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 Kieran Killeen, Managing Director of Marketing Network Group, a long standing independent Irish agency offering Pure True Integrated solutions to Irish and International clients through its group entities of Marketing Network, Bubble Digital and Valda Boardman Public Relations.


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

Brands and people have the same characteristics. Both are resilient and versatile and the way in which our clients’ brands talk with consumers has to reflect not only the national mood but also the mood of their specific target audiences. Yes, there has been a shift in not only the approach to communicating but also the style of messaging. We’re seeing an ongoing shift to digital and we reached out to lots of organisations in March/April who were not in a position to trade due to the restrictions in place. From that outreach we secured a broad selection of website builds that allowed organisations to future proof against further potential lockdowns, but more importantly allowed them to trade. A lot of clients also took the opportunity to fast-track tasks that were on the long finger as regards corporate identity updates and our creative team got stuck into these. Our PR team were also busy dealing with pandemic associated activities, where they were providing counsel and media relations support.


How have you been engaging with your team?

We’ve a 9am video conference call with the full team and a meeting that traditionally was held once a week is now being held four days a week. We run through all active jobs to ensure we are on track for delivery and to iron out any challenges. We have stuck rigidly to our own internal process management with real-time time sheets still ongoing and our weekly management meetings taking place. It’s very much business as usual. We’ve also had a bit of fun along the way celebrating some birthdays online and even enjoying a Friday quiz with a glass of wine.


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

Being future proofed is essential. We absolutely need to ensure that businesses can continue to trade regardless of the crisis in hand. It is likely that this is not the only lockdown we are going to experience in our lifetime, so protection of businesses is non-negotiable. Yes, there is a shift into digital and that has been ongoing for many years, it has just escalated at a faster pace. The need for agility is greater than ever before and I’m delighted with how our team has performed. I believe being an independent full service agency has been hugely beneficial at this time as there is no pressure on us to behave in line with the needs of a third party owner and we have just been able to get on with the task of supporting our clients throughout this journey. We did offer our services on a complimentary basis to a number of clients who were not trading, to at least ensure they maintained a presence in the market without putting further pressure on their cost base.


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

Like many organisations we already had 20% of the team remote working in the pre-pandemic phase. With the full team remote working throughout, the productivity levels remained high and that has given us the comfort to broaden the sphere of those remote working. While we have our office fully set-up from a compliance perspective for re-opening on 20th July only half of the team will be physically present with the balance remote working. We’ve a rota across all departments established for the coming months as to what days team members will be physically present, but if there is one thing Covid-19 has taught us it is that the work/life balance is improved when there is a more liberal business operational environment.

We have upgraded our office facilities from an AV perspective in the last number of months to enhance the video conferencing capability and our once weekly team meetings are now likely to be daily. It is important for all of us that we are cohesive in what we are doing and remain connected and know we are part of a broader team.


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

Our brand purpose is based on the provision of what we refer to as PURE TRUE INTEGRATION, where clients can access all agency services across creative, advertising services, strategy/planning, digital and public relations. That purpose remained very much intact through the pandemic with the service offering remaining at a high level. Our digital team has been busier than ever before, but much of that was on the back of new business wins and the future proofing of client companies.


What brands or businesses have you admired through this crisis?

In the early days of this experience, a number of brands certainly stole the limelight on the back of the supports they were offering at a community level. Marketing efforts quickly advanced into a ‘what can we do in a supportive manner’ rather than being in direct ‘buy me’ mode. An Post have done a great job and their challenge now will be in keeping that momentum going. Irish Distillers shifting one of their production lines to support PPE needs and Diageo with their financial contribution to publicans all remain with me from a positive perspective. Likewise Manor Farm and their fast association with Feed the Heroes to support front line workers. I also think hats off to the interim government for acting quickly from an economic perspective and to the leadership for their great transparency throughout. While many world leaders succumbed under the pressure of ‘health V economics’, our leadership team would appear for now, to have got the balance right. Dr Tony Holohan is surely ‘Citizen of the Year’ for his tireless work ethic and great communication skills.