Something Old, Something New: Public Relations After COVID
Has the COVID-19 pandemic reversed, or at least slowed, the years-long trend towards increasing specialization? Perhaps not entirely, but agility and the capacity to provide a wider variety of services certainly regained some status as valuable business assets.
One local firm typifying this aspect of the new normal is Gambel Communications. The 12-year-old marketing and public relations firm experienced its share of changes in the last twenty months, but according to CEO Amy Boyle Collins, “We were very fortunate that we are not niche-specific and work across all industries. COVID did not really have an impact on our business.”
While Collins reported that some clients put their communications plans on hold, others needed more communications support. One aspect of this was internal messaging, as businesses worked overtime to keep staff informed about policies, regulations, status updates and related matters during the constant flux of the pandemic.
“We also helped clients correct that steady flow of misinformation,” Collings recounted. “We’ve been doing a lot more issue management and crisis communications for clients. It’s harder and more time-consuming, but doing it successfully has created more demand for our services.”
Gambel’s clients typically number 40 to 50 at a time, generating approximately $1.3 million in annual revenues. Recent hires have brought the full-time staff at the firm up to twelve, with some of those being replacements for people who left.
“Some staff members took the shutdown to really examine their life goals, and we had some people moving on,” said Collins. “In the last six months we focused on adding talent and getting staffed up again. We are now at full force and ready for new business opportunities.”
Collins herself represents change, having assumed the CEO role in July 2020. Founder Betsie Gambel is “dipping her toe in the retirement pool,” in Collins’ words; although still active, Gambel is less involved in day-to-day operations.
While the firm had been working on the succession for a couple years, easing the transition, the timing was nothing if not interesting. Given the COVID context, Collins has been focused on the imperative of “reshaping our service delivery model. What does PR look like when no one is having events?
“We are very much known for having lots of community engagement and events for our clients,” she continued, “but the whole landscape of how we do PR has changed with the pandemic.”
Over the past decade, the firm had already expanded its focus on digital communications, which positioned it well to meet these new challenges. Key necessities like generating media coverage without events and creating productive virtual meetings and other gatherings were familiar to Gambel staff.
Nevertheless, as Collins pointed out, “New Orleans is a town that thrives on community. We are now seeing a real desire to get back to having live events. We have to figure out how to pull that lever on behalf of our clients, how to deal with safety and the perception of safety, how to communicate effectively with stakeholders in this new environment.”
Barring new COVID challenges, Collins believes this trend will continue. “More events will come back, there will be more community gatherings, more fun,” she predicted. “Businesses will reopen and even expand, and all this means more increased business overall.
“As consultants, we have to be on the leading edge of what that looks like and how to make it work,” she added. “The lessons we learned will make us stronger and better.”
Gambel Communications has always been known for its personal approach, building connections with its clients as it builds connections for its clients. With its expanded capacities in the digital public relations realm, combined with its traditional events and communications skills, Collins feels Gambel is in great shape moving forward.
“We’re in the people business,” she concluded, “and people are starting to get back together.”