Q5: Growth in a Global Crisis

Marklives.com QA with Steve Powerll published 1
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Despite the significant challenges of the pandemic, Eclipse Communications has managed to increase its client base by 40% and its staff complement by 37%. In addition, revenue growth of between 30%–40% is forecast for the current financial year. Steve Powell, Eclipse CEO and co-founder, tells us how the South African comms and PR firm — which has been operating for more than 20 years — has done it, as well as what the agency, and broader industry, has had to learn.

Q5: First of all, please tell us about the major projects Eclipse Communications has been working on over the past year.

Steve Powell: It would take too long to mention all the major projects over the last year but I will highlight some. In our third year representing Netflix across consumer publicity [and] corporate communications, as well as social media, we have continued to set high standards of creativity and execution on local productions such as Queen Sono, Blood & Water, Jiva and the likes. We were proud to be part of the team, as investors and driving the communications and marketing strategy, in the creation and successful launch to market of BT Signature — Boity Thulo’s new ready-to-drink peach-flavoured frizzante. We secured the Pfizer account in the middle of last year and have been instrumental in highlighting the brand’s progress in the vaccine development and distribution, as well as key milestones across other disease management areas. We recently launched a new office in Mauritius, which is a major step forward for us in guiding the growth of our business and those of our clients, both locally and internationally.

Q5: You’ve reported significant growth in your client base, revenue and staff complement. How did you make this happen?

SP: We have had a very clear strategy of retention and growth of both clients and employees for many years. There are some key pillars that underpin that strategy. In particular, the following points are key when looking at how we have thrived, rather than just survived, in the last year: • An unwavering commitment to a continued investment strategy (despite covid-19) in our people, both in terms of the overall strength and talent of the team but also in terms of the rewards and recognition for the team. • A strategy of diversity in the clients, disciplines and markets we represent but also in the people we hire and the way our overall business is structured. We have multiple highly focused business units within our overall business model, with incredibly strong leadership, and this approach has allowed us to be agile and adaptive but also to provide scale to suit both larger and smaller clients’ needs. • Employee motivation through our employee share scheme, commission structure and continuous stretch-goalsetting process. These encourage our people not only to remain engaged in their own performance and growth but also the growth of our clients and the agency. • Our model enables a very strong relationship of trust, long-term retention and career growth for our team within a growing company. Every member of the company has the opportunity to unleash their entrepreneurial spirit and be an owner and beneficiary of the company’s success.

Q5: What have the biggest lessons been for the firm, from the pandemic, so far?

SP: We learn and grow as we face challenges and opportunities on a daily basis. That said, the pandemic, in particular, has verified our belief in a number of areas for us: Our belief in the freedom and responsibility we give our employees — remote working and flexible working times, among others, have set us up for success when others struggled to find equilibrium. Invest and push forward when others maybe can’t or won’t — control the things you can control and don’t let the things you can’t control stop you from moving forward. Our move to a more digitally focused agency was timeous — providing a fully integrated agency model gave clients more choice and value. Crisis planning is essential — brands woke up too late but we managed to deliver what they needed at lightning speed to guide their growth/navigate through the worst. The strength of our staff and leadership showed how effective, creative, resilient and positive they are during challenging times. Our industry is as competitive as the next, so we also placed effort on our own agency’s marketing to remain top of mind to clients and potential clients while also finding key opportunities to showcase our understanding of the trends and developments and our ability to adapt — for our clients and our agency.

Q5: On a broader level, what have the biggest lessons been for PR and corporate communications?

SP: Strong financial management in the best of times gives you many more options in the worst of times; opportunities for growth exist — even during a crisis of global proportions. Digital tactics should be integral to any communications strategy; in fact, in line with the evolving consumer/target audience, an omnichannel approach is critical. Authenticity matters, and media and influencer relations remain a currency that matters (a lot). Always have a plan B; make sure your clients have a plan B — agility is key to any business. Crisis communications (and scenario planning) are still vital aspects of any PR and corporate communications plan.

Q5: Where to from here? What are your goals for the next 6–12 months?

SP: Our goals for the next 6–12 months are the same as they were for the last 6–12 months and the year before that: Success leaves clues, so we will keep doing what we have been doing, which is to focus on the retention and growth of the team and the business. We will continue the growth of our clients’ footprints across the continent and internationally. We will invest in relationships and partnerships that drive our growth strategy and add more value for our clients and our business. We will continue to strive to do our best work, and then do it better!

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Carey Finn is a contributing writer to MarkLives. Q5 hones in on strategic insights, analysis and data through inspiring interviews with professionals in diverse fields.

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