Business & Innovation Magazine’s Commercial Director looks back over her time in lockdown

Kirsty Muir 2019

Almost 12 weeks into lockdown…

Well 2020 has certainly not been the year I was expecting!!  When the UK went into lockdown,  I knew that for me, it was going to be for the long haul.

When we broke up for the Christmas last year, me and my wonderful business partner (and somewhat partner in crime), Nicky Godding had planned 2020 to within an inch of our lives.

KM pic 4We had our sights set on major expansion for Business & Innovation Magazine and NK Media. The wheels were firmly in motion to take over the universe (or at least the publishing world).  But on the 1stJanuary my Mum, who has been terminally ill for more than nine years, took a turn for the worse and developed a super strength viral pneumonia (not Covid).  Throughout January and February I, along with my family, cared for her around the clock at home, whilst still managing to work and do what I am good at, sell sell sell.  I didn’t want to let Nicky down, or the great team that we had built.KM pic 1

By late February and thanks to nothing but a miracle, mum had pulled through the pneumonia and was making a slow recovery.  For the first time in eight weeks, there was light at the end of the tunnel. I was excited about the launch of our second edition of Business & Innovation Magazine in the summer,  the string of major events we had in the diary and new staff soon to join the growing NK Media Ltd team.

I had a weeks’ holiday at the end of February with my partner in Antigua and remember being on the beach reading the news on my iPhone while sipping a rum cocktail saying: “You will never believe this, Gloucestershire has had its first confirmed case of Coronavirus”  

My first day back at work in the office on the 9th March, was also my last.  It had become apparent to me how potentially dangerous this Covid-19 was going to be and even more so for my mum, who whilst recovering from this nasty strain of pneumonia was still very weak. I cancelled my day at the Cheltenham Gold Cup with one of my lovely clients and moved my office stuff home and there I stayed.  Two weeks before most of the rest of the population – I was already in lockdown!

As the next two weeks unfolded, I stayed in and worked from home, wondering if the UK was going to be as bad anywhere near as bad as Italy.  Sadly it was turning out to be exactly that and on Sunday 22nd March Boris Johnson addressed the nation announcing lockdown was in place.

Life took on a whole new meaning. Food shopping and collecting prescriptions became a task of great magnitude. I found myself washing everything in sight, not just my hands. I only ever left the house wearing a facemask and gloves, was washing all shopping packaging, cleaning every door handle and surface in sight, and just about anything everything we came into contact with – including my post.  I was getting through bottles of hand sanitizer and even found myself washing a new bottle of bleach from the supermarket with bleach. It was official I felt slightly crazy.

KM picDuring lockdown, we had to take mum to hospital and did so in full PPE as safety was the priority, but I did look a sight and definately don’t think I have any chance of making any new fashion statements!.

I found myself almost obsessed in reading every inch of the Coronavirus news and didn’t miss a Downing Street daily briefing once.

Despite the sunny weather keeping most people happy, I was fearful of everything and found it extremely difficult to focus on the business. The early days of lockdown were spent trying to carry on as normal, ringing my customers. But most of them were busy trying to find ways of running their own businesses and certainly didn’t see marketing as the top of their priority list. It was was, quite frankly, draining.

After fear, came frustration and worry that Covid-19 seemed to have suddenly wiped our carefully mapped out expansion plans out the window overnight. Together, Nicky and I reached the heart wrenching decision to not produce or print our next May issue, as quite frankly we had simply no one to post it to. Our database of more than 10,000 senior directors from the region’s business community were all at home and even I felt I couldn’t convince my advertisers to pay for advertising in a magazine that would potentially only reach a fraction of them.

Our business, that Nicky and I had invested all our time and money into for the last three years, was seriously threatened.  Then came furlough and that definitely helped us, as an ambitious, but young, microsized business, we felt some temporary relief.

This, along with the fact for three years Nicky had kept her beady eye on our cash flow and wouldn’t even let me buy a roll of Sellotape if we didn’t need it, meant we could get through not printing an issue or two and so we set about to look at what we could do instead. Nicky continued to provide our fabulous business community with an editorially-driven news service, which is what makes our product so great. But more than that, as well as a business partner, she is a friend and was supportive to me, at a time when lockdown and the potential threat of Covid-19 was affecting everyone.  You can read Nicky’s time in lockdown story here

Somehow as time passed and I began to feel my excessive cleaning regime was doing the job.  The world was witnessing random acts of kindness every day from neighbours, friends and strangers, and our NHS were putting their lives on the line every day just to save us, I had a moment of clarity on how lucky we all really are.  I was safe at home with my partner, caring for mum and in total isolation within our household.

KM pic 2We were experiencing the warmest spring in memory and Saturday nights on Zoom calls to friends became the new sociable thing to do.

I actually read on Facebook that a friend had posted “Sorry I’m not free tonight, I have other digital commitments ?   I even had a cocktail making masterclass hosted by the amazing Ivy Montpellier Brasserie in Cheltenham over Zoom,  to raise money for the Pied Piper Appeal, what more could you want on a Saturday night in lockdown?  It was alot of fun.

I learnt to play Texas Hold’em poker and am now a card shark and watched a brilliant series on Netflix called Designated Survivor, with Kiefer Sutherland. Three series and 52 episodes later, I can highly recommend!  I learnt to make home-made scotch eggs taught by my Mum so I can even say I now have a new skill.

During the last 10 weeks we have increased the inventory on our both our Business & Innovation Magazine daily news website and our B2B e-newsletters are now twice-weekly. This was our key to helping our customers continue to promote their businesses and stay in front of the regions business community.

You simply have to put one foot in front of the other and keep going

Twelve weeks later and I have still been nowhere. Our business model has done a 180-degree turn.  For the moment  we are delivering our news as an online service,  and our digital interaction has gone through the roof!!!  Our website and e-newsletter engagement and reach figures have soared and my customers are benefiting from the targeted B2B reach we can offer them

We are now adapting our game plan for the future.  We might not be expanding this year, but we’re planning to publish a bumper printed issue in the Autumn.  We’ve been using the time to look at what we were planning. Was it the right thing to do then? Is it the right thing to do now? Can we seize the opportunity to offer something different, even more relevant for the regional business community and most importantly enjoy building it?  My answer to that is “If anyone can N&K can”  

In many ways it’s been a humbling time and many businesses have been forced into significant permanent change.  As businesses we need to learn how to adapt quickly and respond to our customers’ needs,  by planning for both present and future. This will ensure we are in the best shape post-lockdown and can play our own part in reactivating the UK economy.

It’s hardships that make us stronger and help us grow. It might sound crazy, but the best approach would be to be thankful for every difficulty because each time it gives you a chance to prove yourself and at the end of the day to be your own hero or at least your mums.

I couldn’t resist ending this piece on a Kirsty style plug which I am sure wont surprise you, my message is… Keep Calm and Carry On Marketing. 

Contact me Kirsty Muir on kirsty.muir@nkmedia.co.uk if you would like information on our latest digital marketing packages and I promise me and Nicky and our printed magazine will be back with a vengeance very soon.