As a communications agency focused on events, cred had to reinvent its services during the pandemic.
Just before the pandemic, Caitlin Bartley, D’09, celebrated five successful years running her PR company, cred. It was a major milestone for any entrepreneur, but Bartley didn’t know that the biggest challenge to her business was yet to come.
“Nothing could have prepared me, or any business owner, for what we went through,” Bartley says.
While most businesses were impacted by COVID and the accompanying shutdowns, the event space came to a screeching halt. Overnight, cred was unable to deliver on its biggest service — creating memorable events to further a brand’s credibility.
That’s when Bartley began reaching out.
“I personally emailed every client asking, ‘how can we help?’”
Some clients needed to be let out of contracts. Others needed some services delivered free of charge. Others asked for information on navigating the digital space. Bartley and her team aimed to get each what they needed. They felt that not only was this the right thing to do, but also that it was a sound business decision.
“First and foremost, we were there for our clients,” Bartley says. “We were thinking about how we can become a trusted partner. We were hoping if we had a positive relationship, they would come back as soon as possible.”
After the initial shock of the spring and summer wore off, brands began recognizing that they couldn’t delay events indefinitely during the pandemic.
“People who really relied on events for part of marketing, lead generation and PR strategy realized they had to do events,” Bartley says. “That’s where virtual really started to come to life.”
Bartley and her colleagues had spent the time since the pandemic giving themselves a crash course in putting on high-quality virtual events. They spoke with the leading remote platforms, like Zoom, about how best to interact with them and what sort of content captivated remote audiences. They brainstormed with other PR firms about how to get through this period.
“We began understanding the best practices and navigating those waters,” Bartley said.
Delving so deeply into virtual events was a risk, but it turned out to be a worthy investment.
“We had to take a big gamble that people would lean in to virtual,” Bartley says. “We were really trying to think through and spend time and research.”
Because of that, they were able to share resources with their clients and start virtual events by the third quarter of 2020. Soon, the team at cred recognized that there were some perks tied to remote events. Attendees often have greater access to the speaker, and Q&A formats flow more seamlessly online. Then, there’s the benefit to the bottom line.
“There is broader reach for lower cost,” Bartley says. “You’re getting more attendees and higher engagement.”
Even now that the world is opening back up, Bartley expects to see virtual events continue, at least for the near term.
“I definitely think it’s here to stay,” she says.
So are the lessons that cred learned during the pandemic. Bartley always ran the business on a tight budget, but that was amplified exponentially during COVID. Today, she is continuing to be transparent with and mindful about spending. Bartley has also continued to “overly communicate” with her team, ensuring that everyone is on the same page. The pandemic was trial by fire for how Bartley was running cred.
“Two years ago, I said we were a really resilient and scrappy business that fights. The past 18 months have proven how we can do that,” she says.
Entrepreneurs have an advantage when it comes to meeting challenges, because they’re passionate about their work and adept at creating solutions, she adds.
“As an entrepreneur, you have a lot against you."
Founders shouldn't underestimate themselves, even when they’re faced with unprecedented challenges, Bartley says.
“Be confident. You probably have more expertise and knowledge than you give yourself credit for.”