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 Alina Uí Chaollaí, Marketing Director at Tayto Snacks.


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

We were fortunate to benefit from the airing of our Tayto Muchos TV ad right before Leo Varadkar announced lockdown plans on St.Patrick’s Day, to an audience of 1.6 million viewers – the highest viewership of a single TV event in the last ten years – so this took some of the sting out of having to cancel campaigns planned for the latter end of the year in favour of activity that would deliver shorter term results. When restrictions first came into effect there was a huge demand for larger take-home pack formats which became the priority from a manufacturing perspective. We altered the focus of our marketing mix given consumers were in a different head space and customers were having to limit store visits, deploying distancing measures across their estates – so large-scale store activations had to be postponed. The Shopper Marketing activity which occurred later into the summer had to be adapted with overseas competition prizes being replaced with ‘Staycation’ or shopping vouchers. We took the decision to adapt and accelerate the launch of the Tayto ‘Thank You’ pack. It was originally intended to be part of a more extensive campaign but its purpose was re-defined to show appreciation of all Frontline workers, including our own, at a time when people were starting to tire of the restrictions. This coincided with the Government’s advice to the public to ‘Hold Firm’, so timing was on our side in delivering a relevant message of gratitude.


How have you been engaging with your team?

As has been the case for many, some members of my team have had to juggle the demands of their roles with home schooling and childcare, so giving them the latitude to find a routine which works for their individual situations has been important. Our weekly team meeting moved to a ‘Teams’ video call which is working effectively. We also have an informal, fortnightly 30 minute ‘chat’ session which we set up pre-Covid as a means by which to connect with each other in a relaxed environment, free from the pressures of deadlines, but it has now taken on the added function of allowing us to check in on how we are all doing.  The pandemic has pushed certain projects higher up on the agenda, sooner – so these video calls are an invaluable way of supporting one another in coping with the demands of the business.

Quizzes, a virtual ‘happy hour’ and a weekly ‘Brag’ where the team get to brag about a personal or professional achievement of which they are proud – anything from a 5km run to completing a business case – are other ways we have sought to add variety and stimulus to the remote working environment.


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

In the short term, there has been a need to filter and focus on the priorities to see us through the months ahead. While we have had to postpone some of the plans we had in store for 2020, we are excited to unleash them next year and I anticipate an added momentum as a result. Covid has required that we become more agile than ever before. Consumer behaviour has been well-documented throughout this pandemic and research has served as an invaluable source of information that has helped us to determine the appropriate activity to support. We need to meet the needs of Retailers and Consumers who want local, Irish brands like Tayto and Hunky Dorys, which are produced locally and support Irish jobs. Our Irishness is our strength and we intend to continue to leverage this in all our activities.


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

Remote working has been tried and tested as has video-conferencing and we have all become ‘Teams’-literate in a very short space of time which will be useful on an ongoing basis. We have had to find work-arounds for product testing as part of our product development process and while it is early days, it will be interesting to see if the quality of responses is enhanced as a result of the testing taking place in a relaxed, home-setting rather than in a lab. I think the biggest difference when we eventually return to some semblance of normal office life will be in our appreciation of the energising impact being together has on us all and I think it will solidify us even more as a team.


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

Covid has re-enforced the idea that we can never underestimate the role that home-grown, iconic brands like Tayto play in feeling the pulse of the Nation and the positive effect they can have when they put their digital ‘arms’ around people when they are feeling most vulnerable. The responses we have had to our posts on social media in this time have demonstrated that people need an outlet. While social can seem at times superficial we take our communications through these platforms very seriously and will continue to engage with our audience in a way that reflects the general mood – be it considered, supportive posts or as is more often the case, simply having a bit of craic that puts a smile on people’s faces.


What brands or businesses have you admired through this crisis?

The Multiples and Retailers were quick to put in place protective measures to safeguard their staff and consumers, allowing people to feel comfortable in the shopping environment. They had to re-organise themselves in a very short space of time, making it possible for the FMCG industry as a whole to have an outlet for its products. I also think ad agencies are to be commended for their agility during this pandemic. Some of the ads to appear on Irish Television over the past number of months were filmed entirely on mobile devices. This demonstrates an extraordinary ability on the part of the industry to re-think their ways of working and to respond to client needs. The quality of the end product is excellent and I think it opens up the possibility of stripping out costly elements of the production process which has the potential to lead to more budget-friendly advertising creation, which can only be a good thing for the ad industry and for local, Irish brands. Finally, I must pay tribute to my colleagues in Tayto Snacks who have shown tremendous team spirit over the past number of months in overcoming the many challenges Covid-19 has presented. It has reminded me what a great privilege it is to work at the home of the Nation’s Favourite Crisp!