Have a Little Faith in Yourself

How we grew—and triumphed—during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By: Pete Barr Jr. / President/CEO & Buyer

I was fortunate to spend my formative years as both a young man and young account person under the leadership of &Barr’s original founders—one of them being my dad. One of the favorite things about dads is their uncanny ability to offer words of wisdom right when we need it most. My dad was no exception. It must have been a day early on in my career that I felt discouraged and low on confidence when my dad said to me, “Have a little faith in yourself”. Those words did exactly as he intended. He reminded me to keep pushing and to not give up. His ever-optimistic attitude and drive propelled the entire agency, and if he caught you acting down and negative, he called you out, “Come on, have a little faith in yourself”.  Little did I know how much these words would mean later on in my career.

In early March of this year, none of us knew what would lie ahead. With a client roster that spanned across travel, tourism, restaurants, and retail, we knew that they’d need our steadfastness and understanding. The pandemic news struck hard, and by March 16th, we were “remote”. The work-from-home element was the easy part, as the &Barr team pivoted overnight and did not miss a beat. The &Barr team gave me strength. It was during these dark moments that my teammates on the leadership team acted as both my guiding light and shoulder to lean on. Early on, one of my key leaders said to me, “Look behind you—we are all there”. Together, we attended webinars and read everything we could in an attempt to deal with this major business problem that the pandemic posed. We wanted answers and ideas as to how to survive. Like every agency, we were in a very dark room, and we needed a flashlight.

What was hardest for us was having to watch how swiftly and detrimentally the news quickly affected our valued clients. As always, we did all we could to show every client that we were their partner, no matter what. We’ve been with some of our clients for years, so the relationship often feels like one more of family than business. One by one, they cut budgets, paused—and then cut more. We made hard decisions, and we all made sacrifices. We held our breath, and there was no end in sight. On the hardest days, it was the passion of the &Barr team and the resilience of our value system that kept us going.

While it felt most of the world stopped in the midst of the pandemic, there were some things that kept our wheels turning and motivation strong. Back in February, we were busy onboarding new clients, including a big one we had landed in late 2019. We had just received an RFQ from a nearby destination client, and we were hard at work compiling our submission—even in the middle of a pandemic. We were determined to win, and we were giving it everything. Our team was scattered around the city, all burning the midnight oil from their new “home offices”. But even with this massive effort in remote teamwork and dedication, this process was paused too. This was yet another blow felt by the entire agency.  

Looking back, I now realize that we were going through the type of adversity that would test us to our core. As my brother always says, “It’s not how you got in the ditch, it’s how you get out”. The &Barr team was experiencing “shared adversity”, and it was exposing our true DNA. As it turns out, we did have faith in ourselves, and the shared adversity we were experiencing was making us stronger. Much stronger. We learned to appreciate small victories. But it was the big victories that showed me—and the world—the kind of agency &Barr really was.

These victories didn’t come easily. Through unforeseen processes, we never stopped prospecting potential work and watching for opportunity. We submitted, we pitched, and in almost every case—it was completely remote. We made every effort count, and there was quality and care at each touchpoint. By June, there were signs of life and our persistence in optimism seemed to be working. When it came time to pitch and prove our worthiness, losing wasn’t an option.

Remember that big destination client I mentioned? Well not only did we win it—but we won it unanimously. Within days, we landed two more PR clients. Just last week, we welcomed another full-service client to our roster, all while we are comfortably sitting on the wait-list of another. These past couple weeks of wins have been the moral boost and light at the end of the tunnel we all needed. But what matters most is that &Barr is evolving faster than ever and the team is thriving. The year of 2020 has been dark and uncertain, but through our belief in ourselves, 2021 looks bright. I proudly salute the entire &Barr team and our courageous client partners—both old and new.

Have a little faith in yourself—because Chuck, Bob, and Pete Sr. would be proud.