking event in late 2019. They continue to work hard to generate exciting and thought-provoking content that challenges the reader to engage.

Jo has really settled into her role running the finances of PRG on her own and had a baptism of fire steering things through the challenges of 2020. But she’s again managed it whilst trying to be a teacher to our children and working a couple of days a week at Pashley Down Infant School assisting the Business Manager there. I’m reminded every day what an amazing woman she is as she takes it all in her stride.

One of the first casualties of COVID was the Eastbourne International Tennis Tournament, which Yasmin sells the hospitality for. She was absolutely gutted about this, as it is understandably the highlight of her year. We await news from the LTA on the plans for next year, which all hinges on vaccines and where we all are by then – so watch this space!

I’m a great believer in making sure you grow your network, maintain strong relationships and keep in contact with people, because you never know when opportunity will present itself – and you need to be ready to pounce. Back in the summer, one of our old contacts from Johnson Controls who’d departed a few years ago, made contact from her new role. She was looking for agencies to pitch for the PR and Marketing for her new company, which was an incredibly exciting challenge. Kathryn and I prepared and pitched a strong offering to become a complete outsourced marketing partner, which I’m delighted to say won us the client!

Since August 1st we’ve been on a rapid learning curve and an exciting journey with them, learning the ins and outs of the business, covering all aspects of their fire and security offerings, but this only scratches the surface. We’ve already laid out the plans for Q1 next year and, without going into detail, it’s going to keep us very busy!

In order to cope with the challenges coming our way and to ensure we continue to deliver the highest possible standards of service to all of our clients, we have a new full-time Account Manager joining the team on 4th January. I can’t share any more than that at this stage, but I look forward to making the announcement when we’re all back from the festive break.

We’re in the process of a long-overdue I.T. upgrade at PRG in the run to Christmas, so a big thank you to the team at M-Tech Systems for this and continued support, as well as the SECCADS grant team for the funding towards it.

For me personally, I’ve focused hard on keeping growing the connections, engaging with virtual networking through active channels such as the Gatwick Diamond Business Community and Hastings Chamber of Commerce. Once again, I want to thank Martin Riley for the support he has given me, Jo and the management team this year, helping us to navigate the challenging times and to also focus on positive improvements to our processes and systems.

My work as a Director of the Eastbourne Business Improvement District (BID) has been very rewarding and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with the great people on the Board and the business people of the town.

Last week, we came very close to winning the “Sussex Success Story” Award at the inaugural Virtual Sussex Business Awards ceremony. It was great to just be nominated and also surprisingly good fun attending a “virtual” awards ceremony.

On a personal level, Lockdown Mk.1 taught me that I’m not a teacher! But I got to spend more quality time than usual with Jo, Jenson and Lara and truly got to appreciate them – time which I will treasure, a ray of light in some troubled times that sum up 2020. The world has most definitely changed, some of it will never return to “normal”.

But, for us as a business, we have stayed focused and powered on. We head into 2021 feeling optimistic, and after the festive break will return energised and bullish but tempered with the caution that none of us know what is around the corner. I recently heard one of my contemporaries say that “reducing your marketing spend to save money is like taking the battery out of your watch to save time”. Never has this been more apt and I look forward to working with all of our fantastic clients as we head into the New Year.

I’m excited for what 2021 will bring, despite the looming spectre of further COVID restrictions and a No Deal Brexit. But for now, I’m tired and I feel it has been a long year with barely a day off for a lot of us, so I’m looking forward to a Christmas break with my family to rest and recharge.

We shut for Christmas at 5pm on Wednesday 23rd December, then open again on Monday 4th January. As always, I am available on my mobile or email should an emergency arise.

I’d like to wish all of our clients, suppliers and friends a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous and positive 2021, from all of us here at the PRG family.

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