Advice for a coronavirus compromised market from five WA industry leaders

Bonfire Head of Marketing, Rene LeMerle, asked five local industry leaders for their views on what brands and businesses can do in the face of the continuing effects of Coronavirus.

As the COVID-19 situation continues to escalate, both domestically and overseas, we’re all still trying to get a handle on the new norms of social distancing, virtual engagement and remote working. How do we keep pushing our businesses and brands forward, with a view of survival, whilst remaining sensitive to the situation and protecting the welfare of all our families, friends and teams?

And it can be especially difficult when we’re seeing some of our favourite hospitality, tourism, fitness and recreation businesses being crippled by the new regulations that have been put in place.

While on the precipice of a potential lockdown, these amazing industry experts, have taken some time out to share their views on how to tackle an uncertain future, and stay focused on the important personal, business and community issues that matter.

Melissa Vella – State Manager WA, The Communications Council
As a human being; employee and especially a mother, this has been a very trying and uncertain time. There have been so many conflicting messages and literally changes every day that, at times, it has felt unmanageable, uncomfortable and often, just downright scary!

But, only when you are pushed out of your comfort zone, do you really know your true potential and whether your limitations actually exist. We’re in the “creative industry” and what The Communications Council members’ have done thus far, is truly embrace this “new” way of life and get creative on how to conduct business amongst this truly devastating pandemic. I am in awe of how they have managed to do this. They’ve put the safety of their staff first; quickly mobilised themselves to seamlessly work remotely (but retain an awesome team culture); remain positive and continue to create exceptional work for their clients – it’s been “business as usual” even though it’s business most “un”usual!

The Communications Council has taken appropriate steps to ensure we continue to strive for our vision (to make advertising the most valued professional service in Australia) by delivering all our courses (AdSchool and AWARD School) online, for the first time! We feel that whilst self-isolating, these courses can be used as a means to connect (beyond just your agency); share; upskill and above all…be inspired (when society, of late, has left very little to be inspired about!).

The Communications Council website, also now has a valuable resource centre on the homepage, which includes information on financial assistance for businesses, links to helpful technology solutions and health information/guidance.

Self-isolation is tough and there are times when everyone feels claustrophobic and alone, but we are in this together and we’ll come out the other side, to what will surely be a new world, a new way of life and a new norm. And…within all that change, will come opportunity.

Nicolle Jenkins – Managing Director, The Hub Marketing Communications
Let’s be real. In times of crisis marketing spend is sometimes viewed as a non-essential business service. It’s typically the first area that gets budget cuts.

This. Is. Old. Thinking.

Those businesses and organisations that view marketing as a profit centre rather than a cost centre will win at this time. This mindset will drive creativity and problem solving for your business and your customers.

Businesses that have worked hard on getting close to their customers we feel the benefit now. They will have a closer relationship and a stronger understanding of their needs, particularly at this unprecedented time. They will have systems already in place to talk directly to them, to cut through the clutter.

The good news is, it’s never too late to start.

Marketing is about helping solve your business problem/s. Now is the time to harness your marketing team or agency. Start with some questions, what are our customer’s biggest challenges right now? What can we do to help them solve them? How do we need to adjust to be part of the solution? Where are our friction points for customers to connect or buy from us? What can we do differently to remove this friction?

Anything you do now will have long-term benefits. By focusing on the customer and helping them, everyone wins. Of course, this is all suggested with an overarching philosophy of being genuine. Unauthentic profiteering during this time will destroy your brand overnight. It’s already happening.

Let’s be real, now is not the time to stop communicating with your customers. It’s time to shift, adjust, read community sentiment, and understand your customer concerns.

Be safe.

Amy Sutton – Managing Director, Anthologie
I’m glad I’m not the only one who missed the session on “How to lead a business through a global pandemic and market crash.” It would have been handy right about now. As someone who’s worked through SARS in Hong Kong and the London bombings and GFC, I’ve learned that a crisis of this kind provides a rare opportunity to rise to the occasion and make a lasting impact, both personally and professionally.

From the beginning, our first priority has been the health and wellbeing of our people and their families. But we’re also prioritising our business, and helping our clients do the same.

