BER20: Adaptation and resilience


This case study was produced for inclusion in the Birmingham Economic Review for 2020.

The annual Birmingham Economic Review is produced by the University of Birmingham’s City-REDI and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, with contributions from the West Midlands Growth Company. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and a high-quality resource for informing research, policy and investment decisions.

This post is featured in Chapter 3 of the Birmingham Economic Review for 2020, on Labour Market Challenges Pre- and Post- Pandemic.

Click here to read the Review.

Why did you initially choose Birmingham as a place for your business? 

Birmingham is an incredibly unique city. Whilst large, it still retains that ‘small village’ feel when it comes to business, which is a real strength when trying to grow and sustain business networks. Having worked in London, I saw how easy it was to get lost in the noise and how industries worked in silos; not really connecting with one another, apart from the ‘big boys’ at the top. Birmingham is the complete opposite; as soon as you join the city as a young professional, you are welcomed by fantastic membership groups like Future Faces and BPS Birmingham Future that encourage you to network with both your peers and leaders; not just in your own industry, but further afield as well.

When starting EAST VILLAGE. the ability for both me and my future team to network and make a name for ourselves was a no-brainer. Added to that, I set up an agency to represent retail, leisure and hospitality businesses; three areas that were on the cusp of something really exciting seven years ago. We’d welcomed the likes of Bullring and Mailbox to the city and were seeing the retail and hospitality scenes grow in strength, particularly independents. This made Birmingham really exciting; I felt that my business could be part of the legacy building taking place and be part of the teams of people trying to turn the city’s reputation around. And that we have.

Many businesses have had to adapt to new ways of operating. How has your business changed and responded to new demands?

EAST VILLAGE. has always championed flexible working; I think it’s so important to create an environment that values your team and their time, to help them have the best possible work/life balance. When Covid-19 hit, I sent the team home to work a few days before the initial lockdown period, and thanks to Monday, Slack and Zoom – and our existing cloud filing system – it was easy to work from different locations and still feel connected. We’d actually just welcomed a new member of the team on the Monday and then all went home on the Tuesday so still, to this day, we haven’t all worked in the office together. As it stands, we’re not planning to either.

Our office lease is up at the end of September so, collectively, we’ve decided not to renew and work from home for the time being. This will help us embrace the next few months (maybe years) with the flexibility it needs… who knows what’s next in the Coronavirus Diaries. And actually, “working from home” doesn’t mean staying at your dining table or in your home office… it’s about being committed to your working hours and doing it from wherever you like. I hope, in the not so distant future, that our weekly team Zooms include one of us on a sun lounger, one in a gallery, another working from a cool shared office space, and so on. I want TeamEV to be constantly inspired and, as nice as our office is, it’s still the same four walls you’re looking at every Monday to Friday. Now, the team can go out and experience the great cafes, restaurants and visitor attractions that the city has to offer; the flexibility allows more options.

Removing the commute has worked wonders for our team and everyone has embraced exercise; from Couch to 5k to Zumba in a car park, and we’re a much happier and healthier team. Everyone is more productive because they want to use their time at the laptop wisely to ensure they log off in good time and enjoy their evenings and weekends. The pressure of being “always on” has gone, apart from the odd ‘out of hours’ client request, which comes with the territory in PR. The extra cash saved by the business can now be re-invested into team training, away days and retreats, and the team itself is going out and spending more money locally than before because their work/life balance has improved. It’s a win-win.

What lessons have you taken from the Covid-19 crisis and its effect on your business? 

I like to think that I’m a pretty resilient person, but Covid-19 has definitely shown that with the right mindset you can adapt your business in any crisis. We lost about 50% of our revenue in week one of lockdown, with another three or four clients on furlough and no accounts teams to pay us… it was a tough pill to swallow, but I was determined to get through it.

From the outset, we dedicated our time to keeping remaining clients happy and positioning EAST VILLAGE. as a business that was dedicated to helping everyone get through lockdown. Extra time helped us find new strategies for clients and get even better results. We’ve also spent hours delivering webinars and giving free advice, and even launched Pocket Sized PR as a service tailored to small businesses; with PR and social media packages for smaller budgets and tonnes of free resource.

In the past four months, we’ve refined our client base and we’ve actually won about 16 new clients. It’s been pretty incredible!

What future plans do you have for your business?

I want us to take some of those lockdown learnings and put them at the heart of what we do. Stronger communication, better work/life balance and time to really refine our strategy for the business and our clients.

My plans are still to grow the team and our client base; I’m aiming to have a few remote teams in other cities, focusing in on the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors across the UK. Not necessarily having permanent offices makes this an even more exciting expansion plan!

The pandemic has seen the need for small businesses, in particular, to get the PR and marketing support they need so that’s a big focus for us. Black Lives Matter has also made us look internally at our own diversity and inclusion, and see how we can get not just a more diverse workforce, but client base too.

Tara Tomes
Founder and managing director