PR practitioners still likely to spend time in the office


Working in the coffee shop or a shared space can be fun, but many PR practitioners are finding that an office is often more practical. Courtesy Thinkstock

While today’s communications professionals can regularly be found staked out at coffee shops, restaurants and co-working spaces around town, it might come as a surprise that many of the area’s public relations firms think having dedicated office space is still a necessity.

While working remotely has become commonplace in the industry — particularly for freelancers and contract employees — it hasn’t replaced the office as home-base.

Earlier this year, Clark Communications announced that after nine years of co-working spaces, it was settling into a long-term lease at 38 Commerce Ave. SW in downtown Grand Rapids.

Craig Clark, the firm’s owner, said the time had come for him to have four walls and a door to retreat behind when needed.

“As much as I like the open space — and I’ve worked in that environment for a long time and find value in it, there gets to be a point, and I think that is where I am at now. Not only am I a PR practitioner, I’m a business owner, and there are matters that I have to deal with and situations that require a little more privacy. And for me to have that now, I think, will help me be a more efficient leader.”

Emily Richett, who launched Richett Media last year, also enjoyed many aspects of a co-working space — her firm operated out of The Work Cottage at 654 Croswell in East Grand Rapids — but said her firm will be moving into its own office later this year.

“It was an ideal environment with about a dozen creatives who worked out of the space: writers, video producers, brand managers, consultants, etc. Parking was ample and free in Gaslight Village with many nice spots in walking distance. It closed last August, and since then we've been working out of shared office spaces like The Factory.

“While that worked for our time of transition, we look forward to having our own dedicated space this spring. As a small but growing firm, we feel it's necessary to have our own dedicated workspace while still creating a collaborative atmosphere.”

She noted several positives of co-working spaces, such as collaboration and working around highly motivated, talented people, and the opportunity for great partnerships to form from working in close proximity, but also acknowledged sometimes the atmosphere can be disjointed.

“You can be hosting a very big client meeting, rushing to get everything prepared, and another group at the office is coming off a big project and celebrating with a relaxed, casual day. The culture is always mixed, and sometimes that can add to a stressful situation.”

Brian Burch, owner of one of West Michigan’s newest PR firms, Burch Partners, said while his three-person team is currently working remotely, he expects an office is in his firm’s future.

“I don’t think we will be long term without an office,” Burch said. “Right now, having a distributed system, we work where we need to be. One of the advantages I’ve had because I and my team haven’t been locked down to a specific space,  we can actually go and be where our clients are and work with them more hands-on — more directly — and be more accessible.”

Burch said one of the main challenges, and the reason he expects to lease office space down the road, relates to creating a company culture.

“It’s really difficult to build a business culture, an internal culture, without your team around you,” he said.  “If there is a challenge with this, I think that is probably the biggest one.

“That’s something that I am still trying to figure out. How do you build a company culture when you aren’t seeing those people all the time? I’m trying to use productivity apps and messaging apps and file-sharing platforms to help with that, at least the work culture.”

He noted that some potential clients are still hesitant to sign on with a firm that doesn’t have an office space to call home.

“I think there are always going to be people — and I’ve encountered them in the last couple of months — that want something that is established with an office. I don’t know what it does. I’ve talked to people that want that.

“I think there is a growing group, though, in our community that want a PR firm that reflects who they are. I’m speaking of a lot of our startups and the entrepreneur community; they want someone representing them that actually is doing the same thing,” he added.

Kim Bode, owner of 834 Design & Marketing, pointed out several advantages her team has enjoyed by having a dedicated office space.

“As your team grows, it is important to be able to spend time together brainstorming, thinking out loud and addressing any issues,” she said. “I never foresaw 834 having as large of a team as we do, and to effectively manage the team and our clients, we need to be together.

“We have four full-time staff members, a team of six interns, several dogs, vendors, sub-contractors and colleagues — our space is always bustling, and that keeps the energy and morale up.”

An office space is a great reflection of a firm’s culture, and many communications firms are trying to share their unique environment with clients and collaborators, offering space for them to hang out and get work done.

“We have a fair amount of colleagues that we partner with — freelance writers or an ad agency person that we are partnering with — that need to come in not only to meet but also to have a place to squat downtown for a little bit,” Clark said. “So we will have some seating and obviously Wi-Fi that will allow that.”

Bode said when firms are ready to make a transition from working from home, coffee shops or co-working spaces, there are several factors that are important in choosing a space.

“Open work space is important, a private conference room, a lounge space for the more casual meetings or happy hours, storage (this is often overlooked; you need room for books, reference material, files, and all the wine and coffee you will consume), whiteboards — lots of them, write everything down, create contests between employees. … A fun environment is a must.

“We work long and hard. … The need to decompress can be overwhelming at times. I would also suggest a few private offices that allow employees to block out the distractions and noise to get that strategy finalized, follow up with media, or just put in the earbuds and write.”

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