Being tasked by my colleagues to write a reasonably short blog about our year here at FSC feels a bit like being asked to pop a 300-page novel on a couple of post-it notes, writes Mark Stretton, Managing Director of Fleet Street Communications. I exaggerate to make the point, perhaps. But…you take my point.
Aside from all that there is to say, it’s not easy to summarise what has been a complex and strange time; it’s been petrifying and elating, with huge lows and massive highs. It’s been horrendously challenging for many, but not entirely devoid of opportunity either.
The long story-short is that I am immensely thankful for, proud of, the team at Fleet Street Communications and all they have achieved, hugely grateful for our clients, and really feel for the tough times that some of our industry colleagues have endured and continue to endure (both in agency world and some of the industries we serve). At the same time, I feel very positive about the long-term future, including 2021, despite the further challenges it will no doubt bring.
Where to start? The world in which we currently reside would not have been believable just 12 months ago. Consider all the strange things that have become normal – wearing masks, giving people space, handwashing, registering on an NHS-sponsored app to visit a restaurant, hotel or pub, not to mention a work life lived in part on Zoom and largely away from the office.
Given our work with hospitality and leisure clients, not least as the communications agency for UKHospitality, it’s been a topsy turvy time that has brought immense, existential challenges for many but also plenty of silver linings.
We’ve probably all seen and read enough about the monumental and horrendous hurdles but if that’s your vibe, it’s got its own blog and you can read it here.
Reference silver linings, it’s been great for all the goodness that has come out of this year – and for hospitality, it has shown itself to be a collegiate, collaborative, mutually-supportive industry that leans into adversity and is an enormous force for good, only too ready to help the needy and vulnerable at a moment’s notice. That too goes for food and drink brand owners.
It has been a real privilege to work at such close quarters with the senior team at UKHospitality, led by the extraordinary Kate Nicholls who together with Tony Sophoclides and David Sheen and others have spearheaded an astonishing effort, along with the many company leaders who have stepped up to act as spokespeople when the industry needed them, such as Will Beckett of Hawksmoor, Peter Borg-Neal of Oakman Inns, Simon Emeny of Fuller’s, Tim Foster of Yummy, James Hacon of Think Hospitality, Luke Johnson of Risk Capital, Karen Jones of Prezzo, Jillian MacLean of Drake & Morgan, Hugh Osmond of Various Eateries, Brandon Stephens of Tortilla, Sarah Willingham of Nightcap, Martin Wolstencroft of Arc Inspirations, and many, many more.
We have tried to do our little bit to keep some of the industries in which we specialise connected and communicating. In lockdown (1.0) we were regular hosts of a ‘business at breakfast’ slot on HospoLive, broadcasted on Facebook, interviewing industry leaders and experts. We also got involved in hosting seminars with Imbibe Live, with the Montgomery Fresh team that produce the annual Pub Show, and countless clients. I have loved being part of the Propel Friday Wrap with Insights Editor Mark Wingett, which will return in the New Year with the likes of Kevin Georgel, Karen Jones and James Watt promising to join us.
For us, one of the highlights of the year was being asked by HM Treasury, alongside our good PR friends Gemma Bell & Company, to get the industry behind #EatOutToHelpOut. At the time, in early July, the government was worried about traction as ‘only’ 30,000 venues had signed up for the scheme. We all know that the scheme was a roaring success and it was great to help drive noise around it prior to its August launch. It’s a shame that such effective working partnership with government did not continue into the autumn in other capacities.
In the summer we were blessed to have the opportunity to pull together with our industry colleague Ann Elliott, a hugely-experienced marketer, communicator and connector in our industry, who has extraordinary relationships at a senior level across countless restaurant, pub, bar and hotel groups, fostered over decades. It’s a partnership we’re looking forward to building on further in 2021.
It’s been a rewarding challenge to support and advise our clients on understanding their role in the pandemic and new communications and messaging rules, and where appropriate how they can help their own clients to build back better and stronger. It’s clearly been a real stretch for everyone addressing the here and now while also having one eye on the future, what the post pandemic world will look like whenever it arrives, and what will be important.
We have fully embraced all things digital, pitching on Zoom, hosting client webinars and engaging in ‘culturally rich’ team-building events like bake off, myriad quizzing and small-talk bingo. Team-building aside, as one of the founders here at Fleet Street Communications, I feel very fortunate to be part of an amazing team that has dug in, or to use a 2020 phrase, ‘doubled down’, and worked incredibly hard in order to see us through.
It’s also a testament to our people that when we necessarily furloughed a few of the team earlier in the year, they decided to spend their time volunteering, doing comms work for charities. We now have everyone back in the business, and haven’t lost a single member of our team. I now can barely believe that as we head into 2021, we are actually recruiting. You do require a bit of luck for that sort of form.
We are mindful that for some businesses it has been a devastating time – not all clients, not all marketing and communications agencies, and not all publications that we work closely with, have made it. We have been fortunate.
As I said at the top there is so much more to say. It’s been a unique year, the like of which we will never see again (please), and while there are clearly many challenges ahead, we look forward to better times ahead, to reconnecting with friends and colleagues, and (fingers-crossed) the gradual easing of restrictions, as the vaccine rolls out and the winter months give way to spring.
Mark Stretton is Managing Director of Fleet Street Communications