I have been watching the way the furlough scheme has evolved particularly in relation to our sector of PR and social media agencies. Many blogs ago I wrote how we at Spider took the decision at the outset to try at all cost to avoid the furlough solution.

As a company we have reserves, but they are far from bottomless. In the first three days of lockdown we resolved to act quickly and cut with immediate effect all non-essential marketing costs and extraneous overhead. We also all took an agency wide 10% pay reduction as a precaution.

I can’t pretend otherwise, but the first two weeks were scary and rough with several clients withdrawing, reducing, or delaying campaigns. However, having a full time and engaged team meant it was business as usual for all our clients and we had the capacity to assist those who most needed help because of their own difficult times by offering the same service but on a reduced fee. We were also able to jump on new business opportunities, we had the staff and the infrastructure to give confidence and the results were immediate.

Within a month we had resumed paying ourselves at our usual levels. We could see our future and we had adapted quickly to the new normal. I am certain none of this could have been achieved if we had opted for the Government scheme.

I accept some agencies had real challenges especially if they were in the hospitality or travel sectors. But I can’t help wondering if the apparent ease with which some of my fellow agency leaders appeared to accept the furlough option will be seen in hindsight not so much as a godsend but more a poisoned chalice. As a farmer’s daughter I see furlough in agricultural terms; it was like opening the gates and setting free your prized herd to roam far away and out of sight.

The upside for companies like Spider has meant we have had the pick of the most wonderful people who are presently #opentowork according to LinkedIn. And no lengthy notice period to sit out, new people can start the very next day.

Which has meant it has been an easy process to make appointments and we have been able to increase our staff 12% since lockdown. Sadly (!) we also have had no need of recruitment consultants and the associated costs.  

In conversation with people who were furloughed they all say the same thing, it was quite exciting for the first 6 weeks – being paid to do nothing. Then the reality set in; boredom, lack of purpose, the fear for future job security.  

I can’t imagine how it must feel for CEOs to see the teams they have built steadily fracturing and floating away, facing the prospect of starting again, having to rebuild. Like a plane doing aerial acrobatics there is only so far you can dive before it is too late to recover.

It does remind me of my father who was a little eccentric. When we were children on car journeys, he had a habit of switching off the engine at the top of hills and freewheeling down. His reason was that it saved petrol, he never did accept it took more fuel to restart the car than it would have used to keep the engine running!

I do hope this won’t be the legacy for those agencies who have opted to furlough staff.

Sara Pearson

CEO, Spider

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