"I needed to do my own PR" - Louise Stewart
Stewart lost her job as director of communications at the Federation of Small Businesses in mid-June.
"Having never been out of work it was a real shock to the system," she says, describing a difficult situation in the initial period.
"It became apparent really quickly that the way you apply for a new job in normal times – usually from the comfortable position of already having a job – had changed overnight. I started applying for roles, which I was well qualified for, but I received rejection after rejection – or, worse still, no response at all. I spoke to recruitment consultants who all told me the same thing: they’d never seen such a difficult market."
As someone whose profession is advising other people, Stewart asked herself what advice she would give someone else in her situation.
"The answer seemed obvious – I needed to do my own PR. So, after thinking about it long and hard, I posted on LinkedIn, with a picture taken at the PRWeek Power Book event just weeks before I lost my job, and explained my situation and that I was looking for new opportunities."
"What happened next really surprised me. The post has had 20,000 views and people got in touch with me from throughout my career offering support, suggesting contacts, forwarding roles they had seen. Others got in touch who I’d never met offering practical support and help."
As a result of one of those conversations, Stewart is about to start working at Cicero/AMO as senior counsel, "which I am really excited about".
"I get the sense the market is picking up a bit, which is good news," she says. "But my advice for anyone finding themselves in the position of looking for work is: don’t despair, make sure to do your own PR, make the most of your contacts (all conversations I had were positive), and don’t give up hope – someone can take your job, but they cannot take your skills and experience."
Rejection doesn't always equal failure – Nikhil Saglani
Saglani had worked at London marketing agency B-Engaged for three months being let go in March as projects dried up. "I was only freelancing, so obviously it made sense for them to let a freelancer go before the permanent staff."
He was relatively calm. "I think we all thought it would go away quite quickly," Saglani explains. "More than anything it was a case of not knowing how this would play out.
"I was expecting to be looking for maybe three or four weeks and something would come up in four to six weeks maybe, and I'd be back at work. I think it was more naivety than anything else."
Looking for jobs in March/April proved fruitless – there was nothing to be found, Saglani says. But he was philosophical. "It's not like I was getting interviews and not getting jobs out of them, so I couldn't really blame myself. I think I took it in my stride pretty well, to be fair."
In June and July "things started looking up". Interviews were secured and offers made. Saglani chose PAN Communications, where he started as an account executive on 12 August.
Saglani kept himself busy while not working. Alongside voluntary activity delivering meals to elderly and vulnerable people in north-west London, he and some PR peers undertook pro bono comms work for good causes, "refining our skills and making sure we didn't forget anything, because no one really knew how long it would be before we're all working again". He says of the seven or eight people involved in the pro bono work with him, all but one are now back in full-time employment.
"I was told it did impress PAN – that may be the case, but it may be the case that there are a lot more jobs out there now. It's definitely encouraging, and hopefully now, before the second wave hits, at least, a lot of people can get back into work."
Saglani has published a LinkedIn blog offering five pieces of advice and insights for job-seekers at this time, including how rejection doesn't always equal failure, and how "some people genuinely want to help".
'Practice what you preach' – Sadie Jones
Jones was on furlough from Bath-based Clearly PR from the start of lockdown in March until her account executive role was made redundant last month. It was the 23-year-old's first job in PR since leaving university.
"I'd already come to terms with it before being told," says Jones, adding that there were "no hard feelings" for her ex-employer.
In a case of unlucky timing, Jones had just moved in with her boyfriend. "If it had happened before then I would have been still living with my parents – I wouldn't have had much to worry about.
"As soon as it happened I took a moment to think: 'It's fine, something else will come up.'" Her plan was to look for PR and marketing jobs, but she would work in other roles, such as waiting tables, if needed.
Jones searched the 'usual' places, including recruitment sites. But things took a different turn when she spoke to a friend and local business owner about working for his new venture: a PR and marketing agency called Brand Media.
"We saw a gap in our area for affordable PR and marketing services [that] just weren't available for small businesses. He hired me as media manager."
The office opened on 14 August. "I think I'd rather take a bit of a gamble and work really hard in something like this than go into an in-house role or another established agency and be another number."
Jones urged comms pros in similar situations to "practice what you preach". "As PR professionals we build relationships constantly with journalists, clients… it's something that you almost need to pull forward into your job search.
"Being active on LinkedIn groups and Twitter will keep your name out there, and show employers what you're interested in. It allows you to carry on building those connections, and I think that's a really strong thing to have when you're looking, because you haven't just got your own eyes looking for opportunities, you've got other people looking for them as well."
'Keep your skills relevant' – Aceil Haddad
Haddad is an outlier in this feature because she didn't technically lose her job. She was furloughed – alongside the rest of her team – around the start of lockdown.
"I was anticipating that, because my role was changing anyway, my new role would no longer be there," says Haddad, who declined to reveal her former in-house employer.
"I spend £21,000 a year on childcare – I need to work," she explains. "When I could see the writing on the wall and the extension of the furlough scheme, which means that people are just waiting to be made redundant, it just signalled red lights."
There was little point waiting for a redundancy payout because she had only been working there for one year.
Haddad posted on Linkedin that she was seeking roles from July. This generated "several potential job opportunities". "It was amazing, because I always say to people you must use Linkedin from a PR side of things, but I didn't really anticipate it would help me."
She landed a maternity leave cover contract at property and regeneration comms agency Building Relations. "That hopefully [means] I will skip the huge redundancies that are coming in September, October, November," Haddad says, ominously.
She offers this advice: "Even if you think your job might be safe, it's so important to have one eye open and look for the future. And be flexible, as well, in what you're looking for. You're not going to find the ideal job, but you are going to find something that helps you carry on, and that to me is the most important thing."
While out of work she set up the Community PR initiative, offering free comms to charities, the NHS and other good causes. "It's about keeping skills relevant.
"I was out on furlough on 17 March, and I wasn't going to start working again until September… you've had a substantial amount of time off from work, which affects your skills, affects your confidence, affects your network, affects your abilities. You need to make sure that's not prolonged at the moment."