Jun 17, 2020

Vital Communication: Taking Positivity from the Pandemic


2020 was set to be an excellent year. The business was in a good place, we had some great campaigns to launch and I was looking forward to some exciting personal milestones in the spring, with my wedding and honeymoon scheduled for May. Fast forward six months and I am unmarried, furloughed and honeymooning at my desk! No one could have foreseen the global pandemic which would sweep the world and turn everyone’s lives, businesses, and normality upside down.

Discovering that I was going to be put on the Government furlough scheme was initially tough, although I did and still do feel incredibly grateful that such a scheme exists. Having been fully submerged in all things ROAD for almost a decade, I suddenly found myself with no daily tasks, no routine and without a team to spark off. I knew straight away that I had to find something to do - especially as furlough life was for an indefinite amount of time.

A few emails later and I was signed up to an amazing not-for-profit initiative called Vital Meals as a driver, delivering food to south-Londoners hit hardest by COVID-19. The initiative was set up by an remarkable young chef, called Ayesha Pakravan, whose own catering business was hit hard by the lockdown. Instead of sitting at home, she decided to set up the initiative from her very own kitchen, cooking a dozen meals a day for locals in need.

The inspiration and passion which Ayesha radiates made me question if I too could do more to help grow the initiative, both in terms of fundraising and reaching potential beneficiaries. PR seemed like the perfect vehicle to achieve our goals and I felt confident that with the skills gained during my time so far at ROAD, we would be successful.

Three months later and we are still going strong. Vital Meals has grown ten-fold, we are now operating out of an industrial kitchen and the 15 strong team are preparing 4,000 meals every month – a lifeline for many Londoners. The PR hasn’t gone too badly either, securing editorial across top tier publications such as The Telegraph, ITV News, BBC Onine, BBC Radio London, Cosmopolitan, BBC Good Food, The Mirror, Evening Standard. The highlight of the experience has definitely been our appearance on the BBC1’s VE Day broadcast, which spotlighted positive local community stories and I was honoured to be a part of. It has certainly been an interesting few months (both professionally and personally) so I wanted to share some of my learnings along the way:

  1. Communication is communication
    I was a little nervous offering my services for sectors (charity and food) where I have not worked before. How would my knowledge of the health and medical media translate? However, after years of working with media and understanding their needs, I knew how best to target various publications. Highlighting different elements of the story for different titles meant that we were able to achieve an array of features from essentially one story and build strong relationships with new journalists across ‘news’, ‘features’ and ‘food’.
  2. Positive stories do cut through
    With the news dominated by COVID-19 stories, such as the devastating death toll and rebellious politicians, I was unsure what opportunities existed for a story like ours. It was amazing to see that among the sadness and chaos printed, there was a real appetite for COVID community stories. Being able to put a face (Ayesha) to the initiative, and one which is so young at just 26, made the story even more inspirational to the media.
  3. Social media is an invaluable lead generating tool
    Although the likes of Twitter and #journorequest have been around for years, I have never relied on both so much as a tool to help me find out what people are writing about and spot that golden request! Several of the best pieces of coverage were achieved off the back of Twitter posts showing that, as a reactive PR tool, it is an invaluable resource, rivalling some of the paid for alternatives.
  4. Giving gives back
    One thing COVID-19 has taught us is the importance of community and how valuable it is to support each other during these times. Vital Meals is just one of thousands of charitable initiatives doing great things and I think most people will agree that the continued community spirit is one of the best legacies to be born out of this pandemic. From a personal perspective, as much as I have given, I have gotten even more back. I have felt grateful every day to have a purpose, to have a new challenge which has kept my mind focused and positive. Not to mention the thrill of seeing that exciting reply from a journalist in my inbox – new contacts which I will be able to draw upon when I resume duties at ROAD.
  5. New ways of working
    Before being furloughed the team and I went from 5 days a week in the office to working from home every day which will be similar for many companies across the UK. The pandemic has certainly reshaped the working ways and proven that for most (non-service) businesses, it can work just as well. I’ve personally loved seeing inside people’s houses, seeing kids make impromptu appearances, and the colleagues cat run by! It makes for a more vulnerable and genuine perception of each other, which in turn, allows teams to feel more connected. Secondly, technology has also meant that remote training is made possible, something which the team and I are were no strangers to, having completed Google Squared remote digital qualification last year. With more downtime, it’s been really beneficial to continue online training using platforms such as LinkedIn Learning and Facebook Blueprint.

On that note, I am very much looking forward to going back to ROAD and helping to ride the post COVID wave. Until then I’ll dream about being on a beach in Bali (which is where I should be right now!) and I’ll continue to embrace all the positives from the pandemic for a little while longer...

Jun 17, 2020