Lisa Morton, founder and CEO
Two months ago today, the Roland Dransfield team watched the Government’s Coronavirus press conference at 5pm in silence. When it finished we all looked at each other blankly. Everyone’s always got something to say in our office – it’s a competition to get the best line out all the time, but nobody uttered a word. It hit us right then that this was serious – that things were going to change very dramatically, very quickly.
We had put a proactive COVID-19 plan in place already which included IT changes, video conferencing, team back ups and freelance support should anybody become ill, A&B teams, improved credit control processes etc and had planned to trial us all working at home the following day.
I stayed late that night to get myself organised and to spend some time letting everything sink in. And I had a real deep sense that we wouldn’t be back in the office for a long time. It certainly wasn’t going to be Wednesday that week.
The Roland Dransfield Way
18 months ago, we intensively worked together on our team values. We changed ‘PR’ to ‘Purposeful Relationships’ and created The Roland Dransfield Way – 15 principles by which we hold ourselves accountable at work and in our personal lives.
We had wallpaper printed with these 15 values and it covers a huge wall in our office. The Roland Dransfield Way is ingrained in our DNA in the business and in ourselves. It has formed part of our language.
As I passed that wall to leave the office at 7.30 that night, I stood in front of it and felt very emotional. I realised how important it was to me, and how much as a business we stood for everything written on it, because we had created it with all our hearts.
And I knew then, whatever happened, whatever was going to unfurl in front of us from that moment, that we would walk back into this office, whenever we were able to, quite possibly as a changed business, but with unchanged values.
And it’s those values and that piece of work that we did, which was so deeply important to Roland Dransfield, that have enabled us to stay knitted together in a purposeful way despite not having seen each other in person for six weeks.
When we looked back at the first week of working from home we agreed it felt a bit like a ‘snow day’ at school. We were all quite giddy about Zooming from our balconies and back bedrooms, laughing about what everyone was wearing on their bottom halves, and realising that our ingrained working patterns had just been proved old hat.
And then we got the announcement of lockdown. I got up very early the next day to drive down to Guilford to pick my daughter up from university. And it was at that point that things really hit home. The motorways were almost completely empty. And as I was driving, that was when the calls started coming in one after another – from clients asking to’ pause’, ‘put on hold’, ‘half’, ‘review’, ‘terminate’ at a stomach-churning pace.
All of our amazing summer events – horse-racing, tennis, rowing, music festivals – cancelled. All the incredible restaurants, hotels, venues – closed. Then the construction sites – shut. And all of a sudden, the vibrant, exciting business that we’ve enjoyed for so long was, in the space of one week, changed beyond belief.
But our values stayed the same.
Keep it real.
After every success, we start again
In the days following, we started with this. This helped us to have utter honesty about the situation we were dealing with – a loss of around two-thirds of our monthly income overnight for at least three months if not longer. I promised the team that I would share everything I knew and everything I was learning – which was then changing by the hour.
We have always believed that you can’t keep ringing the bell for a long time after a win – you’ve got to knuckle down and go again. And this was exactly what we were going to do now.
Walk a mile in another’s shoes.
We don’t judge others. We listen. We empathise. We learn.
To be very honest, this value is one of the most testing of the 15. When you’re all frightened to death and confused as hell, and trying not to come from a mind-set of scarcity, it’s a tough call.
Like so many agencies, we had to make the decision to furlough team members in order to protect their jobs and the business in the long term. That was really, really tough and heart-breaking. I cried my eyes out the night before I had to make the calls, because it’s not about having an opinion on how valuable your team members are as professionals or as people and yet it seemed brutal. My Salford nan had an expression that ‘it’s just the way the grapefruit squirts’ and it was literally about who was best placed to pick up the clients who were remaining in place and the new business pitching we had on this month. Nothing more than that.
We empathise with feelings of our team members who have been impacted by furlough. It’s hard for them as they want to be supporting their colleagues who are working long hours. They believe in “Champions do extra”.
Purposeful Relationships Last a Lifetime
Both our clients and our team were all facing the unknown, and were in siege mentality.
Even businesses that dwarf Roland Dransfield in size wanted to immediately stop their outgoings and look at all their overheads – and that included our fees. These clients are all in contracts with notice periods, but even though they’re much bigger than us and the impact of the disappearing income would have a far greater effect on us than them, we said yes. We said yes to every request every client made.
In the 2008 recession – which lasted for us and many businesses many years after that – it was pretty much impossible to acquire any new clients or make any profitable progress.
So we made the decision to build relationships, make introductions, get people together, get everyone sharing ideas and strengthen the community. I think many people made deep and long-lasting connections during that recession.
