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The Memphis and Atlanta teams of KQ Communications recently met in-person for the first time in two years.

The local, Black-owned PR, digital marketing, and branding firm seems poised to leave the pandemic stronger than it entered it.

By John Kyle, Memphis Business Journal

Last month, the Memphis and Atlanta teams of KQ Communications met in- person for the first time in two years, converging in the Bluff City. The groups were together for two and a half days; and when the time came for the Atlanta team to fly home, saying goodbye took about an hour, as employees wouldn’t stop talking to each other.

It had been an eventful, unprecedented, and at times emotional few years, and now, the KQ staffers could reflect on the idea that they hadn’t just survived the COVID-19 pandemic — they had flourished during it.

“It was a beautiful, spiritual moment for us,” said KQ VPJoyce McKinney. “It was an opportunity for us to just look at the fruit of the labor that we’d put in for the past two years, and to be able to just thank God for the team, the clients, the growth, and the opportunities that are laying ahead.”

More than double

As KQ approaches its 15th anniversary, the local, Black-owned PR, digital marketing, and branding firm seems poised to leave the pandemic stronger than it entered it. KQ has more than doubled both its clientele base and employee count, with its number of full- time employees growing from seven in January 2020 to 18 today.

Recently, the firm was also named one of the top boutique agencies of the year by PR Daily. And as KQ looks ahead, it’s planning to grow its digital platform, Sources of Color — which connects journalists with diverse sources — and open an office in Texas.

“It’s an odd thing to say, but we found just a huge blessing through this [the pandemic], despite the difficulties that so many of us have faced,” said Renee Malone, KQ’s president and founding partner.

But what’s behind KQ’s pandemic-era success?

‘How are you feeling?’

The growth stems, in part, from a confluence of events that occurred over the last few years. As Malone explained, communication became paramount for organizations amid COVID- 19’s rapid spread, because they needed to effectively reach their stakeholders. And at the same time, the murder of George Floyd and widespread civic unrest over racial injustice in summer 2020 brought heightened demand to KQ, which had looked to amplify the voices of diverse groups and businesses.

“Those systems coming together created a huge opportunity and blessing for our firm,” Malone said.

Yet both she and McKinney believe the success also stems from a shift in strategy and focus for KQ, as during the pandemic, the firm began to blend the professional and the personal in a way that it hadn’t before.

COVID-19, Malone said, “heightened our humanity.”

Meetings were conducted differently, and began with questions: “How are you feeling? How is your family? How are you adjusting?” The business held quarterly “KQ days,” where the Memphis and Atlanta teams could meet virtually and have fun, with activities like games and yoga sessions. The staff initially shifted to a remote setting during the pandemic, then shifted to a hybrid format, with three days in the office and two days at home — which is what employees wanted, and flexibility. If varying circumstances cause an employee to need another remote day in a week, they can take it.

“During this time, we’ve had team members who have lost family members to COVID, we’ve had team members with COVID, and we’ve had people dealing with things that had nothing to do with COVID,” Malone said. “We’re more keenly aware of those challenges now then we were, when we were just doing the hamster wheel, and not paying as close of attention to each other.”

The ‘why’

The shifting focus has applied to KQ’s clients, too. Employees have looked to become more familiar with the factors impacting their day-to-day lives, their passions, and their backgrounds. As McKinney explained, the firm has “made room for the ‘why?’”

“Before, you just want to know what it is that they need to do, and how we need to make that happen,” McKinney said. “But now we’ve been able to make room for the ‘why,’ and the ‘why’ is the piece that, I think, allowed us to really cover their voices in a way that is attractive to their public.”

Added Malone: “We’ve become way more intentional about knowing who our clients truly are.”