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 Keenaghan, Director Global Brand Development RTD, Mark Anthony Brands International


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

At Mark Anthony, in our established RTD business in the US and in new global markets, we are fortunate that grocery is our main distribution channel so the impact of the loss of on-trade revenue has been relatively less significant for RTD. Therefore budgets have not been affected and the need for significant amends to local marketing plans has not been a major factor. However, our plans for the global rollout of WHITE CLAW were certainly reimagined and while our fundamentals in brand building and activation haven’t really changed, we have been forced to simplify and make some strategic choices. Considering new ways to reach audiences and finding imaginative ways to engage consumers, without some of the attention touchpoints we’d have relied upon pre-Covid, has been interesting. We’ve certainly dialled up activity on social channels, our exploration of innovative ways to engage in new platforms globally has been accelerated and we have massively curtailed experiential activation. But, in the face of all of this, in 2020 the team alongside our fantastic distribution partners have managed to successfully launch WHITE CLAW in 5 new markets across Europe and Australia and we plan to launch in more than 10 others in fiscal 2021, adapting our plans to market conditions as they change.


How have you been engaging with your team?

The pandemic has forced us all into new ways of working but what will stay with me long after COVID is the exceptional levels of commitment and collaboration that people have shown. Our circumstances are particularly challenging in that our headcount has more than quadrupled in 2020 so there are people who have never met (outside Zoom) delivering complex projects and innovations from home, many with young families and many in shared accommodation. We are very conscious of the onboarding challenge, the lack of previously established relationships and the need to have regular, meaningful check-ins, appreciating that everyone’s circumstances are unique. As a management team we have tried to provide as much freedom, support and resources as possible to empower people to get the essentials done. We are also very mindful of the demands and challenges that our external partners face and in some cases we have collectively engineered new ways of working while maintaining great partnerships throughout. Despite many misgivings and some healthy scepticism we did manage to have one of our most memorable Christmas parties ever via Zoom this year………the delicious Glendalough gin and whiskey provided from our colleagues in the Spirits division, coupled with the cocktail making demo’s made it a night that none of us can forget!


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

While the pandemic has accelerated trends in new digital, many of the consumer behaviours exhibited throughout COVID have reminded us of some of the basics of marketing; In precarious times, consumers will often go to tried and trusted brands. Knowing and communicating your value proposition and your “why” is more important than ever. And having great creative that delivers that message effectively is essential regardless of the channel. So we’ve been working really hard with our media and agency partners all over the world on delivering tailored, effective and efficient media plans while also evolving our creative approach for maximum impact. Share of voice is still fundamental for brand building and brilliant basic visibility at the point of purchase has never been more relevant whether that’s on or offline.


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

My team is tasked with delivering Innovation globally – we could never have imagined that we would ideate, evolve propositions, research, design packaging, develop liquids and invent new to world brands all from our kitchen tables. Where previously we’d have jumped on a plane to be together as a project team, now we have to cater for time zone differences, we’ve had to adopt new technology, we’ve had to put our trust in others to sign off on critical production stages and overall we’ve had to show agility and flexibility beyond our comfort zone. While certain elements in the creative process can never be as successfully replicated remotely, such as the unique energy from human interaction, I am constantly amazed at how much progress, focus and commitment our team and partners have shown in delivering projects. Although it hasn’t been easy, going forward there may be many benefits – remote working has shown us the possibilities and benefits of accessing global talent and global partners, from a work life balance perspective we have questioned the need to commute 5 days a week and from an environmental perspective we have re-imagined remote collaborative working which will certainly reduce the amount of airmiles for all of us for the foreseeable.


What brands or businesses have you admired through the crisis?

I have huge admiration for the resilience that our hospitality industry has shown throughout the pandemic. Small bars and restaurants have continued to operate when possible, in the face of the greatest adversity showing agility, tenacity and pivoting into new offerings both on and offline. These small business are servicing real community needs, keeping many of us, with families to feed, sane and with some semblance of normality. I sincerely hope that those who can, will return to generously supporting and spending in their local hospitality sector as soon as possible.