Charlotte Nichols, Managing Director, Harvey & Hugo PR
Harvey & Hugo


Why post-pandemic PR is all about flexibility

Since March 2020, pretty much everything in terms of how we work has changed to some degree.

Whether your industry has been busier, in the case of pharmaceuticals or healthcare, or not, as in hospitality and retail, there are few fields that have been left unscathed.

But now we’re hopefully emerging from the worst of the pandemic, the world of work has still not returned to normal – and there are signs that it may never do so.

So how can businesses adapt and thrive in the new normal? In this Q&A, Charlotte Nichols, founder and managing director of PR, social media and content marketing agency Harvey & Hugo, explains how businesses can move forward to work smarter and more flexibly.

The media was the fifth hardest hit industry during the pandemic. How did Harvey & Hugo adapt?

The very first thing we did, like many others, was switch to home-working. However, while many other companies have returned to the office, at least on a part-time basis, we’ve decided to stay working from home as we found it worked for us.

Luckily, we were always quite an agile firm – working on laptops was the norm – and had experience in delivering online webinars, not to mention keeping in touch with our non-local clients via Zoom, so we’ve taken to online meetings like a duck to water.

Quite apart from the environmental and travel issues, we’ve all found we’re much more productive at home.

I believe that now so many people have had a taste of the benefits of working from home on their productivity, their work-life balance and their travel costs, the 9-5 in an office will soon be seen as a relic from the past.

Why do you think the PR and media industry was so badly hit?

In the immediate aftermath of lockdown, everyone panicked to a certain extent. PR and marketing were seen as a luxury, and so that was often the first thing businesses cut to save money.

For our agency, the first few months were pretty scary and we lost a third of our clients in the week after lockdown was announced.

I remember sitting on my doorstep at about midnight when I’d just finished work (with nurseries closed, I had my little one to look after during the day!) wondering what to do. Other people I knew were seeing this as a rare break to relax and enjoy the lovely weather.

However, I didn’t want to just sit back and let everything happen; it’s in my nature to be proactive and so I decided to relaunch our original flexible services.

Tell us more about how you give firms the chance to work flexibly?

When I set up Harvey & Hugo in 2009, our USP was to offer fixed-fee, contract-free PR services – clients can choose a standalone piece of work, such as one press release, or a single video – and they won’t be tied into a long-term contract.

Over the years, we continued to offer this element under the Pay-as-Hugo banner, but we did shift to focus more on retained clients.

However, when lockdown happened and all the signs pointed to another recession, I decided to revamp and relaunch Pay-as-Hugo, as it perfectly suited the climate of uncertainty – after all, it was launched in a recession the first time round too!

Using Pay-as-Hugo means companies who need a quick PR fix can get exactly what they need without having to sign up to anything tying or expensive – while the worst of the pandemic is hopefully behind us, so many businesses are still feeling the effects and are wary of the future.

This time around, I also wanted to tap into the e-commerce trend; we all got so used to shopping online, I didn’t think PR should be left out.

Therefore, we launched an online Pay-as-Hugo shop where clients could literally browse, order and pay for PR services 24/7, without having to leave home – it’s like the Amazon of public relations!

So far, it’s been pretty successful; sales from Pay-as-Hugo used to make up around 10 per cent of total Harvey & Hugo business, which rose to around 25 per cent during lockdown, and we’ve already taken on one new member of staff, with plans for another later this year.

Does this mean you have switched from retained services totally?

No, not at all, and Pay-as-Hugo isn’t right for everyone; for more established businesses, I’d always recommend retained services.

In fact, we offer three distinct ways of working, for every stage of a brand’s journey.

While Pay-as-Hugo is perfect for start-ups, small businesses or anyone, like a marketing manager, who needs to fill a temporary gap, it’s not going to build a brand in the long-term.

We know that it can take up to five years to create a really strong, recognisable brand, so we’d always advise clients to focus on consistent activity over a fairly substantial period of time.

With retained clients, we have the time to really get to know them and build a more well-rounded strategy, planning activity that is fully in line with their commercial objectives, values and mission.

In fact, what we often see is that Pay-as-Hugo clients moved to a retained package once they a) see the value in what we’re doing and b) are more secure themselves.

You mentioned three ways of working…

The third is Hugoversity, which is ideal for when our clients are all grown up and don’t need us to hold their PR hands anymore.

It’s our very own PR academy, which offers recruitment and training for in-house marketing teams, allowing clients to take over their own marketing, with a little support along the way.

As part of Hugoversity, we offer three (there’s that magic number again!) services – strategy, recruitment and training.

We can work within-house teams to help them create a PR strategy, which they can then follow. It’s ideal for either inexperienced PR professionals, or for when a business owner wants to take over the function themselves – everything’s much easier when you can follow a plan.

The recruitment element came about when we realised we were getting more CVs than we had roles for, and from some really stand-out clients. We hated seeing such talent go to waste so we decided to share the love!

The third element is training; we used to host monthly seminars for the North East business community, but Covid put a stop to that.

However, we still offer bespoke training sessions in all of our key PR, social media and content marketing services, which we can offer either digitally or in-person. These are great for a quick refresh, or to boost any skills gaps in a team.

What’s next for PR?

Like every industry, I think it will continue to be more flexible, as well as more digital, following the pandemic.

Covid-19 did offer up some great examples of businesses gaining positive PR; it wasn’t standard for supermarkets to operate dedicated opening hours for the elderly and vulnerable until the major chains followed Iceland’s lead, so I’d like to think people still see the value.

For Harvey & Hugo, we’re continuing to promote Pay-as-Hugo and also heading into our very own digital transformation; we have some exciting software plans lined up, which I can’t wait to start sharing soon.

I think 2022 is going to be the year of PR!

For more information about Harvey & Hugo’s range of services, visit

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Harvey & Hugo .

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