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 Geoff Lyons FMII, Managing Director at PML Group.
MII: Hi Geoff, can you tell us about how have you been adapting your marketing activities during the COVID-19 outbreak?
I am not sure I will forget March 12th 2020 in a hurry, Leo addressed the nation; ‘Good morning, I need to speak with you about Coronavirus and Covid19’.
Whilst it was not of course a total shock, given global trends, the wave of the disease was about to crash on our shores. As Colm Meaney’s character Dessie exclaimed in The Snapper, ‘Red Alert, Red Alert’! Our Business Continuity plan was put into immediate action (which is there for power cuts and the like, not a pandemic!) and our immediate focus was twofold, our people and our clients, nothing new in that.
OOH is, in the main, a meticulously well planned medium and ordinarily drives a wider marketing agenda. Given our broad spectrum of clients and industries within which they trade, the agendas we work on are wide and varied. What became immediately apparent is that our specialist expertise is more relevant now than ever. Our job within PML Group is to charter human movement and behaviour using numerous datasets and technology enabling us to understand how people live, work and play and what they think, feel and do. This allows us to meaningfully connect brands with their target markets via Out of Home marketing. Whilst a significant proportion of the mediums inventory in the very short term was obviously challenged, it was clear that initially hyper local activity and retail activity was where the opportunity lay to begin. As our Government has released various phases of restrictions it has been vital to track the resulting movement and behaviour for our clients to continue to make real world connections in optimal OOH environments. We did this through our Now, Near, Next strategic client planning which has also made for an incredible B2B thought leadership series for our clients and is published weekly for the wider market.
Fusing audience mobility sources such as Locomizer, Census, TII, Apple and Google data along with location data via our Pinpoint Mapping tool allows us to track movement be it pedestrian, automotive or public transport and match it for advertisers to connect with their target. This has enabled us to maintain meticulous accuracy in planning for clients in what can only be described as exceptional circumstances. As with everything, you find the way. People are of course still living, working and playing. They are just doing it differently for now, spending more time in their local areas than would ordinarily be the case. With regards to sentiment, PML Group has a very strong record in research through our Poster Impact Audience surveys. This has been an invaluable tool in that we have been able to tap into consumer mindsets at warp speed tracking sentiment all through the pandemic. This is incredibly important from a strategic and creative perspective given the need for our clients to be relevant and real. We have also been able to track new trends, for example in shopping and leisure. It is amazing how a virus can get a nation moving – our localities have turned into large exercise tracks – all great for Outdoor advertising!
We are very fortunate to work with amazing brands and part of our ongoing marketing effort is to showcase great work. We have seen some standout work from the very get go – it has been truly astonishing to see the electrifying pace at which our clients have pivoted their operations and marketing communications.
Like most, we’ve been engaging in and conducting webinars, most recently here with the Marketing Institute where we showcased ‘The moments of Truth’, a ground-breaking study unleashing the value of Dynamic Digital OOH in terms of brain response, awareness and sales impact.
What has not changed is our strong belief in marketing, we know it is for the short term and the long term. We have maintained all our regular marketing communications and maintained our investment in research and data. This time will pass, we want to come out the far side fitter, faster and stronger… did someone mention Binet and Field?
How have you been engaging with your team?
Communication is central to our business and there are multiple teams we work with. We have our own teams in Dublin and Belfast and crucially our agency, client, and media partners. Layer on top of that our colleagues across the wider global Posterscope network. Technology has been central to how we have engaged with our teams across the board.
In many respects, tech has engendered more frequent communication and collaboration than pre-Covid which has helped us further strengthen relationships with all organisations we work with. There certainly appears to be a united front and we’ve found that our business partners & clients are all working to help each other through what is a very difficult period. It is amazing how we’re all now very welcome in each other’s homes. You are really welcome if the camera is on and our favourite quote in PML Group is – ‘you’re on mute’. A disease which requires us to distance has of course brought people together.
Whilst video conferencing facilitates punctuality and precision in meetings which is great, I don’t think you can beat face-to-face interaction and I bet some social scientists are already researching the impact of the huge surge in screen time that this pandemic has forced upon us.
At a very practical level, I have a daily check-in with my team and they with theirs. We have weekly company-wide townhalls which keeps business communication flowing and has enabled departments to present and share new ideas. We have also had guest speakers join us which has been brilliant. I think it is important to try and maintain the social elements an office naturally provides. We’ve worked to try and achieve this via virtual coffee breaks and small company social events. We opened our offices on July 20th and it has been fantastic to see colleagues again, albeit in a limited capacity for now.
What have you learned from a marketing perspective from COVID 19?
I think it was Roy Keane that said, ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’. A pandemic of its own ensued after that altercation which literally divided a nation.
What I have learned from this explosion is that you cannot prepare for everything and you must be able to adapt to the circumstances you find yourself in. Of course, brands should stick to their values and their beliefs. However, those who are truly successful can alter their course, work within new circumstances, understand the context, seek opportunity, act speedily and critically stay.
Out of Home as a medium is no exception. Its resilience and core strengths have all come to the fore as restrictions have eased i.e. reach, frequency and permanency. Furthermore, given the significant investment in digital formats nationwide, the medium more than ever can move with agility and flexibility which is exactly what our clients need to drive their businesses forward.
How have your work practices changed? What will you do differently going forward?
The only difference has been physically where we work from. Our practices, our philosophy and our client focus has remained the same. In fact, I think that Covid has driven more desire within the group and has engendered a new level of engagement and passion.
Regarding the future, I think it would be wrong to make decisions on ways of working given how changeable the situation is right now. We will continue to work in a fluid manner ensuring that we remain focused on the safety of our colleagues. What is certain is that we will do things differently – I do not think anything will be the same after an event like this, except of course the power of Out of Home advertising – it has literally seen it all!
Has your brand purpose been challenged by COVID 19? How?
Covid has presented enormous challenges to the entire media sector and OOH was of course in no way immune to that.
Out of Home advertising is central to our purpose and Covid-19 has presented very practical challenges to the industry. For the right reasons (health and safety) billposters could not post advertising nationwide for two months of this year meaning that Digital OOH was the only option for our clients. To put this in context, circa 15% of OOH inventory is digital. Furthermore, given early restrictions, audience patterns were utterly disrupted.
This challenge of course presents opportunity and it has been our purpose to understand the change in patterns of movement. What has become incredible is the newfound changes in mobility as restrictions have eased, we could not wait to get out!
Furthermore, the heads-up manner that Irish people are now enjoying their outdoor surroundings. We’re no longer walking buried into our mobile phones, we are taking in our environments and discovering more about them. The perfect environment for brands to connect with audiences. It is also very interesting how shopping missions have changed – less often, more local, quicker, and larger basket sizes. The job now is to influence the shopping list before the shop. The best way to do this is when consumers are at their most receptive. Heads up!
What brands or businesses have you admired through this crisis?
I have been really impressed by how brands and businesses have operated in this crisis. Generally, I think all the sectors and the respective players within have done extraordinary work, I could give you countless examples.
What I have most admired though, is how Ireland has responded and how our leaders have acted at the helm. The country has been managed exceptionally well and when you look at our neighbouring islands east and west, we should all be extremely proud.
This is the summer of staycations and I think that is only right. We each have our part to play to help rebuild this country to what it was prior to Covid-19. How long that will be I cannot say, but I think the best thing we can do is stay well, stay in Ireland, and stay buying from the great companies and employers that operate across our nation.