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Lessons from Lockdown 

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Kirsty Leighton Milk & Honey PR

Kirsty Leighton, founder, and managing partner at Milk and Honey PR tells us how they manage and nurture reputations for ambitious companies.

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?  

Kirsty Leighton: Thank you for asking, we are all muddling through. I don’t think any of us are finding it easy. My two teenage boys have both had major exams to deal with – one last year and one this. I think the ongoing lockdown here in the UK is especially hard for young people. Luckily, we are all safe and well. 

It has been quite a challenging year, my already long days have got somewhat longer as the team has spread from across the UK to rather further a field. Our Sydney office opened in January last year and thanks to a mixture of Brexit and Covid-19 we now have team members in Paris, New York, Toronto internationally, and others spread from Macclesfield to Devon.  

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Milk & Honey PR.

Kirsty Leighton: I started Milk & Honey in January 2017 and in the last four years it has grown from just me to a team of 30 across London and Sydney. We don’t specialize by sector but instead work exclusively with ambitious growth companies focused on nurturing and magnifying their reputation. Over the last few years, we have won awards for every client we have worked with for more than nine months and have become the only PR agency with accreditations for quality (PRCA CMS), ethics and environmental and social impact (B Corporation), and people leadership (Investors in People). We wholeheartedly believe in building better businesses by doing good.  

Has your style of leadership changed?  

Kirsty Leighton: I think my leadership style over lockdown has remained the same. I like to think of it as parental. Supporting, encouraging, and protective where need be. But, the frequency of communication has had to change with both a wholly dispersed team and a rapidly changing economic environment.   

At the beginning of lockdown, we set up Project Prosper – our plan for making it through this difficult time. This outlines the KPI’s we are measuring ourselves against and the trigger actions. We have the whole team check in’s every other day, each in slightly different formats, to ensure we are discussing ideas and options rather than just sharing to-do lists. During our fizzy Friday’s we share three things we are proud of from the week and one thing we are looking forward to in the week coming. This is now enriched with fun activities, to keep it light, keep us connected and ensure everyone has the chance to lead a meeting.   

The leadership team meets weekly to go over team morale and Project Prosper performance, and the board meets bi-weekly. Following these meetings we are completely transparent with the team so everyone knows what is happening, why, and what impact is expected. PRWeek has been very helpful in sharing pulse surveys and benchmark data which we playback to the team so they understand our performance in the context of the whole industry.  

How are we inspiring and motivating?  

Kirsty Leighton: A shared goal and clear contributions for every member of the team. This for us is packaged up in Project Prosper. Outside of our client work we have given ourselves other goals to achieve, to help us build strength. In the last two months, we have committed to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and have instigated a partnership with Plan International. We have also committed to going plastic-free by the end of the year and are working with a plastic credit platform called rePurpose to deliver this. We have succeeded in achieving Investors in People accreditation and went on the win Employer of the Year 2020. We’ve also developed our first B Corp impact report. Upskilling and staying focused on our future remains the priority, with 75% of the team participating in at least one full day of extra external training since lockdown. We are always looking beyond the current situation.  

The biggest change as a result of social distancing?  

Kirsty Leighton: Like all agencies and most businesses, we are now all working exclusively from home. We have invested in not just technology – Microsoft TEAMS has been a God sent – but also in ergonomic chairs and some cases home desks to ensure the team can work safely, effectively, and comfortably. A survey amongst our team of 20 in London shows that six people are keen to get back to the office full time as soon as they can (they are all within walking, cycling, or running distance). Meetings and hot-desking client-side will be some time off, however.  

Never go back to?  

Kirsty Leighton: Being apart has made us appreciate the time we do have together. We were Kirsty Leighton: supposed to have our annual offsite in Marrakech earlier this month and whilst financially it makes sense to cancel it for this year, we have merely pushed it back to May 2021, fingers crossed when can travel by then. Time together to deal with more than the challenge immediately in front of you is priceless. We need this.  

What will I do more now life has changed?  

Kirsty Leighton: I’ve started running. Not very far and not at all fast but it has been great. I’m really keen to keep this going as we get back to a more socially inclusive working pattern.  

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