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 Una Fitzgibbon, Director Marketing Bord Bia.


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

Like most marketing teams across the world, we’ve worked through the uncertainty of crisis before, but we haven’t worked through a humanitarian crisis. The Covid 19 situation isn’t just uncertain, it’s unfamiliar.

Our adaptation started with a back to basics approach. For each of our target audiences we asked ourselves two questions – how are we unleashing the power of our brand to help with new current needs and how do we best communicate this new value our brand can bring?

As we continue through Covid what’s critical is: genuine target audience understanding with rapid monitoring of changes in behaviour and needs; using research and unlocking accurate insights for resonating content creation and media distribution and telling our relevant and genuine story with empathy.

Early on in March, for Bord Bia, this meant explaining how the pandemic would affect farmers, growers and the food, drink and horticulture industry at large in Ireland to help guide stakeholders to new Bord Bia supports for business continuity.

Also in March our global B2B campaign media plan was changed rapidly to reflect the overnight changes in food business media consumption. We re-planned for cancelled, postponed or reconfigured trade fairs and associated advertising in 25 cities around the world. We focused on digital touchpoints in over 10 of our priority markets. We knew that we now needed to talk to trade buyers in their global homes and not their global offices. We shifted into direct email and digital marketing. We paused our foodservice advertising across Europe, while boosting our B2C communications in Europe with pivoted and new retailer campaigns as that business channel was set to grow.

Our consumer marketing in Ireland was also adapted. For example by early April our new Quality Comforts Marketing Campaign was aired to tell the story of tasty meal ideas, supported with easy learning through digital cook-alongs, helping families to prepare meals from quality assured Irish food in the comfort of their home. Simple, interesting and immunity building recipes, with tips for reducing food waste, were promoted to meet new consumer needs and mindsets. Visits to our online recipe pages doubled to 80,000 unique visitors a week.

Our Gardening and Food Festival Bloom, which in a normal year attracts 120,000 people to the Phoenix Park, was cancelled in March. Our team immediately set out to re-imagine how Bloom could help citizens. We turned Bloom into a virtual adventure with a new value exchange of bringing design tips and skills from top end show gardens to back gardens, and balconies. Bloom At Home was born going live in May in partnership with RTE, aligned with a Bord Bia Gardening campaign that aired on TV to get us all growing – for health and wellbeing and home improvement.

Our adaptation is by no means over and will continue.


How have you been engaging with your team?

From the very beginning of the lockdown my marketing team has been my number one priority. From the outset, we made sure we all had the technology we needed to work from home and rolled out a virtual tech training refresh. We connect for work through regular calls and virtual meetings. We’ve co-created a learning through Covid initiative called ShareSkills. This is a small but powerful way to learn from each other that is fast, informal and purposeful through online events backed up by shared resources, and it’s boosting our connectivity and sense of belonging as a team.

My own team is an inspiration during this crisis. Motivated by our collective creative capacity, using insight to adapt our marketing activities together, staying focused on the immediate actions needed with a strategic eye to the near future, measuring our progress as we go and remaining open to change.

We’re all adapting and applying our talents in new and progressive ways as continuous learners. Even though we’re apart, by continuing to live our Bord Bia values we’re feeling supported and connected.


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

We have a number of key take outs as a marketing team to date:

1. Increased Reception but Tune In to Maximise Resonance

Media consumption has surged ahead through Covid. That means potentially more traffic to all channels. Audiences are incredibly receptive to good marketing right now. Four in 10 US consumers find it reassuring to hear from brands during this pandemic (American Association of Advertising Agencies). As marketers this is an opportunity to take control of our story and reach out to give it the bigger reception it deserves. What audiences hear though needs to be sensitive to what’s going on in their lives. We need to be flexible, adapting to fast changes in sentiment so that our story resonates well.

2. Responsible Marketing that Makes Sense

Our job as brands is to reinforce our familiarity with our target audience in this unfamiliar time. So as the world changes we are the consistent, predictable source to meet new needs. For us this means sticking to our core purpose and job. For example, our brand may echo the recommendations of government but should never be a beacon of authority on those recommendations – that would run the risk of being misinterpreted. Our marketing needs to be sensible, keeping a neutral position in a national and global crisis. Keeping it real, remaining calm and avoiding opportunism, for goodwill and long-term loyalty.

