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 Sarah Jennings, Marketing Director at Sky Ireland.


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

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit back in March, we had to completely revisit our marketing plans for both Sky and NOW TV in a very short space of time. We wanted to ensure we put our customers first in all our plans and so reduced our focus on acquisition marketing for a number of months.

We put our existing customers at the heart of our strategy by focusing our attention and resources on making sure we did our very best to help them, by prioritising calls coming into our call centres, improving our online service, or sending our engineers on visits to customers’ homes to keep services up and running.

We realised that people needed Sky more than ever before during the lockdown. They wanted to be connected to the people and content they love, so we focused our efforts on communicating a range of customer benefits to help customers during this challenging time.

  • We introduced a range of services for our customers, making Sky Go Extra available to all our customers at no extra cost so they could download content on all their devices. With cinemas closed we made a range of movies available in their home through Sky Store, on the same day as the global premieres. (Trolls World Tour)
  • To make it easier for our customers to keep in touch with their loved ones without worrying about costs – we made all calls to Irish landlines at any time of day free for Sky Talk customers throughout March and April.
  • Affordability was top of mind for so many customers, so we ensured they could easily pause their Sky Sports subscriptions and engaged with customers who found themselves in financial difficulty in order to keep them connected
  • We launched three new factual channels, Sky Nature, Sky Documentaries and Sky History providing high quality factual programmes that could help educate as well as entertain.
  • We launched a number of quality Sky Original series into people’s homes. Amongst them were COBRA, Save Me too, Brassic, Code 404 and our huge hit; Gangs of London.
  • For non-Sky customers, we focussed on marketing and promoting NOW TV, so people could quickly and easily access the content they wanted without the commitment of a contract. Throughout March, it became apparent that parents were struggling having to balance work and childcare and we also saw a surge in Kids TV viewing, so we decided to give something back to parents. We offered a 3 months free Kids Pass for NOW TV to the first 10,000 customers. The offer was received phenomenally well with all Passes being snapped up in a matter of days.

We have seen that people are watching more content than ever before, with H1 delivering the most watched months of TV in memory. Viewers were watching almost 6 hours of TV per day and On Demand downloads were up 46%.


How have you been engaging with your team?

The marketing teams in Sky & NOW TV are experts at facing new challenges and they adapted to working from home exceptionally well. We have always put the safety of our employees as our number one priority. Overall the team adjusted very well to working from home during very worrying circumstances.  The pace of change and delivery in Sky is very high at the best of times, however, during this period the teams had to re-plan, collaborate, develop creative and work as a team virtually. I am very proud of how everyone responded to and continues to respond to this challenge. We have seen some of our best work delivered in very short timeframes.

It’s difficult with remote working to gauge how people are feeling and ensure people aren’t feeling isolated, so we have tried to ensure we are communicating clearly, effectively and frequently with the teams. We have encouraged virtual team meetings, coffee mornings and sharing of plans, creative and media strategy across the teams, where possible.  We’ve been working hard on increasing the communication from the Senior Leadership team with briefings every week on the latest developments. In addition, we have conducted several employee surveys to gauge how our teams are doing and feeling. Based on the feedback we have been gathering from these surveys we have set up a number of health and wellbeing workshops to help people to manage this “new normal”.


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

The pandemic has taught us that agility is key, we needed to review and adapt our entire annual marketing  plans in a matter of weeks. We chose to dial up communications in some areas such as customer marketing and NOW TV and reduce it in others. It was a very uncertain time, so we needed to meet regularly as a team to adjust and course correct as the situation evolved. This period of change has been constant as we adapt to changing sports schedules, production challenges and new priorities.

We learned to adjust our media channel mix based on where the audiences were, for example less focus on OOH advertising during lock down and an increased focus on AV radio and digital marketing.

Creative development was also a challenge, we had some campaigns which were starting production when the pandemic hit, so ad shoots were just not possible. We needed to think on our feet and work with agencies to understand what our creative options were considering remote working. I’m delighted to say we were able to produce some very high quality ads during this time, with limited resources.

We also used the time we had in the initial stages of Covid to remove any barriers we had to growth, assess any of the obstacles we had, be it pricing or processes, in order to ensure we were primed to compete in H2.


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

We really have embraced remote working and overall the teams are enjoying a better work/life balance. There is absolute trust in the teams to work flexibly, manage their time and still deliver on our goals. We have worked on ensuring that people can strike a balance, it’s important to carve out time to take regular breaks, get exercise and time to think away from constant video calls.

I’ve been so proud of how the Sky and NOW TV marketing teams have adjusted to working from home. It is very powerful to see the team come together and unite under a shared goal, so much can be achieved. The teams have delivered amazing campaigns and some record breaking results during such challenging times. Overall this new working dynamic has been very effective. We do of course miss each other –  you can’t really replace the social interaction and creativity which comes with working face to face.

Going forward, we will look to develop a hybrid way of working which includes the best of working from home and from the office. This will allow the teams to have the best of both worlds.


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

Our brand promise has been at the heart of how we have approached Sky’s response to the pandemic. Sky’s brand promise is to bring better content and innovation to all of our customers, better connecting them to more of what they love. At a time when our customers needed us most, we focused on ensuring that we delivered world class content, seamlessly to customers. Our TV platform; Sky Q, brings the best TV all in one place to our customers, integrating Netflix, Sky Box Sets and a wide range of channels so customers have a whole host of entertainment to choose from. While Sky Broadband ensures that customers can work from home, download the shows they love and stay connected to family and friends.


What brands or businesses have you admired through this crisis?

I’ve been very impressed by how the big food retailers like Lidl, Aldi, Dunnes Stores, Super Valu and Tesco adapted to the crisis. From prioritising food delivery & shopping hours for elderly and vulnerable groups, to assuring people there was sufficient stock and adopting the retail environment to provide extra protection and safety for their customers. The banking industry has also come out strongly in their comms, supporting local businesses as they reopened and at a time when they really need it You’ve really got to admire how many small local businesses have adapted to such tough circumstances, seeing local restaurants doing take-aways, many businesses moving online quickly and tailoring their services to peoples changing needs.  I have really ramped up my focus on shopping local in the past few months as I’ve seen first-hand the difference the support of the community can make to these businesses.