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 Jean Reddan, Head of Group Marketing and Public Relations, Davy
MII: Hi Jean, how have you been adapting your marketing activities during the COVID-19 outbreak?
Initially, the COVID 19 outbreak initially sent most of the marketing world into a tail spin – We were busy figuring out how to continue our services in new ways at short notice as we found ourselves in unchartered territories. We had to cancel our in person events; and put the brakes on much of our advertising – it just didn’t feel right at this momentous time.
Ultimately though, when something this big happens, it boiled down to what do we as people need at this time as individuals, as a nation, as customers? So, the question for us – was how do we act as a business, as a brand at this time? Clients initially had fundamental questions about the security of the financial markets and what this meant for them and their future. In practical terms, we wanted to ensure our clients had the most current information/ updates to understand what was happening in the market and in Ireland, especially with so much speculation in the media and social media. So, we started to update our clients in a different way. Our focus became first and foremost to give clients reassurance and to deal with facts not emotions. We initiated a series of market updates from our Chief Investment Officer, giving live and real time updates to what was happening in the markets as events unfolded. As a team, we pivoted, with surprising ease in the end, from more conventional comms and marketing activities to live client webinars, video updates, client phone calls and social updates in a very short time. Our live events moved to webinars and online events with great success and consistent attendance and we continued our sponsorships including our innovation strand of the National Concert Hall, supporting artists throughout an unprecedented and difficult time.
How have you been engaging with your team?
I have such a clear memory of us all standing around the TV listening to Leo Varadkar on the news – it was akin to September 11th a bizarre sense that the world as we know it had changed in some way. We waved, somewhat cheerily, going out of the building saying – “see you in two weeks”. Obviously, like everyone, we had to move from an office-based team to a home-based team overnight, so this required a complete change in approach. Our team meetings, away days and planning sessions were initially put on hold but fairly quickly, we started to use MS Teams functionality we didn’t know we had, turn on our cameras and start to communicate with one another full time on our screens.
Initially, we had daily huddles to help turn around our ways of working and ensuring that everyone knew what was going on – mainly to provide reassurance to ourselves and communicate very quickly on what was happening. Now since we have fully adjusted to working from home, we have moved team meetings to twice a week. As time has gone on, we have done virtual catch ups, virtual drinks, digital whiteboard and planning sessions, in line with the ups and downs of the pandemics and multiple lockdowns.
We have had considerable focus on wellbeing and health and safety at home; introducing wellness seminars, online exercise classes, ergonomics videos, henna tattoo workshops and delivery of essential equipment out to people homes. After the initial hump and the shock of the culture change, we have found that the team have now really adjusted to working from home – although we do still miss those office chats and the odd after work drink or two.
What have you learned from a marketing perspective from COVID 19?
I think everyone in some way, both personally and in business, has gone through some kind of “reset”. What we have seen with Covid 19 is heightened awareness of the way we live, the values we hold and what it is we really want to achieve. In an echo back to my college days, Maslow’s Hierarchy reared its head again as self-actualisation gave way to basic needs, and marketeers and brand owners have had to pay close attention to, and act upon, the needs of both employees and customers in real-time. And, while some changes may be temporary, this reset is likely to alter what it means to be part of a society and community and the role our brands play in that world.
I also think though that as a community, marketing departments have proven surprisingly resilient – and often savvy – using a period of deep uncertainty to realign our brands around purpose, provide essential goods and services or simply acting as a calming voice at a time when disinformation is high. It was interesting to see how much the organisation focused on, and relied on, marketing and communications for guidance on how to deal with the situation both internally and externally when access to information and core goods and services never felt so vital.
How have your work practices changed? What will you do differently going forward?
I believe that COVID-19 has been a game-changer for us and the way we work. Little did we know that we were in for a period of profound change to the way we work and resulted in a great “experiment” for many organisations around flexibility, with office and school closures resulting in real-time innovation. Yes, there were some initial adjustments required and some bumps in the road but actually I think people have now fully got into the groove of it and embraced the benefits too.
Of course, the impact of the pandemic did require the introduction of new policies – right to switch off, flexible hours to facilitate creche collection and family issues and the random appearance of children and puppies at team meetings, but as a result it has brought a flexibility that we haven’t seen before. We have fully embraced it, not just as employees but also as leaders and managers. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that working from home during the pandemic has ushered in a new era of productivity, inclusiveness and connectedness and that we have embraced trust in people and given new forms of leadership styles to ensure flexible working is viable, inclusive and here to stay.
In Davy, with the vaccine programme rolling out at pace, we are already discussing returning to the office but with flexible models of working, hybrid hours and ongoing remote working. I believe that we have transformed flexibility from a desirable perk into a powerful people practice, one that hopefully will endure well after COVID-19 is a memory for us.
Has your brand purpose been challenged by COVID 19? How?
It would be fair to say that COVID 19 flipped everything on its head and as our normal slowly disappeared, I think we have all given our brand purpose some consideration. From a marketing perspective, of course this has meant that as the world as we know it turns upside down that we stop and think about what is important to think about who we are as a brand, where we fit in the bigger picture and the role we play at a broader societal level.
Of course, while some things will never be the same again. The new normal will be “never normal” but there will be long-tail impacts on how we need to navigate a newly sensitive society. Consumers are looking deeper into how their chosen brands behave and we need to ensure that we are happy with it and that we are clear about what our purpose is and should be in this new world. So, it does force us to focus on looking deeply into our brand purpose and accelerate us into new ways of thinking about our relationship with customers and the wider world. I think this kind of regrouping and profound questioning is good for us as brands. My one watch out on this is that with purpose, you have to get it right – otherwise you can be accused of piggybacking, or a kind of purpose washing to try and promote your own brand – something we all need to avoid.
What brands or businesses have you admired through this crisis?
I loved some of the responses from companies like SuperValu – in the broader sense of brand purpose, I felt they were fleet of foot and really stepped up to react to what was happening in a way that didn’t feel like they were capitalising on the situation like offering times for older people, collections and vital deliveries. It felt like they were reacting and behaving in the way a brand with real purpose should. I also loved some of the small gestures that companies made that really stood out. Pret in the UK extended its support for hard-pressed NHS workers, offering them hot drinks for free and implementing a 50% discount on all other products. The CEO, Pano Christou, announced the move in his blog, where he thanked NHS workers for all their hard work and the message rapidly gained public support.
Most of all though I have been inspired by all the local, Irish businesses that have re-invented themselves in the pandemic and offered all kinds of new and exciting services and online businesses to keep themselves going – not only has it kept the local businesses going but it has helped us all get through the pandemic with everything from coffees and food deliveries to DryRobes, bikes and home gym deliveries.