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While you probably have heard of the KIIS radio network, iHeartRadio and even the phenomenon that is The Wiggles, you may not know about the powerhouse communications agency that is part of the life force for these companies.
Bec Brown,40, is the founder and managing director of The Comms Department — a public relations, corporate communications and crisis management agency.
Along with her team, who are based in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, they work with some of Australia’s best media, entertainment, travel and lifestyle brands.
Brown and her team are responsible for managing the relationship between brands and their customers, and companies and their teams, all with the goal of helping them achieve their business goals.
Using tactics like securing and managing media stories, media spokesperson training, social media, copy-writing, branded content, events and more, you’d be hard-pressed not to have seen their work.
For Brown, promoting people, products and ideas that she’s genuinely passionate about, is why she loves her job.
“By doing this, it creates positive change, grows businesses and revenue, or just puts a smile on people’s faces (often all three at once!),” she said during an interview with TheLatch—.
Fortunately, The Comms Department hasn’t been affected too badly by the global coronavirus pandemic, however, it has changed Brown’s perspective on life and business.
Here, she talks about how the public relations industry has been affected and how she has managed during such an unprecedented time.
Anita Lyons: Hi Bec, you’ve gone from strength-to-strength with your company, so what are some of your major wins from the last year?
Bec Brown: We’ve launched multiple successful tours for our client Live Nation and an interactive app for The Wiggles, secured thousands of media stories for our client Bras N Things, managed communications for Cover-More Travel Insurance, helped our client Australian Radio Network become the number one National network with its KIIS and Pure Gold stations, told everyone about the all-new iHeartPodcast Network and helped raise millions of dollars for Red Nose Day, to save little lives and help families who have lost loved ones.
AL: Wow! You have been busy! What was 2020 going to mean for your business?
BB: This is our eighth year in business and we’ve always lived by the mantra of ‘doing brilliant work with brilliant people.’
‘Brilliant work’ is work that’s interesting, creative, purpose-driven and something that we’re passionate about and ‘brilliant people’ are authentic, smart, creative, kind and they value us and what we do for them, just as we value them, and all they do.
That mantra has always driven our decision-making process – from the clients and projects we take on to the people who join our team.
Our business has grown year-on-year and in 2020, the goal was to continue that growth. In addition to some great new clients, we’ve recently made two amazing new hires, one in Sydney and one in Melbourne and, pre-COVID, we were all head-down focussed on delivering exceptional work for our clients.
I also have a book coming out later this year with Penguin Random House (details under wraps, but all to be revealed soon) so am gearing up to juggle the promo around that too.
AL: Sounds so exciting! Now that the coronavirus has hit, how has this personally affected you?
BB: Work-wise, my day-to-day initially didn’t change too much — I’ve always worked from home as The Comms Department team has always worked remotely.
In eight years, we’ve never had a central office — we’ve always worked from home in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, or from hotel rooms when we need to travel, and occasionally from our client’s offices.
However, I did suddenly have someone else at home with me. All the time.
Due to the travel restrictions, my husband who’s an airline pilot was stood down back in March. He flies an international aircraft so we anticipate that it’ll be a very long time before he’s back in a job again.
The rest of the time I’ve been caring for my team, my family and my friends. Albeit via phone or video. Most of my family live interstate so it’s only been possible to see them on video calls. I’ve been worried about my dad in particular as he has cancer and is vulnerable to coronavirus. But other than that, we’re healthy and well. And to have our health — what a blessing that is.
It’s all about perspective too. My grandparents lived through a global flu epidemic, the Great Depression, two world wars, and the Korean, Vietnam and the Cold wars. Their stoicism and resilience give you a reality check. To have the opportunity to be living in Australia at this time, we’re incredibly fortunate. It’s something that I’ve always tried very hard not to take for granted, and at a time like now — with our health-care and education system and government support — that luck is all the more obvious.
“It’s all about perspective.”
Anita Lyons: How has the public relations industry been affected by the coronavirus?
The public relations (PR) industry works with a diverse group of industries, so every PR company has been impacted in a different way.
PR companies who service travel or live entertainment were the first hit, swiftly followed by traditional retail, and many others. Ironically, media companies have seen their largest audience numbers in years as more and more people are tuning in for news and entertainment, but fewer businesses are spending on advertising with these media outlets, so media are having a really hard time too.
The Comms Department has been fortunate to work across a diverse range of industries — media, entertainment, travel and lifestyle — so while we’ve certainly been affected, each of our clients has been impacted in different ways and to different degrees. For example, some of our clients specialise in live events, and these haven’t been able to take place; others sell their products through shops and have been unable to do so.
In spite of taking a hit, we’ve thankfully had plenty of paid work. There’s also been additional crisis work from clients who urgently need to communicate to their customers or staff. In that respect, all of our clients have needed us more than ever, and we are always looking for new ways to provide a valuable service and help navigate them through these uncertain times (even if that’s meant doing so at our own cost for our much-loved long-term clients who currently don’t have their usual budget).
