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As part of our latest In The Shed series PRmoment’s Ben Smith interviewed Boldmove founder Julia Fenwick about the initial results of the survey.

Here’s a summary of what Julia and I discuss:

  • Julia discusses the different feelings, worries and priorities of PR employees who are either still working (from home), have been furloughed, or have been made redundant.
  • How a lot of PR agencies have seen a few green shoots of recovery over the past few weeks.
  • How uncertainty still rules, for employers and employees.
  • How are those who have been furloughed feeling? Initial survey results suggest only 30% of furloughed workers are confident that they’ll be returning to work…
  • Why many of those who are still working are doing very long hours
  • Whether those who have been made redundant are looking for a PR role or are planning on leaving the sector
  • What support is out there to help people?

00:00 Ben Smith: Hello and welcome to our latest interview, our in-the-shed style interviews. Today we’ve got Julia Fenwick, who’s founder at the PR recruitment agency BoldMove (who also specialise in Public Affairs Recruitment & Digital Marketing Recruitment). And Julia, in conjunction with PRmoment has recently launched a survey looking at life after lockdown, from the perspective of PR employees. Julia, welcome. Welcome to my shed.

00:32 Julia Fenwick: Thank you. Nice to be here.

00:34 BS: Now, Julia, we’ll go on to the initial results of the survey in a moment, but what’s the feeling that you get as a PR recruiter at the moment? Are things picking up for PR employers a bit? Are they nervous, bullish or just a bit confused?

00:51 JF: I think across the board it’s still a bit confusing. I think there are some tiny little green shoots from client-side recruitment, but certainly agency-wise it’s still, I think, pretty quiet, and I think it will… I think it’ll stay that way until people have got a better idea after furloughing and when people go back to offices.

01:14 BS: Sure. Yeah, you mentioned that… I talk to a number of PR firms, as you can imagine, and I think… I think I broadly suspect that the mood and the activity has picked up a fair bit in the last couple of weeks. Do you get that feeling as well on a recruitment side, or does that sort of come a bit later?

01:32 JF: No, it’s definitely picked up a little bit in the last 10 days, I’d say. I think that people seem to have a slightly more upbeat thought-set about what’s going to happen, and I think that’s because of the things that they’re hearing, retail’s opening back up today so everyone’s excited about that. So I think there’s more optimism than there has been of late.

02:02 BS: As long as those number trends keep going down, I guess.

02:07 JF: Yeah.

02:08 BS: Now, I mentioned the survey in my intro, and just to say again, that’s looking at life after lockdown from the employee’s perspective. Go on, shall we just talk through the broad elements of the types of employees you’re talking about in that survey, which are people who have been furloughed, people who are still working, and unfortunately some people have been made redundant. Just give us a little insight, both from your own perspective because you’re in a good space to understand what’s happening there, but also from your initial events, initial results I should say, of the survey about first of all how people… What are you hearing from people who’ve been furloughed, first of all? How are they feeling?

02:47 JF: Well, I think the people that have been furloughed are probably the most confused at the moment, because they’re in limbo. So they can’t work, or they certainly shouldn’t be working, and they don’t know what’s gonna happen when the furlough scheme ends. Obviously, it’s transitioning to part-time shortly, and then hopefully they’ll be back on full-time employment. But, the results so far are erring towards being “don’t know” or “might not be returning to work”, which doesn’t bode brilliantly but that’s just their current sense of what’s going on.

03:28 BS: Because people aren’t stupid, they can see the state of the business, they can understand what’s happening with clients, and they’re worried.

03:36 JF: Yeah, yeah. And they don’t know… And obviously, as you said, they can see the state of their client and obviously if their client is no longer with, you know, a client of the business, it’s not gonna necessarily be brilliant for them. But having said that, it depends on the business, the business… There are businesses still out there pitching and winning new clients.

03:56 BS: Without a doubt.


03:57 BS: I mean, yeah, I’ve been surprised, people are… People are definitely winning… And it so depends on the sector, and it’s not… It depends on the client within a sector. So that was the furloughed people, so they’re kind of the most concerned, in a sense, the furloughed people. And then we’ve got the people who are still… Well, we’ve got people who are still working; how are they feeling? I mean, they could be really overworked, I don’t know. What’s going on with them?

04:23 JF: Well, again, the initial results from the survey show that a lot of them are working harder than they’ve probably worked for a very long time, because they’re picking up extra pieces. So they are, I think, feeling the pressure, but I think they are to some extent pleased to be working. So, I think they’re quite happy to take the strain. And I think… I actually think that you may find a bit more strain-taking across the board in PR as things move on. I think people have to do a bit more heavy-lifting for a while, whilst the industry levels itself out a bit.

05:07 BS: Yeah, in terms of how hard people are working, is a trend that we’re gonna have to get used to, at least in the medium term.

05:17 JF: Yeah, yeah. I think, from what I’m hearing, it’s tending to be the more junior… A lot of the more junior staff that are sadly no longer working. So that already, you know, AM/AD level, where they were in demand and they had quite a lot of work as it was before this, are now really, really working super hard to keep things up.

05:44 BS: Sure. Because in essence, they’re having to do the activation themselves, as opposed to with the rest of their team.

05:51 JF: Yeah, exactly. And I think that those in-between levels, the sort of senior account managers and senior account directors, I think those are… They seem to be not working so well. There aren’t gonna be, I don’t think, as many in those levels either. I think we’ll see that as a taken-out level. And a potentially unnecessary level for now, if you think.

06:16 BS: I mean, well let’s talk about that on another podcast, but there’s an interesting long-term implications for PR there, in terms of missing out sort of a level, as it were. And just finally, the people who’ve been made redundant, they’re clearly the people who have been most impacted so far. It’s a very tough time to get a job. I suspect they are really worried. What does your survey, initial results of the survey which I must keep emphasizing, sort of suggest? How are they feeling?

06:47 JF: Well, I think they’re trying to stay positive. I think it’s not easy at all. There has been a lot of volunteering, a lot of people have been up-skilling, changing, learning lots and lots of new tricks. I spoke to somebody the other day who is re-training as a florist, or flower arranging, in that sector. So you’ve got people, I think, who are taking up and learning other things as well, so they can also work outside. But also, the freelance market is getting bigger and bigger and bigger. People looking for contract roles, freelance roles, and every day I’m getting more and more people, “Got any interim freelance positions?”

07:30 BS: You mean on the candidate side, or…

07:33 JF: Yes. The roles aren’t there, but the candidates who’ve been made redundant, whose positions have been made redundant, are now trying to find the first available project.

07:47 BS: Sure. Now, we should just emphasize that this survey is still available to take. It’s obviously completely free to take it. It’s completely confidential. We’ll put the link both on the page for this, so that people can fill it out. If as many people can fill it out as possible, we’d be really grateful so we can get a good little window view on how people are feeling out there. And I guess from that, we’ll then try and suggest them some solutions or some schemes to help people with their various issues that aren’t exactly going well in the sector right now. Julia Fenwick, founder of BoldMove, thank you so much.

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