3. Focus on Getting the Tone Right for Brand Relevance

The new marketing landscape is fraught with questions – what are the right messages? Is our tone sensitive enough to our audiences’ new lives? Are we valuable and helping or annoying or frustrating? Are we connecting and resonating or priming to be ignored? We have to remember that when people are in fear, anxious or stressed they will remember both negative and positive experiences much more intensely. So audiences need a good dose of empathy and transparency to help them remain calm. Tuning into emotions in a relevant way is key. We’ve adapted our communications to tread the empathy line with authenticity – staying away from humour and melancholy to protect our brand. Tone is critical to building brand relevance – one annoyance is an annoyance too many and the unfolding damage to brands at a time of heightened emotion sticks.

4. Reinventing Events with a Good Dose of Realism

Our marketing team coordinates up to 60 business and consumer events in a typical year. Since March 2020, events have either been cancelled or rescheduled be it international trade shows, business conferences or our food and garden festival – Bloom. Events do have the capacity to be re-invented through digital means at this time but for that reinvention to work, we’ve learned that we have to be realistic and practical. The Bloom at Home virtual adventure led to higher engagement rates and recall than other benchmarked events because it was relatable, authentic and valuable, with the right level of interactive content.

Our Trade Fairs in China are making a physical comeback in the coming weeks and shows in Europe are scheduled, for now, to make a physical comeback in the months ahead. Guidelines for how we design and participate in physical Trade Show events will be applied by market and in all cases, we are planning the development of digital alternatives for hybrid physical and digital events, or 100% virtual events as a backup. While we’ve been running business webinars since March, our first 100% virtual business conference, pitched as an online conference experience, will take place in early July.

5. Digital Investment is Really Paying off

This crisis has led to a rapid increase in appreciation for digital by all audiences. As all our audiences (and we ourselves) find a new balance between physical and virtual interaction, well-functioning user designed marketing technology that’s smooth, self-sufficient, easily understood and navigated for users has never been more important. Our innovation in this space in good times is benefiting us in the tough times. We had recently invested in a new Bord Bia Bloom website, and for this reason, we had the functional and practical capacity to consider and deliver Bloom at Home. Similarly, having a Digital Marketing Hub for assets that’s well populated, fast, easily accessed with good search functionality allowed our teams, wherever they are in the world, to be agile in their use of marketing content and its distribution.


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

We have wholly embraced an even more agile way of working than before, rooted in scenario planning and collective reimagining using a can do approach. We’re crunching data and making decisions faster, turning around briefs at greater speed and partnering with agile suppliers to accelerate the pace of our work.

We’ve put a process in place to capture the marketing learnings of this time and plan to bring the new found good ways of working with us when Covid 19 is over.

We’re learning how not to let a sense of urgency distract us wholly from the strategic perspective and are hugely mindful also that as big as Covid19 is, it’s not the only show in town. Brexit and the challenges and opportunities of sustainability remain firmly on our radar. We are researching the medium and long-term effect of Covid 19 on the psyche and outlook of our all our audiences (internally and externally), while recognising that our marketing may need to significantly evolve for the realities of a post Covid19 world.

Already research is pointing to a post Covid new global normal, where food sustainability is highly valued by both consumers and business. Origin Green’s global recognition at a business level, places the Irish Food, Drink and Horticulture industry in a position of trust to deliver on the new needs of a sustainable food system as a result.


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

Our purpose, to bring Ireland’s outstanding food, drink and horticulture produce to the world, enabling the growth and sustainability of producers, is elevated in this crisis. Bord Bia exists to support the national and export growth of the country’s largest and most important indigenous industry. Our role and work in doing so is the primary driver of our position as the most respected Corporate Brand in Ireland on the dimension of citizenship in 2020. We are recharged in our purpose, galvanised with energy to deliver our job through and after this crisis.


What brands or businesses have you admired through this crisis?

This is always a tough question because there are so many brands and businesses to be admired through this crisis. A clear standout for me however has to be the IBM Put Smart To Work Covid 19 advertising. I’ve a fondness for Smart Planet because it assisted IBM as a brand through the last economic crisis the same crisis which fuelled Bord Bia’s introduction of Origin Green to bolster Ireland’s Food Industry in global markets.

The IBM – Let’s Put Smart to Work Campaign offers science based comfort for people’s needs during Covid while offering hope by being forward looking with a tone that is elegant but not aloof, down to earth but not overly familiar or emotional. The communication works by focussing on how IBM is contributing to the greater good in a highly relatable way transcending from commerce to community. It’s advertising that will help to keep IBM relevant, front and centre and ready to be remembered as useful, valuable and when the time comes trusted to help shape the much needed supports for the world’s new normal.