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 Robert McEvoy, Head of Market Management at Allianz.
MII: Hi Robert, can you tell us about how have you been adapting your marketing activities during the COVID-19 outbreak?
I think anyone who works in marketing will appreciate the challenges faced since the middle of March and the pivot that was required from that point onwards. We were no different in Allianz. We’d a fully formed plan which we were executing for the year and while it certainly didn’t go in the bin, we did have to adapt it as we went. We were challenged with changing our focus away from the original plan to leading the development of customer supports for both our retail and enterprise customers, brokers, and bank partners and ultimately communicating with them as quickly as we possibly could. The customer and market communications required were significant and would have been challenging even in ordinary circumstances where we would all have been in the office together. We’ve built a first class marketing team in Allianz over the past three years and while March and April were especially tough I look back with a huge amount of satisfaction and pride on the commitment people have shown and all that’s been achieved.
How have you been engaging with your team?
Early on during March and April, it was really important to me that first of all the frequency of engagement ramped up with the team. Individual team meetings were already pretty well structured and regular but it became clear as we went along that we’d need to put more structure and regularity to wider departmental meetings. The team also suggested that we move away from general management updates and that we’d rotate the chair and mix up the different types of updates from team members themselves.
While the team were already fairly used to working from home, this situation was very different and it was important that this was recognised as we went along. The team have responded magnificently over the past few months but like everyone who’s responsible for leading others, I do worry about the long term consequences of working remotely and how to limit the possible negative effects on team cohesion over time. Allianz is a brilliant place to work with supportive and technically brilliant colleagues across our business. So it’s important to me and the management team that the culture of care and excellence continues and that people continue to feel that they are part of something greater than just the four walls of their home office and laptop screen. While engagement has been really positive I think in the longer term we still need to work out ways in which we can socialise and celebrate our achievements. It’s not easy to be honest – I think everyone’s a bit over the Zoom quizzes at this stage – but winning the Client Agency Collaboration Award at this year’s AIM awards was a real boost for everyone at Allianz and In The Company of Huskies. It was lovely to be able to point to something so positive and celebrate it collectively. That said, I think everyone would have liked the night out to properly celebrate! Hopefully we can do that safely sometime soon.
What have you learned from a marketing perspective from COVID 19?
Lots learned but I think probably the most important aspect has been to understand where your brand fits during times like this. Early on in the pandemic, I was looking at some brands out there and wondering to myself why some had sought to continue messaging as if everything was just grand. Then there were other brands who went a bit over the top, amplifying the pandemic drama when I felt it wasn’t necessarily their place to do so. There’s a fine balance here. People and businesses across the country are going through a tough time. We’ve been very careful not to overstate where our brand is in people’s thoughts but at the same time worked to ensure that we create impact and demand where possible. In addition, we needed to consider some of the more negative media stories circulating about the sector and be careful around the timings of our communications as well. At the end of the day, insurance solves problems for people. We’re there so they can go about and live their lives as they choose to, take risks, and know that we’re there if and when things go wrong. That paradigm changes in times of national crisis when people cannot necessarily just go ahead and live their lives as normal and take the risks they want to. Consequently we had to subtly adjust our communications efforts to really focus on the support aspects of what we do and to take a leadership role when communicating to customers, brokers, and the wider market. After all, Allianz is one of the leading insurers in this country and we continue to be the #1 insurance brand globally. We’ve a responsibility to act accordingly.
Another learning I think has been that even during difficult times is that opportunities will present themselves and we should respond to that where it’s appropriate. As many sectors have experienced a greater move to digital channels by consumers, we’ve also experienced that over the course of this year and we’ve responded in terms of adapting our offers and communications focus.
How have your work practices changed? What will you do differently going forward?
Like many large businesses we’d been trialling working from home in the lead up to COVID so that’s already something that we’ve moved to. It’s generally worked well for everyone and Allianz are keen to progress this flexible model.
That said, in terms of our working practices the biggest single change over the past number of months has been to recognise how difficult this situation is for the team and to be more mindful of people’s wellbeing and mental health as we go along. There are currently the pressures of parenting, relationships, home-schooling, worry about the health of loved ones, missing our families, friends, colleagues, the loss of normality, loneliness, loss, the blurring between work and home life, the ups and downs of it all can be overwhelming. We now start team meetings by asking how everyone is, and if they’re having a good or a bad day. I’ve reminded the team that working like this is challenging and it’s ok to have a bad day every so often and encourage them to talk about it. I have my own good and bad days and sometimes I just take a short walk outside to clear my head or put on some music and I find that helps. I heard someone recently say that one positive of COVID is that it has knocked the harder edges off corporate Ireland and has forced us all to become more tolerant and respectful of the challenges we face in balancing our work and home lives now. That’s a really good thing to be honest and something I would like to see continue.
Has your brand purpose been challenged by COVID 19? How?
Since the beginning of 2019 we’ve been using the ‘We Cover Courage’ brand platform so if anything, this was a serious road test of the validity of the platform. If anything the brand position has more than helped our communications during the COVID period, both in terms of everyone at Allianz pulling together to work on how best we were going to support our customers during this time, and it became a perfect vehicle for us to express ourselves during the lockdown period as well as lean into more hopeful messaging as we moved into the Summer. We all need courage now more than ever given what we will continue to face in the months to come.
What brands or businesses have you admired through this crisis?
To be honest, I think some of the public service communications over the past number of months have been brilliant. I particularly liked what RTÉ did with the ‘Shine Your Light’ campaign in April and the ‘Letters from Lockdown’ series in May (Dear Daniel is honestly the best thing I’ve seen this year, made all the more poignant by Margaret Lynch’s passing in recent days). RTÉ’s latest ‘Truth Matters’ campaign tackling the issue of misinformation across media platforms at the moment was also excellent. These are important themes for a public service broadcaster to be working on right now and they’ve been executed very well. As someone who works with a NFP involved with the arts and who sees the difficulties the arts community in this country are experiencing during this time, the Begin Together Arts Fund launched in September by Bank of Ireland and Business to Arts is fantastic and something I also really admire.