In uncertain times, it is more important than ever to share experience, insights and advice with your peers so we can all learn from one another. With this in mind, we are having conversations with members across various sectors to understand how themselves and their teams have been coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, what they have learned from it and how they continue helping their customers.

For this week’s instalment in the series we’ve chatted to Karen O’Shea, Franchise Marketing Manager at Coca Cola Ireland.


MII: Hi Karen, can you tell us about how have you been adapting your marketing activities during the COVID-19 outbreak?

We have made quite significant changes since the Covid-19 outbreak. The uncertainty, isolation and anxiety that became our consumers’ reality during the pandemic, made us stop and think – is it appropriate to continue with the planned marketing and brand activities? The simple answer was no and that’s why we have made the decision to put our marketing activity on hold from April.

So instead of advertising, we have been redirecting our resources toward the most critical priorities, doing everything possible to ensure our people’s safety and wellbeing, as well as focusing our efforts on how we can make a tangible difference for our retail partners and in our communities.

The Coca-Cola Foundation has announced a global $120m fund, with a portion of this fund being allocated to Ireland and Northern Ireland. A cash grant has been given to FoodCloud, which allowed the charity to deliver the equivalent of 100,000 meals to communities in need.

We also donated media space to HSE to further support them in providing timely and factual information on how to stay safe during the Covid-19 pandemic. Through our global supply chain we have also been able to secure much needed PPE and have donated that to the government for use by front line workers. Furthermore, our bottling partner is making regular donations of drinks to front-line healthcare workers and the most vulnerable groups in our communities through charity partners like the Simon Community, FoodCloud and Fareshare. Approximately 600,000 drinks have been donated to date.


How have you been engaging with your team?

My number 1 priority has been to ensure the team are safe and healthy, both physically and mentally. Working from home can be challenging and everyone has a different situation. My goal has been to be as accommodating and understanding as possible to allow everyone to find the right approach for them. Luckily, we had most of the needed tools already in place, so the transition to working from home was quite smooth.

I have adapted our work routines by scheduling more options for the team to engage and connect – from casual 15-minute coffee chats in the morning to our regular team meetings. It has been nice seeing people’s homes and kids and pets! A key highlight since lockdown was a virtual team building scavenger hunt – run on Teams and WhatsApp. The challenge was a to-do list of lighthearted tasks to be completed, with colleagues divided into teams to add a competitive edge. It really was a lot of fun and left us feeling energized and connected as a team.


What have you learned from a marketing perspective from COVID 19?

A lot! I think it was a brave decision to put a hold on our marketing plans and focus on what is important and this was a key learning point for me. The crisis has reinforced the importance of clearly understanding consumer sentiment, knowing what is important to them and when they are ready to hear from us. Moving forward we must continue to keep listening closely as the situation evolves.

Also, the crisis highlighted the need to move fast, faster than ever before, to focus on the key priorities – and to always look to find the opportunities to better connect with your consumers even when experiencing such significant change.


How have your work practices changed? What will you do differently going forward?

As you would expect, the safety of the team has been our highest priority. Since the start of the outbreak we have closely followed guidance from health authorities to protect the health and safety of employees.

Moving forward I expect we will continue to have flexibility and are likely to work from home more often than previously.


Has your brand purpose been challenged by COVID 19? How?

At Coca-Cola our purpose is to Refresh the world and make a difference. To be honest, I believe we’ve lived our purpose probably even more than before over the past few months, as we worked tirelessly to ensure well-being of our employees, to deliver a consistent & regular supply for our customers and consumers, along with a focus on making a true difference shifting our resources to invest in community.

From financial contribution to FoodCloud to address food poverty, through donation of media space to HSE, to supporting healthcare workers with PPE and our products, I believe we made a huge difference – and right where the communities needed it most. We will do more throughout the second half of the year and address the needs of our communities that will face a completely different set of challenges as everything hopefully starts getting back to (almost) normal.


What brands or businesses have you admired through this crisis?

I have huge admiration for the front-line workers and HSE staff who have been the true heroes throughout the crisis.

A brand I have admired through the crisis is Supervalu. They quickly adapted and delivered a message that consumers were looking to hear – how to shop safely. Messaging was informative and consistent with their purpose and brand codes. There were frequent updates across all media channels as the situation evolved, giving consumers confidence about shopping at Supervalu. In-store changes to the shopping experience were innovative and fast, with great sensitivity towards their employees and at-risk groups. They successfully scaled up e-commerce offering and behind the scenes effectively managed their supply chain to ensure constant supply of their range of products in store.