Interview today with Jason Sulham, Vice President of Broadreach Public Relations.
What is unique about Broadreach Public Relations compared to other PR agencies, and how has that informed your view during this crisis?
One of our primary differentiators is our crisis communications expertise. Our strength in this discipline comes from our team’s diverse experience which ranges from banking to politics, having managed crises across that spectrum. From that experience we have developed a proven method for managing crisis situations and frequently present or train on the topic.
Consequently, we were deeply engaged in assisting businesses and organizations respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including those experiencing outbreaks. We saw the impact and emotion of this pandemic at a very human level at a point in time when more was unknown than known. It amplified how critical effective communications are to calming fears and inspiring confidence. Conversely, it demonstrated how ineffective communications can exacerbate fears and sow further confusion.
Communications is often something we take for granted, but its value has certainly been realized through the pandemic.
The company was founded in 2007, shortly before the Great Financial Crisis. How does your experience of that period compare to this current economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic?
While 2007 started an era of financial turmoil, the impact wasn’t as widespread as the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted the entire supply chain across every industry sector.
In the early days of Broadreach, we had two solid clients that we considered recession proof. It was during those early years that we figured out what we wanted to work on and what we didn’t. Marketing budgets were getting slashed, but companies were turning to “free” advertising in terms of PR and at the time there were only a handful of companies that specialized singularly in PR.
Fast-forward, marketing budgets have pivoted to digital-heavy, but there is still that demand for the “free” advertising and even more demand for how to communicate. What we’ve learned is that if we focus on what we are good at, have a strong portfolio of recession-proof clients, and deliver solid results for our clients, we can weather any storm.
What are some of the challenges your clients are facing during this crisis?
Like all businesses, our clients are facing the universal challenges of COVID-19 – implementing changing protocols, managing remote work and the needs of individual employees, disrupted revenue streams, and persistent uncertainty. As the pandemic has progressed, some have adapted better than others and that success can be dependent on the nature of the business.
All of these challenges keep our core services in demand since communication is essential to resolving them. However, the most value we can provide our clients is to simply be empathetic listeners that assure them these challenges are indeed navigable. The irony is not lost on us that what we counsel our clients to communicate to their audiences is something they often need to hear for themselves.
How did Broadreach Public Relations adapt to working remotely?
We are located in Portland, Maine. Despite our proximity to Boston and New York, Maine was one of the last states in the initial wave to have a positive case. That afforded us time to prepare for the eventuality of having to move to remote work.
Collectively, we decided that we would move to a remote working model upon the first positive case to be reported in Maine. Prior to that, we had already established a VPN and ensured that our team had the technology and environment required to work from home. This definitely put us ahead of the curve, which in hindsight was extremely fortuitous as we were able to focus on the needs of our clients as the first wave intensified without the added burden of establishing our own remote work model.
We have thrived in the months since by remaining flexible and understanding of our employees’ individual circumstances.
How do you think public relations will evolve in the wake of Covid-19?
Complex, highly regulated industries, like banking, are often required to have pandemic plans in place and many did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, these plans were often singularly focused on operations, and a communications component was conspicuously missing. As the pandemic has progressed and many businesses have moved past the crisis mitigation phase, they are reflecting on lessons learned and looking to update their planning to include a communications component.
Accordingly, I believe the public relations profession will have a more prominent seat at the table from the outset. Through this pandemic, the essential nature of strategic communications has been realized and companies are responding.
Specific trends have also emerged from the pandemic that is likely to continue after the pandemic has abated. Part of our profession is identifying trends and positioning our clients to take advantage of them. For instance, remote work is here to stay, and with it, the technology and supports required. ESG has also seen its importance increase as a result of the pandemic. However, these trends are so transformational that it won’t be enough to simply have identified them. Public relations will have to obtain the capacity to advise across the entirety of a client’s strategic planning, not simply look for visibility opportunities afterward.
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