We’ve also been fortunate that working from home is ‘business as usual’ for us. Over the past eight years, we’ve fine-tuned our structure and procedures for maximum output and enjoyment. Our clients also love it because they pay for our expertise, not our central office overhead. That said, we’re certainly not used to always being at home, and certainly miss our client meetings, events and media catch-ups.
There have also been a lot of changes in the media space, with many of our journalist friends being stood down, or working reduced hours. These are business contacts who have become dear friends over many years of working together and our hearts have broken for these hard-working and talented professionals who have lost their jobs.
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TCD’s MD Bec getting in early for our client @hayuau’s #ThankFrockItsThursday to celebrate the new season launch of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Dress up and join us tomorrow! #Repost @becbrowncommunications ・・・ Oh this old thing? Just something I threw on to cook dinner. See how good it is to have no commute? ?? I’m also getting some practice in for tomorrow night’s #ThankFrockItsThursday. To break up the monotony of wearing active wear day in and day out AND to celebrate the new season launch of our client @hayuau’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills tomorrow, it’s time to frock up. And I must say, after a month-straight of mad, high-pressured work, it’s certainly made me feel a bit more fabulous. Hubby did a double-take when I walked out (then groaned when he realised he was on #instagramhusband photo duties before any food would appear.) I even worked out how to put fake eyelashes on. And because I’m not going anywhere, it doesn't matter if they fall off mid-meal. Who’s joining me in dressing up tomorrow night? We can’t let those #RHOBH chicks have all the #fashun fun… ??? #hayuau #isoparty #isolationcreation #hayu #realhousewivesofbeverlyhills #escapism #fabulous #ridiculous #fun
AL: What do all of these changes mean for your business in the short term?
BB: It became evident very early on that navigating the COVID situation was not only going to be a rollercoaster, especially in the early days of March and April, but it was also going to be a marathon.
My goal through this challenging, ongoing period is to look back on this time and be proud of how it was managed. For me as a business owner, that means no redundancies with our team and being able to help our clients’ businesses both survive and thrive (sometimes dramatically so).
AL: It seems like you’ve been quite fortunate. Have you taken any sort of financial hit?
BB: We’ve been fortunate to have entered this time with a healthy balance sheet and, with an all-remote team of senior professionals, we have low overheads. That, combined with having an industry-diverse client base, has been our saving grace.
That said, in March when everything hit, we instantly did a review of costs and cut all discretionary spending.
PR is very much a service business. And in a 24/7 media and social media world, we need to be ‘always on’, and that hasn’t changed. We’re here to service and help our clients, so it’s been business as usual in that regard.
And it was with this in mind, rather than reduce our working hours to reduce our salaries, all of The Comms Department team have taken a reduction in fees. Everyone did so graciously and effortlessly. I’m incredibly proud of how our team has pulled together — we’re all willing to take short-term hits to ensure the longevity of the business. We’re very close-knit, and now, even more so.
“I’m incredibly proud of how our team has pulled together — we’re all willing to take short-term hits to ensure the longevity of the business.”
AL: Are there any immediate plans to pivot the business because of what you’ve learned?
BB: We’re always pivoting, that’s simply our job! The best PRs are adaptable and resilient so, in that respect, we were well prepared for a scenario like this.
As the business and media landscape continues to evolve, so do we. It’s our job to tell our clients’ stories — the best stories are ones that resonate with the reader, listener or viewer, and that changes daily.
In addition to all of the services that we already offer, we’re also working on a video series, providing tools for businesses wanting to harness the value of positive communications, which right now, is more important than ever.
Now that I’m currently not spending so much time on interstate travel or needing to be dressed up and out at events in the evenings, I’ve also taken the opportunity to finish a certificate in social psychology. Knowing the whys and ways that we each think about, influence and relate to one another in the world is incredibly important, especially when you work in PR and are looking at the best ways to create change or manage a crisis.
AL: What steps will you take to make up for the shortfall after COVID-19?
BB: The most important thing for us is to continue providing outstanding service to our clients so that they come through the other side stronger.
When they’re stronger, so are we. We’re also looking for new opportunities within new industries. Within any crisis is an opportunity. We’re both looking for it and are ready for it.
“Within any crisis is an opportunity. We’re both looking for it and are ready for it.”
AL: How can people support your business? (This is what we as the public can do to help)
BB: Well, if you’re looking to engage a public relations company who cares about your business and will leverage our 80 years’ of combined media experience to do all it can to see you succeed, you’ve come to the right place!
But apart from that, the best way you can support our business is the same way that you can support your own job or business — and that’s by supporting the economy.
If you have the means, buy your coffees or treat meals from your favourite local café or restaurant.
Keep your health up by working out online with your neighbourhood’s barre, Pilates or gym, or training at a safe distance from a personal trainer.
Buy online birthday gifts for your loved ones from their favourite clothes or homewares store or, for a special anniversary, book a night’s ‘staycation’ at a hotel.
Take music lessons or take the time to finally learn French, Italian or Mandarin — either in person at a safe distance or via video conference. And be kind to each other. We’re all in this together after all. And we’ve got this.
The current health crisis is evolving rapidly. If you suspect you or a family member has coronavirus you should call (not visit) your GP or ring the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.