A conversation with Dr. Sheila Brooks, president, founder and CEO of SRB Communications, about the challenges of operating a business in a pandemic.
Question: What have been the biggest challenges to operating your business during the coronavirus pandemic.
Answer: Operating during this global health pandemic has been one of the greatest challenges of my career, and I’ve been in business for more than 30 years. We left our downtown Washington, D.C. offices at the corner of Black Lives Matter Plaza on K Street in March, assuming that we would be returning after a lockdown of a few weeks, which turned into months. Of course, the pandemic stretched through the summer and the fall, and just when we thought it was getting better, it got worse. We will likely not return to the office before the summer or fall 2021.
Question: What have been your biggest challenges?
Answer: Like everyone else, we had to learn how to work remotely, among ourselves and with clients and partners. We are an advertising, marketing and public relations agency. Our business is all about people getting together and talking, ideation and messaging – whether it’s talking amongst ourselves to come up with ongoing campaigns for our clients or meeting with a client to assess their needs. We have a staff of 11 plus dozens of contract workers. The PPP money helped us to avoid furloughs, layoffs and staff cuts, as well as cutting company expenses.
Question: How has that worked out?
Answer: We meet mostly through Microsoft Teams. Our clients require that because of privacy concerns with other apps. We’ve had to learn how to have our weekly staff meetings, daily project outcomes meeting, and our ongoing client meetings remotely. We even had two employees who left during the pandemic and had to fill both jobs quickly during these uncertain times. Luckily, we able to fill the key leadership position with someone who had worked for us previously. Then we stepped up the skill level for the other position, opting to hire someone with more experience.
Question: What has been the impact on staff?
Answer: Believe it or not, I think we’ve all gotten to know each other better.
Question: What has been the impact of COVID-19 on Black-owned and women owned businesses? Have you lost business?
Answer: The pandemic has been particularly devastating for Black-owned businesses. Some economists have said that 50 percent of Black-owned businesses in this country would not reopen their doors after the pandemic. We lost a pretty big multi-year contract early in the pandemic, but we’ve signed several new clients, while other clients have extended their existing contracts.
Question: What’s your outlook for 2021?
Answer: Believe it or not, we expect record revenue for 2021. Incredibly, one of our new clients is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), looking at the disease’s stigmas and mental impact on certain minority and underrepresented groups. Howard University leads this incredible public health initiative. We are very proud to be on the cutting-edge of expanding our business verticals to public health.