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Tears and fears - where has the last year gone?
24 Mar 2021
by Kirsty Smallman

Kirsty’s favourite memory before the pandemic really took over all of our lives was a family meal at a restaurant for her dad’s birthday on March 15th 2020. 

 The family had a separate dining room due to them wanting to be careful and they discussed as a family what the next “few weeks” might hold for them all - school life for the children; the future of the businesses as Kirsty and her siblings all own their own companies; their parents’ jobs and the risk around their health and age and of course when they would see each other next. 

Here Kirsty looks back on the last 12 months as a business owner…

Tuesday March 17th was the first day the J&PR team worked from their home offices - dining room tables, spare rooms, gardens - wherever they felt most comfortable in the new world. But it was only going to be short-term, right? Everyone’s health was the priority over anything.

Communication was key 

If a client had not called us already then we called them. We were about to start the busiest period of our year - show time! Several agricultural county shows were in the diary and the big PR campaigns and social media posts were ready to go.

As we know, the events industry was thrown into chaos - how could they plan for something which may not even happen? And as we now know those shows did not happen in 2020 and some are not happening in 2021. Never did we envisage that outcome.

Our clients were our number one priority and we are proud to say we never held one client to contract - I mean who would? We worked around the clock to communicate for our clients - urgent messages needed to be out, calming messages to ensure people knew they were still open, and working behind the scenes on announcements that would be made as soon as possible and internal communications with their workforce, stakeholders, sponsors and volunteers.

The phone call. I will never forget it. The phone call between Rhea and I when we HAD to discuss the future… 

The worst call of all was to our own staff. 

We needed to protect our business because we did not know what the future held for us. Would every client need to axe their marketing budget immediately? Would we, as an external agency, be the first to go? Of course we hoped not due to our long-standing client relationships but you never know.

We called our staff to cut some hours back and told a freelance consultant we couldn’t offer her her hours back as she approached the end of her maternity leave - we wanted to ensure it was fair for all and we protected the business for the future. It was awful - sickening. Our action was impacting on their lives - the lives of people we consider as our friends. We hated it.

We were fearing the worst and the tears flowed - Rhea and I were devastated - the fear of the unknown is pretty cruel.

At times we cried more for our clients than ourselves - the shows are in our blood. We loved them and they were gone. 

We were prioritising our own clients, whilst at the same time needing to be business owners and try and make some sort of sense of the situation. We had families to support, children to care for, staff to support as they went from a bustling office to a room for one, and partners to convince that we weren’t losing the plot! We’re not sure we have even convinced them on that one 12 months on!

We moved our face-to-face PR and social media training sessions online - “you’re on mute”, “you’re camera isn’t on”, “can you hear me”, “kids don’t come in the office I am on a video call” - and repeat - for 12 months!

We won’t lie to you - the pressure we felt as small business owners was immense. 

It was like nothing we have ever felt before. We are sure many other business owners will agree and we hope you are currently saying “phew, I wasn’t the only one.”

But can anyone believe this all started 12 months ago? It seems forever since Rhea holidayed in the sunshine in Cyprus and I was travelling around Europe in the motorhome finding the next BMX track for the boys - and yet it all seems like the tears rolled down the cheeks and the dreaded phone calls were made and received just yesterday.

So what is 2021 looking like now? 

Well J&PR survived - we are still in business! We are aware that many business owners can’t say that and our hearts go out to them. We have won some amazing contracts throughout the pandemic and have been very proud to support our retained clients and new adhoc ones too - whatever the level of support needed, we provided it

We have trained people all over the UK and that will continue - I mean why wouldn’t we when we can train a cafe owner in Cornwall in the morning and a marketing manager at a factory in Scotland in the afternoon? All whilst wearing your slippers - or if you are Simon always wearing shoes! We’ll let you in on a secret - he always puts his work shoes on for a Zoom meeting to get him in the zone!

The amazing people behind the events we promote and manage are in constant contact (not in contract and not paying us but that is irrelevant to us at this time). Support, guidance and kindness will be remembered.

We also have some exciting news about a new “home” for J&PR coming soon… no it isn’t that our staff will remain working from home full-time - for us that is a no-no - our team needs to laugh together (and cry together if needed!) and virtual hugs were so last year! We are ready to hug again as soon as we can and most definitely laugh together in the same room! We will keep you posted on our exciting news.

For now stay safe, enjoy the rule of six or two households when we can and most importantly support your amazing local businesses as soon as they can open their doors - the pubs (obviously!), cafes, restaurants, hotels, gift shops… the list goes on! 

And when the events happen - make sure you buy your ticket.

Lastly thank you - thank you to everyone who has shown kindness to the J&PR team during the last 12 months. A message or phone call to simply ask if we are okay (the first one I received resulted in me bawling like a baby for 30 minutes afterwards - James Godfrey that was you!); something in the post to make us smile; wine, beer, gin and bubbles and understanding and overwhelming support and kind words. They have all meant the world to Team J&PR.

We can’t wait to see you all soon - just a little while longer - be sensible and be safe.

Love Kirst and Rhea x