How to Pivot and Grow during a pandemic

Image: Ken Tomita via Pexels

A.Victoria MAE (AVM), a marketing company based in Royal Oak, Mich., is one of many businesses affected by COVID-19. Ashleigh Laabs, founder & chief growth officer, and her team were well prepared to work from home; however, the company still had to pivot and stay on their toes. Despite the economic hardships this virus caused, AVM became a strong support outlet for clients while staying true to its core values.

In the interview below, Ashleigh shares:

  • How AVM was affected
  • Insights on work-from-home environments
  • How this pandemic may affect these industries long term
  • Advice for new and soon-to-be college graduates

How was A. Victoria MAE’s transition from non-COVID to COVID? How did this transition impact the company (from in-person to virtual)?

Pivot is the buzzword currently used in the entrepreneurial space. A pivot typically has to happen on the drop of a dime, which is the case for a business during COVID. A. Victoria MAE was already operating as a team on a virtual-basis. Therefore, our team dynamic did not change. What did change was the way our clients were comfortable interacting. However, COVID basically forced them to have to operate this way with us, and we already had the platforms to do so.

Did you have to make any major changes to your company and what you offer to clients because of the pandemic? Did you notice major changes other PR companies had to make?

[We] became a stronger support outlet for our clients related to communication. Other PR companies were really flipping to crisis response mode and one marketing company I know even started a food company out of their pivot!

As some companies are ‘for’ working remotely and some companies are ‘against’ it, what’s your take on it? Do you think it negatively impacts the workday or do you think you can be just as successful whether you’re in the office or at home?

I have always been FOR a work from home office environment since starting A. Victoria MAE, and we have operated that way as a team from day one. It is a core of the environment of AVM from the beginning. It does take discipline and for some people that is challenging. However, I look for people for the AVM team who are a fit with the characteristic to be able to be successful in the environment that we have.

As COVID isn’t going away anytime soon, how do you think this is going to impact your company long-term? 

Cash flow and net profit are the biggest impact to the company currently. We have seen decreased sales and increased sales, [we are] all over the place. Planning is really challenging right now. Predictability is gone, but we have no intention of going away.

How do you think it’s going to impact the PR/communications/marketing industries overall? 

I think much of the industry will be impacted due to the event and entertainment industries being so hard hit. Much of the PR/communications/marketing industries are related to events and entertainment. The strong will stand and those that can’t evolve, pivot and be flexible won’t.

Is there anything us graduates or soon-to-be graduates should prepare for?

Prepare to know how to show your worth and value. I graduated in December of 2007 and moved to metro Detroit in February of 2008, and the recession hit while I was moving.  However, I still found a job (prepare for starting salaries to not be where they were six months ago) and stick to your core values. Don’t settle!

Any advice for newly graduated individuals or soon-to-be graduates about to enter this ‘new normal’ of a workforce?  

Don’t get stuck on the buzz words. Don’t call it a ‘new normal’. We aren’t allowed to use that phrase at A. Victoria MAE. I heard someone say at the beginning of this pandemic that a great business leader said this about a previous recession —  we just didn’t participate or aren’t going to participate — something of that I like. I thought that was a really optimistic view of what is happening and why I outlawed ‘new normal’ at AVM because what is normal anyway? We just want to keep growing. That is really our directive. Growing might not mean only financially, but many other things.

Ashleigh and her team turned a nerve-wracking, scary environment into a situation full of learning and growth — now that’s what nimble PR leaders do. I leave with you with a few final thoughts from Ashleigh:

“Think like an entrepreneur, even if you aren’t one or don’t want to be one — how are you going to help a company? How are you going to take that dollar and make it $500? Be flexible and learn to go with the flow. Sometimes as communicators, marketers and PR pros, we are planners, but [we] don’t have that luxury right now. Be strategic! Just because we don’t have a lot of time lately to plan, doesn’t mean [we] forego strategy. The process might just have to be expedited.”

Alexis SchuchertAlexis Schuchert is a senior at Central Michigan University studying integrative public relations and will graduate with her Bachelor of Applied Arts in December 2020. She is currently the director of digital communications for CMU’s PRSSA Chapter and is an intern for Butter Knife, a PR agency in Cape Town, South Africa. She hopes to work in the entertainment industry at some point and is hopeful for what her professional future holds. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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