For brands, this is an opportunity to connect with their people. The Edelman Trust Barometer’s special report on COVID-19 highlighted that employers are the most trusted source of information, meaning organisations must communicate with accuracy, clarity and empathy.

While businesses are at risk, this pandemic also gives brands the potential to innovate and think differently and as a creative agency this is music to our ears. We’ve seen the world change overnight, so adapting to these changes is vital. Now is the time to inspire your team to think big and give them permission to break the rules, while helping to unite people under a common purpose and values.

Yes, these are bloody scary times. It doesn’t help that the media is full of panic-laden headlines and selfishness. For us, we choose to see the positives. Though our team have had to adapt to plenty of added stresses, every single person has risen to the challenge and rallied together for the greater good. We’ve also seen this in local communities, with neighbours coming together to support each other, give what they have to those going without, and just connect in ways we haven’t seen in years.

So don’t be afraid to let bad times bring out the best in your company – and in you.

Here are five ways we’re powering through.

  1. Be a leader. Show up, every day. Act decisively and adapt creatively.
  2. Stay connected. Working remotely is isolating. Find new and innovative ways to stay connected.
  3. Lean on technology. There are some awesome platforms for supporting your teams to connect and work effectively remotely, so we’re using Slack, Zoom and Miro.
  4. Bring a sense of humour. In trying times, a positive mindset goes a long way. Inject some silly into every day.
  5. Keep going. Keep buying your coffee and takeaways. Let’s support small business and those industries without a safety net.

The current climate is something that we haven’t encountered before, and businesses need to look for opportunities to evolve and improve during this time.

Kerry Milne – Founder and Consulting Director, GAP Strategic Marketing
I can’t imagine anyone wants to hear a set up to an opinion piece starting with “we’re living in unprecedented times” ever again.

Yep, we are…and we get it.

The courageous voices in last week’s article spoke about the importance of collective calm and putting staff, clients and suppliers first – but keeping an eye on the ball so as to be ready when we bounce back. Which we will, and likely fairly fast and very hard.

My perspective and advice is more of a personal nature, shining a light on the very real level of anxiety people are attempting to cope with and the overwhelming sense of just how dire things might be for the next 6 or so months.

Unless you’re superman in a suit, everyone’s mental health will be taking a hit. Some of us struggle with anxiety, depression or other challenges on a normal day…so at the moment for some it is unbearable.

Unbearable because this situation is so totally foreign and out of our control.

Unbearable because we can’t just make an appointment with our doctor or psych for a quick check-in.

Unbearable because we are being forced to spend almost every waking hour with our own thoughts, doubts and fears with little else to focus on.

Right now, we need to be thinking about people we know who already struggle with the proverbial ‘black dog’ or anxiety and check on them. Regularly. Call them – don’t just txt or email because we are expert at pretending everything is ok when it is not.

Look after each other. It won’t cost money, but it might save lives.

Renae Lunjevich – Managing Director, Bang Digital
Companies tend to see this as an opportunity to “turn off” digital, as though it’s a tap you can turn off and on as required. Businesses with a longer term view will see the opportunity to restructure their digital campaigns to be more “next step” in the customer journey, rather than an “end goal”.

My top 3 tips are:

Consider a digital-first approach. If you rely on face to face, understand how you can mirror this through digital channels with the use of video walkthroughs, interactive experiences, and webcams. Consider how this might open you up for future global/national expansion post-COVID-19.

Reduce and evolve, but don’t tap out. There are opportunities to stay in the game by mapping out a longer customer journey, you just have to look for them. Remember – competition will be lower, and in auction-based media environments you are well-positioned to gain traction. Digital will be the key source that connects our communities, so ensure you have enough skin in the game to be part of that.

Most of all, it’s important to wrap every interaction up with authentic empathy. Marketing to your audience with little regard to their personal situation will only alienate and depersonalise your brand. It’s an opportunity for you to show the human side of your brand, and build community through thoughtful communications.

Building brand resilience and strategy is absolutely vital for companies who want to come out the other side of this. Be brave, lean into the opportunity, and scenario plan as much as you can. You will have a stronger business for it.

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