And we didn’t ask for any money. We didn’t ask for fees for doing these things for people. We helped out when people needed it without asking for anything. And then when people had money to spend, or they had briefs in the years after that, when they may have moved jobs, or started their own businesses, they came back to us because of their loyalty, because of those purposeful relationships that last a lifetime.
And that’s what we’re doing now. And that’s what so many businesses are doing now.
Two weeks into lockdown, when we were taking stock of what we had left and what new opportunities we could look at, we had a call from a client that I worked with even before I set up Roland Dransfield. They had had to stop working with us after the 2008 property crash and wanted to reappoint us immediately. That was a great moment and put a smile on everyone’s face.
Leave Roland Dransfield in a better place.
Play for the name on the front of the shirt. Not the back.
At the most challenging times, we still have to remember the people and businesses who may be struggling more than us. Right now, like most businesses in the city, we are playing for Manchester as well as our own team.
This is the time as an industry where we put our friendly, or other, rivalries aside and we dig in – and dig in deep – for our creative community.
And we help out those businesses and individuals that really need it.
We have an incredible creative sector in this city and we want it to continue to flourish.
This is not about contracts, it’s not about legalities and small print. This is about being open and big-hearted, and supporting our fellow agencies in Manchester and the North West. If they have had to furlough staff, they may be missing key skill sets which may jeopardise them retaining a client or pitching for a new one. And it may be the difference between keeping the doors open or closing them for good.
We hope people will do this on just a fair exchange of time, or mates’ rates – or for free – because we’re Manchester and if the Creative Exchange saves one business or one piece of business, then it will all have been worth it.
To try to help our friends in the hospitality sector, Roland Dransfield launched #PayitForward in mid- March with Sacha Lord and some of Manchester’s well-known chefs and operators when we could see what was about to happen. Manchester is often referred to as a ‘city of restaurants’ and has had a booming economy for many years.
It’s heart-breaking to see the difficulties that business owners and hospitality workers are facing right now. These are people who are there for us when we’re entertaining clients or celebrating our awards successes with our teams.
They are really struggling. #PayitForward allows you to buy a voucher now to spend later and I would urge you so do so and support our hospitality community. You can find participating venues on www.payitforward.co.uk
Leaders create leaders
Take responsibility because successful teams have leaders throughout their ranks.
Roland Dransfield has a team of leaders. I’ve been overwhelmed and humbled by the leadership shown in our team, particularly in the past month.
They’ve taken things off me. They have sent me messages to ask if I’m okay. They have been responsive to the ideas that I’ve come up with in the middle of the night and considered every one of them (some of them have been questionable!) They’ve learned new skills. They’ve been flexible. They’ve been patient. They’ve been trusting and kind and they have been uplifting every single day.
We say thank you.
And when we say thank you we mean it.
Probably the two most important words in life, in any language, in any society – especially now. We have so much to be thankful for and so many people who are doing such incredible and selfless work to keep us safe and functioning as normally as we can under the circumstances.
At Roland Dransfield we say thank you to each other every single day. We thank our clients for staying with us. We thank our suppliers for their work in supporting us and at the moment I am so thankful for all the people who have checked in or sent a kind word or a message just to check we are doing okay.
Never leave the game early.
We leave after we have given it our all. Always.
This could not be more true of our team right now. Everyone is on Slack but there are no slackers. If somebody is going for a lunch break they shout up in case we need them. Everyone is learning new skills, finding webinars to learn how to pivot for us and for clients, finding inspirational quotes to motivate us, sharing uplifting stories of people doing great things, creating even more value for clients and the community where it’s needed.
We do, however, leave the game early on Friday, as we’ve always done. But instead of our ‘pits and peaks’ of the week sessions (thank you, Martha Moore for this ritual) in the Oxnoble (God I miss that place), we have a Zoom “Coronawinus” Happy Hour where we drink whatever’s left in the cupboard from Christmas.
Our gorgeous office dog, Reggie the Weimaraner (who I miss a lot) zooms in from New York City, where he managed to just fly to ahead of lockdown to join his mum, our office manager and PA, Charlotte, who is doing a bloody great job for us in lockdown across the pond in Brooklyn where she’s moved with her husband.
Plant trees you’ll never see.
Create a legacy out of respect for those that follow you.
This is the value that resonates with me the most.
In my entire career, I’ve never seen Manchester do this more often than I am seeing it now.
We’ve come to realise that there’s something much bigger and more important than the thing that sits in front of us every single day. And it’s our responsibility as a creative sector to create as many opportunities as we can, and to help as many of our colleagues as we can, and to create as much value as we possibly can at this time.
I’ve been in Manchester pretty much every single day of my working life and I can’t wait to get back into it again. Let’s do what we do best here – put our arms round each other, muck in and do whatever we can to help rebuild the truly wonderful city we call home.