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 Dr. Etain Kidney, Head of School of Marketing, TU Dublin Ireland’s first Technological University. The School of Marketing is home to more than 1,800 students across a range of programmes in marketing and business management fields. The School of Marketing works in close partnership with the Marketing Institute of Ireland (MII) to deliver practice-focused education solutions for the marketing community in Ireland.  

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

As a ‘new university’, TU Dublin (formerly DIT, ITT and ITB) has had to tell our story to potential students online. TU Dublin has heavily invested in our new brand, our new website and our social to try and get every opportunity to connect. Traditionally, we hold major open days where the campus opens up to the world. We also connect with our community of schools across Ireland to meet students and answer their questions. Both of these activities have had to move online and that has been a challenging but rewarding shift for us.

In terms of our marketing syllabus, the shifting media budgets and rapid advancement of technology solutions were immediately reflected in the classroom. We engage with more than 400 business a year in the School and this feeds live problems into our assessment strategies. Students were working on COVID-19 marketing activities at the same time as practitioners. The marketing ecosystem changes so frequently that we are set up to respond quickly, and that infrastructure was essential in continuing to deliver for our students and employers.

How have you been engaging with your team?

We use Microsoft Teams for meetings, and a virtual learning environment called Brightspace for learning and teaching. People are using voice more frequently which is no surprise and a welcome change for our team (voice is high on the agenda for students and search too). Whatsapp has been useful for quick problem solving and in some ways has become the water cooler where we can connect outside of the formal channels.

We have had to adapt everything we do to deliver on our promise to students; all of our classes are online and that means shorter, sharper content. We have invested in ‘asynchronous’ delivery to bolster the live online lecture, highly engaging activities that break the fatigue of plugging in to classes for a day.

Our classrooms have always been highly interactive and we keep our class sizes small to facilitate that. Thankfully, we have the technology to support this engagement online, and it is exciting to see new skills and strategies flourish.

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

It’s no surprise that storytelling and empathy are the cornerstone of marketing during COVID -19, but human connection has been hard to replace. We still have the opportunity to interact with our audiences and measure our activities, but nothing beats talking to someone face- to-face about a programme they are interested in. We will take a more blended approach to how we invest our time in the future.

Our student body has changed; we have less international students, an important part of the education ecosystem, but that hasn’t stopped us working with our global partners. This February, the School of Marketing hosted 200 students for a three day online event, in partnership with a Dutch University ‘International Digital Marketing Week’. We were joined by expert speakers, enjoyed cultural exchange, and hosted a TikTok Hackathon with Dutch and Irish student teams. We have learned that our international partnerships can be a rich resource in the future using virtual events.

An important lesson for business has been the importance of transversal skills, in particular that virtual communication and presentation are essential for marketing and sales professionals. These skills have always been important in our work but now, more than ever, students need to be excellent collaborators and have full digital literacy. We have strengthened our curriculum in this area and we know our graduates are prepared for the virtual world of work.

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

Diffusion of new technologies moves faster when there is a push rather than a nudge for all of our marketing and teaching practices. The innovation and creativity shown by our lecturers in how we have delivered our teaching, learning and research has been inspiring. There is a lot of promise around the new way of working – there’s no time to wait for innovation and we need to embrace change as we move forward.

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

TU Dublin has an ambitious vision to create a better world, and our purpose has been reinforced and renewed during COVID-19. Our role is to help people find solutions, and in the context of COVID-19 that means rapid solutions for business in the global challenges we are now facing. For marketing, that means empowering people to embrace new technologies and create innovative sustainable marketing strategies.

What brands or businesses have you admired through the crisis?

The brands delivering stories about our shared humanity are the big winners. Sustainability and conscious marketing have gone mainstream and this is a place of hope. ‘People, Planet and Partnership’ are at the core of our strategy in TU Dublin and our students are more focused on contributing to a better world than ever. The Marketing class of 2021 will be an exciting, resilient and dynamic cohort ready to lead teams in the context of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. This crisis has expedited the change we want to see in business around sustainability, equality, diversity and inclusion.

The most memorable marketing wins from the crisis were Snoop Dog with Just Eat and Three’s Monster Hunter.  On a personal level the brands I have appreciated most are the local heroes: the coffee, bread, and childcare that has sustained our community. I really admired the work done by Women’s Aid and Simon Communities throughout 2020 and expect to see even more powerful work by non-profits in 2021.