By Jane Hunt, PR expert, public speaker, and co-founder of JBH – The Digital PR Agency
Our journey to specialist digital PR agency
I established JBH along with my two co-founders in 2013. Back then, we’d each worked in agency environments for many years, and we were ready to bring a new perspective to the industry.
It wasn’t long before we realised that rather than stretch ourselves across several disciplines, it made sense to concentrate all our expertise into one niche. Thus, we became JBH — The Digital PR Agency.
Prior to the pandemic hitting, we had ambitious plans for growth. then, without warning, our plans were plunged into uncertainty — would they even be possible?
Why we chose not to furlough our staff during COVID-19
You could say that the global health crisis triggered our ‘fight or flight’ response as a business. However, while other agencies began downsizing and furloughing their employees as soon as the government funded scheme was announced, we instead remained motivated to push harder and fight for what we’d spent so much time, money and energy building.
Luckily, we’ve always left money in the bank to ensure we have the cash flow to cover salaries for at least six months. This helps us avoid running into financial issues and having to lay staff off, and helps us sleep better at night.
This foresight meant that when COVID-19 struck, there was no need for us to panic and mass furlough our valuable members of staff, as we knew we had the resources to cover salaries in the event that we did lose any clients as a result of the pandemic. Thankfully — this didn’t become an issue for us, so our reserves remained safe.
Putting your money where your marketing is
As a marketer with over a decade of experience under my belt — and nearly nine of those spent running my own agency — I’m highly adept when it comes to developing innovative marketing strategies that generate attractive results.
My wealth of industry experience has shown me that during a downturn, the first thing to be cut is the marketing budget. This applies to even the biggest brands — likely due to the wildly outdated and unproven belief that marketing is a frivolous expense, and a nice ‘bonus’ element rather than an essential business expenditure.
However, it’s always been my belief that this is a false economy. Before COVID-19, I suspected that dramatically reducing your marketing business only runs the risk of losing more money in the long run — ultimately setting your company back much further than a single year.
With this in mind, I was adamant that JBH would find a way to champion our marketing efforts throughout the pandemic. The only question for me was — how?
Staying connected in a global pandemic
In the PR and SEO industry, a significant amount of sales leads come from thought-leadership — for instance, at events and conferences, and through podcasts and videos. Though the pandemic had halted any in-person events for the foreseeable future, Zoom quizzes were having a very significant moment, and this gave me the idea for a JBH webinar — enter The Missing Link!
Launched on the 10th September 2020, The Missing Link was a monthly meeting of minds during the pandemic — a chance for people in the industry to share their expertise and personal experiences at a time when we all felt quite disconnected from one another.
We met digitally over the course of 10 months — covering everything from ‘How to Build a Successful Digital PR Team’, to newsjacking, pitching to certain journalists, challenges facing the industry, and so much more.
Not only did The Missing Link concept prove really popular in the industry — attracting such high-calibre guests as Yomi Adegoke, and Mark Johnstone — it also worked wonders for recruitment. As we carved out new space in the industry, candidates were coming to us. Even better, we were generating tangible sales leads off the back of our marketing activity — a win all round!
Our goals, challenges, and growth
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, our pre-pandemic goal was growth — but we couldn’t possibly have imagined the rate at which JBH would expand in such a short space of time.
Between 2020 and 2021, we managed to increase revenue from £440,000 to £1.3 million — a whopping increase of 177%. This was all down to original ideas, thought leadership, and carefully planned marketing investments.
Following the success of The Missing Link webinar and our subsequent spectacular sales growth, it was time to expand the JBH team. This was where things became a little trickier — who’d have thought that one of the biggest challenges we’d face in a global pandemic (no less) would be hiring staff at the same speed we were amassing new clients?
One thing that we prioritise at JBH is training across the board — this includes onboarding new staff members, as well as hosting regular training sessions where staff can share their knowledge and educate their peers.
One hiring mistake that we did encounter during this period is something that we now thoroughly analyse and consider in the lead up to any role being offered to job seekers at any level. During the pandemic we were guilty of rushing to hire candidates based on their perceived skill and experience, rather than taking the time to consider if they would be an all around ‘good fit’ when it came to the personality and culture of the agency.
In addition to having enough time to screen candidates and ensure we were hiring some of the industry’s best talent, we also wanted to ensure that all new staff members were fully trained and comfortable in their new roles. That’s why we made the decision to slow our sales growth in order to match the speed at which we were able to hire and upskill our growing team.
And now there’s no stopping us!