Caragh Cook is managing director of Organic, one of the UK’s leading film and TV PR agencies.
Working with managing partner Tristan Woods-Scawen, Cook oversees a team of 33 who are normally based at the HKX Building in Pancras Square, King’s Cross in central London. Organic is part of Target Entertainment, the specialist culture, gaming film and television arm of the France-based Havas Media Group.
Cook says the parent company worked hard to get the team prepared for this home-working scenario, ensuring the entire work force had laptops, were trained on the relevant software and the company’s IT systems were capable of supporting the new way of working.
Is it business as usual for you and your team as you all work remotely from home?
In some ways it is business as usual in the sense our team are still being as proactive, energetic and dynamic as ever for our clients. But it is definitely not business as usual in terms of the impact this crisis has had on cinema and many of our theatrical release campaigns that have been postponed or the TV and film productions which have been halted. We are handling the publicity for many of the major summer releases and now they have shifted there will be inevitable impact on us, certainly in the short term.
But we are fortunate to work with streaming services like Netflix, MUBI and YouTube and we also manage a lot of home entertainment campaigns, so we have lots to keep us busy, and a high demand from journalists wanting to write about those titles.
How are you maintaining an office routine?
I am part of the Target Entertainment Leadership Team and we have daily check-in video calls at 9.30am to ensure we are all working cohesively and collaboratively, rallying our teams, sharing learnings, troubleshooting any issues. Each team within Organic has regular video meetings, catch-ups and brainstorms each day. One of these meetings yesterday, much to the amusement of the others on the call, featured one team member erecting a Christmas tree in a defiant attempt to bring a celebratory vibe to her self-isolation situation! It’s all still quite a novelty at the moment and we are all very much enjoying seeing everyone’s friendly faces pop up our living rooms and kitchens.
Which systems are you using to talk to one another and clients?
Havas as an organisation uses Microsoft Teams but some of our clients work on Google Hangouts. We just adapt accordingly. We need to be mindful that all the messages, chats, video calls, emails, whatsapps, phone calls can be a overwhelming, but I think we are settling into a rhythm. It is amazing how quickly you adapt to new ways of working.
In what ways are you and your colleagues keeping up team morale?
Organic has a very active WhatsApp group from early in the morning into very late into the night! It helps keep everyone sane. From breaking news updates on various event cancellations, shared literally as they go live by Dheeraj Agnihotri in our international team, to celebrity Instagram posts from self-isolation, silly memes, funny tweets from journalists, amusing photos of each other working in our make-shift home-based offices, photos from their local supermarkets and pictures of various team members’ cats.
Oli Goldman in our social team has started a 5pm quiz, which everyone gets involved in each day. Hannah Golanski in our UK PR team has set up some Spotify playlists that everyone can tune into, and also sends us all little pep talks at the start and end of each day from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Gmorning Gnight, which are strangely comforting.
Myself, Tristan and our two Heads of PR, Becky Palmer and Kirsty Langsdale – who is working remotely in Los Angeles – have been taking it in turns to send ‘good morning emails’ to the team each day. These remind them about self-care and wellbeing, updating them on new biz wins and sharing a few heartwarming or amusing anecdotes – usually about my mum! – each day to help inspire them to keep doing an amazing job, even under extremely difficult circumstances.
What advice would you give to people in the business who are worried about the future?
Don’t panic! The picture for cinema and the live arts looks very bleak and depressing at the moment. No cinemas equals no films releasing. It is a shocking and unprecedented reality that no one saw coming. It is also heartbreaking the livelihoods of so many of our talented industry colleagues across cinema, film and TV production, hospitality and journalism are being affected so dramatically. All we can do is hope that there are opportunities and possibilities that can come out of this situation and those great organisations and creative people can bounce back.
What contingency plans are you making for Cannes and beyond?
It is a great sign Cannes has announced a virtual market. This is the kind of forward-thinking solution that we feel very encouraged to see. The fact the festival has announced the dates have – hopefully – shifted into the summer gives it a fighting chance of going ahead so we aren’t losing hope just yet.
If you have young children, how are you managing keeping them entertained/educated while you work?
I have a five-year old, Jack, who actually was suspected of having coronavirus – as were my partner and I – so we were isolating for 14 days. He has been incredible, as my partner and I have transitioned into home-based working. We try to tag-team a bit so Jack isn’t on his own for long periods, juggling emails and video meetings with the odd board game, reading or writing practice, Lego building and occasional two or three-player Mario Kart!
What advice do you have for home working?
It has taken a bit of trial and error sharing what is quite an open-plan space with my partner, and it’s tricky especially when we have clashing conference calls and meetings, but we have made it work. The main thing is being there to talk, supporting each other and bounce ideas off, as well as having a wonderful team in the ‘virtual office’ who despite being worried and at times very sad about what is happening in our beloved entertainment industry and broader world, all rally together to make each other smile.