The day was 1 March 2021: nearly one year after the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. As I apprehensively sat at home awaiting a laptop delivery, I was overcome with feelings of excitement and anxiety for the world of Edelman I would be accessing digitally, and digitally alone, due to work from home orders. Regardless of the circumstances, your first agency experience will be met with a whirlwind of information, a large directory of names and faces and new and exciting projects. As a COVID joiner, however, my work life started and ended with the flick of a laptop screen, and I had to navigate familiarisation and integration in a fully virtual setting. 

As I recently marked my one year ‘Edelversary’, I find myself reflecting on the accelerated learning journey I embarked on as a result of my virtual start and the benefits of working within a hybrid model. Entering into my first large agency environment, I was armoured only with assumptions of what the working environment would entail.  

Yet the past year has actually debunked many of the common assumptions I held about agency life, such as:  

1. PR not ER? 

It is widely accepted that PR is a demanding job, and can evoke stress and anxiety at times. In an attempt to alleviate pressures within the workforce, the tongue-in-cheek expression “It’s PR, not ER” can be used within many PR work contexts reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously, even when deadlines are looming or a crisis emerges. While at times, PR may feel closer to ER, my time at Edelman has taught me the benefits of being in a big agency – we’re all in it together and more hands really does mean no crisis is unmanageable, or that people’s holiday is always going to cause detrimental mental health impacts amongst the team as people scramble to cover more work. However, words are nothing without action, a sentiment that I’ve seen put into practice through an array of mental health initiatives such as trained first-aiders who are always on standby to support, normalisation and encouragement of mental health discussions within our team and company-wide respect for flex-time irrespective of seniority level. 

2. Just a cog in the machine? 

Having only experienced boutique agencies, I was previously conditioned to believe that within a large agency, you operate as a small cog in a big, faceless machine. But once again I was pleasantly surprised. Despite entering the workforce remotely, the team was welcoming, friendly and considerate and conscientious of the challenges associated with a virtual start. I really felt they offered support I needed to accelerate my integration. Seeing friendly faces on camera every Monday, Thursday and Friday for team meetings, and with time taken to check in with the wider health team to instil a positive, fun work culture through things like themed meetings and engaging quizzes, I have really thrived. One year on and (now) several in-person social events later, I’m pleased to be part of a team that acknowledges the unique nature and needs of each team member, with an equal emphasis on both productivity and personal wellbeing. 

Getting to know each other IRL (finally!)

Getting to know each other IRL (finally!)

3. PR: More than a Work / Work Balance? 

Entering a work environment remotely posed unique challenges, particularly in relation to time and mental health management, something tricky also for lots of PR professionals, as revealed in a study by the PRCA. The pandemic accelerated the pace of work (particularly for the Health team I’m a part of) in parallel with fostering face-to-face disconnection, putting mental health on top of everyone’s agenda. Fortunately for COVID joiners, we had been operating a hybrid model prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, with processes in place to protect work/life balance, both physically and mentally. As an intergenerational team with a plethora of backgrounds and care-taking responsibilities, our unwritten mantra ‘do your best work, live your best life’ is woven into the fabric of team operations, with a recognition that performance is linked equally to both an enthusiastic work ethic, and a healthy, fulfilling personal life.

4. Overcoming the era of the infodemic

The latest Edelman Trust data highlights a conflicting split in trust in the media, with 50% of respondents stating a lack of confidence in accurate media reporting, I’ve been considering the role that communications can play in influencing public opinion and cultivating trust. As we live in this infodemic where we are saturated with news, finding and producing accurate stories can become a convoluted exercise. Trust is the bedrock of Edelman’s approach and underpins how we approach every client challenge, and I have seen the direct impact this has had on them. Particularly pertinent to healthcare industries as we navigate the misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, and now with the direct impact of trust on global health outcomes, healthcare businesses must remain at the cutting edge, growing and maintaining trust. I have been surprised by the extent to which trust operates as a form of currency and serves as a critical insight to inform internal and external communication that rejuvenates and sustains stakeholder opinion, and eagerly anticipate how business operations will continue to evolve around trust trends. 

5. PR = press release factory

PR has become more integrated than ever. Challenging the misconception that PR agencies predominantly focus on press releases, my agency experience has illuminated the importance of these integrated approaches that combine digital, media relations, internal communications, social, creative and research insights among many other capabilities to deliver impactful work that resonates. I’ve learned that long gone are the days of simply churning out press releases. Integration burgeons creation, making PR an exciting and evolving practice where individual interests and specialities are welcome. The diversity amongst the broader agency team plays a key role as well, with diversity of thought integral to delivering powerful work. 

Looking to the future

Gaining agency experience at Edelman has served to disprove many of my prior misconceptions and reveal a culture that puts worker’s wellbeing at the heart of both internal and external operations, so we can continuously achieve our best work. I’m eagerly embarking on my second year of agency life and looking forward to continuing to grow alongside this dynamic team, both delivering my best work, and living my best life.

Getting to know each other IRL (finally!)​

Team bonding at the Communique Awards 2021

Stephanie Campbell is an Account Executive for Edelman Health.

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