Being grateful for silver linings in a cloudy 2020 - comment

Saying 2020 is not the year anyone expected is an understatement of epic proportions.

Mr Freer says he is pleased with the continued support of clients that have stuck with him. Picture: Stewart Attwood.
Mr Freer says he is pleased with the continued support of clients that have stuck with him. Picture: Stewart Attwood.

As individuals we have wanted to protect our families in the face of the pandemic, as businesses have tried to protect their people. As we look ahead to 2021, many remain circumspect and, where possible, the optimists among us see the light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel.

This time last year we were preparing to take our kids skiing in the Alps for the first time. Staying in a small French village in a valley surrounded by a cathedral of majestic, snow-covered summits, it felt good to breathe in the mountain air and still be a bona fide European on the continent ahead of that status being removed in a fashion that still feels like some kind of horrible fly-by-night mugging.

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My own memories of life immediately before the coronavirus pandemic became a cruel feature of everyday existence, include a few days away in the Cairngorms in February; going out for a birthday dinner in a busy hotel restaurant, rubbing shoulders with the locals, all that kind of good stuff that was simply living life in the way to which we were all accustomed before Covid struck.

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Talking of mountains, while some of my agency clients ran for the hills as the pandemic took hold, many stuck with us and I can’t thank each and every one of them enough for their continuing support. In return, I hope we have done some of our best work this year.

Taking some time out to reflect on client activity, a few highlights stand out. In January, we teamed up with Deliveroo’s London PR team to announce what is one of Europe’s fastest-growing technology companies’ commitment to Scotland following its acquisition of Cultivate in 2019.

Moving through the year, we supported mainstay clients like the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, Scottish independent legal firm Anderson Strathern and private bank Hampden & Co – and it has been gratifying to see each business receive high-profile industry awards in recent weeks in no small part because of how well they have handled such tumultuous times.

In the start-up space, we handled PR for a number of tech companies who really came into their own during Covid. Companies like Forrit who enabled Microsoft Education to seamlessly deal with a four-fold increase in web traffic during the onset of the pandemic, xDesign developing a Covid-19 app for NHS 24 in less than a week, Care Sourcer coming to the rescue of local authorities dealing with thousands of people leaving hospital for care homes, and Trickle offering its employee engagement platform for free as organisations struggled to communicate with remote workforces.

As we know, technology has helped the business world navigate the coronavirus crisis and as Mark Logan covered in his watershed report into Scotland’s technology ecosystem in August, our digital economy needs all the support it can get. Digital skills have become increasingly important as outlined by CodeClan’s chief executive Melinda Matthews-Clarkson in this paper earlier in the year: “We know that digitisation and data will be crucial in guiding our business scene through the coronavirus pandemic and then out the other side.”

Reinforcing

We advised Copenhagen-headquartered online review platform Trustpilot and San Francisco-headquartered UserTesting as both tech firms strengthened their offices in Edinburgh during the second half of 2020 with research and development funding support from Scottish Enterprise. At the same time, we strengthened our own credentials as the go-to media relations agency for UK and international tech groups launching offices in Scotland.

Thank you to all those who have written for this column over the last 12 months. Amazing individuals like Munich-based David Scrimgeour, Vocaldata’s Laura Westring, DressCode’s Toni Scullion, Andragogy’s Anneli Ritari-Stewart, Dr Steve Ewing from the Bayes Centre, CodeBase’s Oli Littlejohn, UserTesting’s Andy MacMillan, Cumulus Oncology’s Clare Wareing, Eos Advisory’s Mark Beaumont, Craigberoch’s Gib Bulloch and Papple Steading’s George Mackintosh, to name just a few.

I got to make more new business contacts and friends this year than I ever thought possible given everything going on in the world. Chained to my desk staring at the same four walls every day, it’s just not something I expected to happen, and it’s been one of the highlights of what has otherwise been such an impossible year.

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