Navigating the storm, crew and all: How P+S weathered the COVID storm

3rd June 2021

At Proctors, our people make us who we are. Bold. Brave. Imaginative. Resilient. But resilience doesn’t mean things are always easy.

It’s truly taken a village to see us through the last 12 months. And this article explains more about how our team spirit and collaborative culture have helped us to balance the books throughout these difficult times – and flourish, rather than just float.

Our finances

When COVID first hit in the beginning of 2020, the consensus was this epidemic would be around for three months in the UK, and we should start to see signs of economic recovery beginning in July 2020. (No comment!)

At the time, we’d just finalised our financial forecasts for the year ending March 2021, but it was clear we needed to review these figures.

After revisiting our forecasts, we worked on a realistic model which would see a dip of around 30% in the company’s income for the first quarter of 2020, before gradually returning to 100% by the summer. We then expected we’d see an uptick in work – to around 130% by the end of the year – as clients rushed to spend already -approved budgets.

Despite knowing now that the information on the pandemic’s duration proved to be inaccurate, this approach placed us in excellent stead.

Our biggest challenge was managing cashflow. With fee income dropping, we still had to cover our business costs. It became crucial to cut costs wherever we could – and quickly.

We reviewed our overheads, and any payments deemed non-essential were stopped or placed on hold. The government also launched an initiative called the CBIL Scheme, and allowed us to defer our PAYE and VAT payments, helping us manage cashflow.

We also made the decision to place any money received from loans or PAYE and TAX deferments into a savings account. As we knew the funds were always going to have to be repaid in March 2021, we decided to only use them if we had to.

Our work

Employee utilisation is something we’ve always used to measure productivity across the business at Proctors. It describes how much time any staff member is spending on achieving paid work each month.

During the pandemic, we were able to use our employee utilisation data to forecast upcoming work, and quickly identify the staff members who would be under-utilised over the coming weeks and months, and the skillsets where there wouldn’t be a lot of work coming in from our clients. We could then place those affected employees on furlough, whilst ensuring all other staff had high utilisation levels, reducing our costs while keeping our clients happy.

Over the last few years, we’ve introduced a number of KPIs to ensure we’re always performing efficiently, aiming to be within the top 10% of agencies of our size, financially. This has given us a strong financial foundation, allowing us to continue to support our clients who were also struggling though uncertainty.  

Our relationships

Externally, we’ve been part of a working group of Financial Directors within creative agencies for the last four years. Pre-COVID we would meet quarterly, discussing all things financial and operational as well as sharing ideas, best practice tips, and KPIs.

At the beginning of the pandemic we met via Zoom, and as usual shared our latest updates – only this time, we discussed how to approach the upcoming challenges which would affect all of us.

Many agencies cut back on their non-fee earning staff, including new business and marketing. But our own stance differed: as long as we weren’t at a net loss, we would continue to look for new clients and deliver new initiatives to our existing ones.

We kept our new business and marketing team together, giving them the creative and technology staff needed to work on pitches and ideas – and for us, it paid off, resulting in new clients and new business.

Despite a number of businesses in the aforementioned Financial Directors group making different decisions based on what might work best for them, being part of a community that shares knowledge, resources and support has been invaluable.

Those invaluable relationships have extended to our clients too. Like many other businesses, we’ve been there for our clients – and vice versa – during an incredibly testing year. In most cases, we’ve gotten to know each other even better, and have built even stronger business and personal relationships with many of them.

Our people

A challenging time for the world, for our business, and for our people. It was so important to us to ensure our employees felt valued, informed – and were able to have just a little fun wherever possible.

Over the last year we’ve introduced a number of new staff initiatives, including our Quarantine Quiz. We originally introduced the quiz to raise money for the Quartet Community Foundation, donating to their Coronavirus 2020 Response Fund, as well as to boost our teams’ morale while we’ve all been forced to work remotely.

And unlike many of the Zoom quizzes we might have held in our personal lives, to this day The Proctors Quarantine Quiz lives on! The format has now evolved slightly, with different staff members hosting each Wednesday, and one lucky winner claiming a £50 Amazon voucher in a nice little midweek boost.

We’ve been rewarding staff for more than just their general knowledge, too. 2021 has seen the return of our famous Proscars awards. The Proscars are our quarterly awards by employees, for employees, with every staff member able to vote for three colleagues they believe should be rewarded for their hard work. Our three winners then get to choose a prize – either £250 in cash or £400 in vouchers.

To get us all moving, we’ve been further breaking up the working week with weekly lunchtime fitness and yoga sessions, hosted by a personal trainer online. And if you’d rather gin than gym, on Fridays our weekly virtual social kicks off at 5pm – although, it’s strictly BYOB!

If all that wasn’t enough, each Friday afternoon our Chairman, Roger Proctor, sends out his weekly ‘Good News’ email. Just as it sounds, it’s a cross-department weekly catch up about all things good – inside and out of work – and an informal welcome to the weekend.

Our wellbeing

As well as looking after our finances, it was also critical our staff had access to the support they needed to look after their personal wellbeing.

We engaged a psychotherapist and Mental Health Consultant to run a series of wellbeing workshops and Q+A sessions with all Proctors employees. This was followed up with a further series of workshops with our managers, providing them with additional tools to guide and support their team, as well as handouts on working from home, managing stress and more.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve continued to promote our Employee Assistance Programme, offering 24/7 GP, legal and financial helplines, with options for counselling and psychiatric therapy available through our private medical insurance.

We also felt it was important to offer extra help to those who might be struggling with the pressures of family life in lockdown. Therefore, we sought to share helpful guidance and tips to P+S parents for effective home school and balancing with work as well as providing additional flexibility for maintaining work balance and wellbeing during additional childcare and home schooling. We even set up regional and international remote working agreements for those who benefited from being with their family outside of Bristol.

Christmas looked different in 2020, but we still managed to celebrate in style. In lieu of our traditional knees-up, we sent a hamper brimming local treats and bubbles from The Mall Deli in Clifton to each of our staff. But it was also important for us to give back too.

We joined forces with Caring in Bristol to donate a video in aid of homelessness in our city, helping to raise over £20,000. And we’ve kicked off the new year in a similar way by sponsoring Lebeq Ladies – a local women’s football team, in our community of Easton, Bristol.

Our future

None of the positive action we’ve taken should be viewed as temporary.

We intend to continue treating Wellbeing as a priority across the Group, and are continuing with initiatives in this area, such as with Mental Health First Aid training for select staff in June.

Above all, our people will continue to steer our direction moving forward: whether that’s via team surveys, policy and process updates or with lots of creative ideas. Because this has been one of the hardest times in recent memory to manage and market a business. And tough times lie ahead. But with a strong foundation, and an overwhelming commitment to your original values, it is possible to stay above water – even in the most testing of times.

If you’d like to talk to a truly ‘people first’ agency, we’re herewith a listening ear. So talk to us, at [email protected].


About Proctor + Stevenson

Game-changing strategy, creative and technology that means more impact for your marketing. And more power to your business.

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