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 Kathrina Bentley, CEO at Men’s Aid.
MII: Hi Kathrina, can you tell us about how have you been adapting your marketing activities during the COVID-19 outbreak?
Our frontline support services have been needed more than ever since the COVID-19 outbreak.
Our priority had been our frontline service, however an area we had done little around which might surprise readers, was social media, digital and events. So our marketing and communications strategy changed hugely, literally from zero base.
Visibility was an immediate focus. Conscious that men experiencing harmful relationships were restricted inside their homes, we turned our focus to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and our website of course. Our support service for victims of domestic abuse and coercive control is an area still kept in the dark shadows, hidden behind front doors. It is difficult for men to reach out and seek support however we were encouraged to keep going given the growth of our new social media efforts and visitors to our website during covid-19. We saw the online traffic pattern grow and social media engagement increasing with men from every county were contacting us.
Our communication voice was strong, reassuring men that our service was still available. Our Helpline, outreach clinics and our psychotherapy sessions were still available. Our messaging mirrored that of Government and an Garda Síochana national message, we are #StillHere.
We had been planning to host a conference beside our office in Co. Meath area before covid-19. Attendees would have been mainly from the neighbouring counties. Now our event is taking place this Thursday 19th November via a webinar and we have registrations from every county dialling in to attend and hear from our expert guest speaker. So adapting to online is proving we will reach more people, thus help more people.
Touch points with donors became vital. We needed to communicate our urgent need for funding. So we engaged directly with corporate contacts. In line with covid rules we invited a few corporate donors to our Helpline HQ in Navan to experience a day in the life of our team. Corporate donors observed calls to our service, outreach clinic requests and the huge demand for court accompaniment. With these donations we are reviewing how best we can expand our service and review our telephony and CRM systems in order to future proof our service for the years ahead.
How have you been engaging with your team?
Our Helpline team settled into their new routine working from home immediately. Box rooms were converted to Helpline corners. Victims of abuse do not mind were the Helpline person is sitting, they could be in garden sheds, all that was important was communication and continuity of contact.
Our team meetings are weekly via zoom and our team Whats App group is busy from 7am – 11pm daily. To keep our spirits up we include photos of our pet dogs and cats, birthday wishes and lots of ‘well done’ posts. Unfortunately during one team meeting, despite having someone manning the Helpline we did miss 8 calls. So we found a solution for team meetings too. A volunteer now helps out in order not to miss one call. An important aspect of our team communication is the support for each other, especially on difficult days given the area we work. We all avail of monthly supervision with a counsellor too in order to look after our own mental health.
What have you learned from a marketing perspective from COVID 19?
Adapt and adapt quickly! We had no choice and looking back now at March and April I don’t think we even realised how we would adapt so well with continuity of our service as we all stayed home. We just kept going, adamant not to miss one single caller. Also not to be afraid of posting comments on social media that are difficult and raw for some. In fact, bringing the issue of domestic violence out across our communication platforms has helped us build confidence, creditability and trust in our brand and therefore in our service. A network of colleagues working across addiction, homelessness and suicide prevention has also become stronger for us which is wonderful. Proving stronger together.
How have your work practices changed? What will you do differently going forward?
The main change is that we have not all been together in the office on any day since mid March. Whilst working from home does have many advantages I do miss talking to the team in person over a coffee. Those human touch points of support are important to our small team.
Delivering our support service was the priority at the beginning of covid-19 absolutely, but now that we are more settled with our new way of working our marketing and fundraising strategy is of equal importance. It is a daily and weekly balancing act, however the commitment and dedication of the team means that 2021 will not be hugely different in how we all work effectively and with impact. Saving lives and changing lives will still be our priority and practice.
Has your brand purpose been challenged by COVID 19? How?
Yes, very much so. Domestic violence has been the silent invisible epidemic in Ireland for decades. It’s like many taboo issues that Ireland has not addressed nor funded to provide adequate service provision. Many men are lost to addiction, homelessness and suicide due to relationship abuse, lack of access to children, coercive control.
The challenge for our brand is resources and budget. Men’s Aid Ireland receives 1% of the national budget to support male victims of domestic abuse. However, now that domestic violence has reached the attention of policy makers, politicians and those in power of national budgets we are hopeful 2021 will see Ireland support all the frontline agencies to a much greater extent. We want to meet the needs of all men experiencing relationship abuse but also that all victims, regardless of gender, class, race or religion or who they love, to have access to supports to be safe and rebuild their lives whilst our criminal justice system is robust and hold perpetrators accountable.
What brands or businesses have you admired through this crisis?
Like many, the An Post ‘Checking in’ with older and vulnerable people was a winner for me also.
I was impressed by my local McCauley pharmacy and how quickly they launched a smartphone app service to facilitate ordering medication for home delivery. A really helpful function to be able to upload GP prescriptions so patients can stay at home. Indeed, a positive from this epidemic is how people and communities all pivoted to help and support whatever needed to be done in order to keep the country moving. We are a great island of entrepreneurs!
Note: This Thursday 19th November marks International Men’s Day and Men’s Aid is holding a free webinar featuring a client who has a lived experience of domestic abuse, followed by Dr. Liz Bates “Things got a whole lot worse after the break up” and findings from her latest research. See www.mensaid.ie to register.