Some 18 years ago when I started The PR Office, amongst the first questions that had to be dealt with was an office. In those days, WFH wasn’t a common phrase and “going to work” was the norm. After years of the tube, I thought, now is my time to make my life easier and I chose Camden as the location. Near enough to home to be convenient and near enough to central London to be business-like, and in Camden, at the time, the capital of cool.
So, together with my small team, I set up in a serviced office in Bayham Street. PRO took off and before long we had grown out of the building and moved to bigger space in the aptly named Mandela Street. Aptly named, as we worked for the Nelson Mandela Foundation and ran the global PR programme for the great man’s 46664 project.
It wasn’t long before we had outgrown that building too and the search was on. Well, convenience dictated that we stayed in Camden but double our current space was 4 times the price. Yet one tube stop up the line was Kentish Town. The space that we needed was much more affordable and for the last 12 or so years, PRO had been headquartered out of Highgate Studios, Kentish Town. The building, a converted factory, was huge with high ceilings and lots of space, and yes even nearer my home than Camden. From there over the years, we ran some of the highest profile campaigns, including two FIFA Presidential campaigns, a number of election campaigns in different parts of the world, launched the world’s first high-speed amphibious vehicle, represented some of the country’s largest real estate companies and a number of huge UK and US-based professional service firms and we planned meetings for clients with world leaders, including the German Chancellor, the Kings of Spain and Jordan, the Pope and others.
Location mattered little to me – other than the convenience of being close to home with a minimal commute. It clearly mattered little to our wide range of clients from all sectors and indeed all continents. Many of our clients clearly don’t think for a second about our location. That is evidenced by our work in the Gulf, our work for governments in Africa, as well as our work with The Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) and the Third Holy Saint of Sikhism Sant Baba Jeet Singh Ji Maharaj. It also matters little to the Russia-based tech companies, the India-based financiers, the various UAE, Middle East, European, American and yes, British, companies – all of whom hire us for our world-leading PR skills and expertise.
However, PRO was often described as a “north London firm” and that seemed limiting. Our great team was by no means limited in skill nor reach and so apparently, for some, location matters.
So, what then is location all about, especially in this soon-to-be post COVID-era and why do I write about it now? Some have suggested moving to a more central office on a few occasions, most recently in early 2019. Yet we never quite made the move. However, our lease in Kentish Town was up last month and the opportunity for a rethink had been thrust upon us. For the last 17 months, we have worked from home incredibly successfully, with full credit to our wonderful team. We have outsourced the office manager function in the same way as we have always outsourced part of our HR and most of our finance functions. It all works terrifically well. I guess what I am saying is that for client servicing, the WFH has on balance been a boon and a benefit. Our service levels have been incredible and our delivery outstanding.
However, for some clients, team development, training and recruitment location can matter. And so, we recently moved into our new office in Farringdon to the impressive Kirby Street building run by The Office Group (TOG). Our new office is a hybrid – plenty of desk space but not a reserved space for each team member, plenty of meeting space, breakout areas and Zoom rooms. Lots of space for those “water cooler” moments and no requirement to be “in” 5 days a week, 09:00 to 17:30. Rather than be “in”, just be “on” as appropriate.
Added to this, WFH has been as tough on us as it has been on everyone. We work together in teams to deliver those outstanding results and teams need more than Zoom to interact, bounce off each other and generate creativity. A return to an office environment will only enhance what we have been able to achieve throughout the pandemic and allow our team to continue to grow with our new central London hub.
So as PRO enters a new chapter, as proud as we are of our north London origins, we move base to Farringdon meaning “fern covered hill”, which will be around here somewhere and to a new hybrid way of working, continuing to excel for our clients, build our teams, reinforce our friendships and expand our business.
Summer is here, the sun is out, COVID restrictions are ending and the excitement of the new era beckons.
Shimon Cohen is the chairman of The PR Office.