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C-19: small moves our industry can make to make things better for everyone

Ben Dansie, CEO, joined the BMC’s inaugural webinar to discuss Covid-19 and how we can support our industry through the challenges we face at this time. Ben captures his thoughts inspired by the discussion and shares advice on how to continue moving your business forward during this time.

News & Events, Strategy

Ben Dansie

CEO & FOUNDER

Ben is CEO of Omobono. His role is to drive innovation both within the company and on behalf of clients. He believes there is huge opportunity for corporate brands that focus on two core dynamics – people and platforms. He has particular expertise in financial services, professional services and hi-tech.

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Omobono was invited to join the inaugural BMC webinar’s panel on the subject of Covid 19 (C-19), its impact on the industry and what we can do to support our industry.

The panel was led by Dave Stevens, who asked me to join to represent the agency point of view.  We were joined by great panelists; SMEs were represented by Laura Hughes of PayDashboard, major brands by Mark Larwood from O2 and finally Simon Tracey from Vibration Events. Hats off to Simon for joining because events businesses like his are under enormous pressure. If nothing else this piece is to support him.

This is a summary of my thoughts. You can listen to a podcast of the whole discussion here.

We have been doing a lot of work over the past six months evolving Omobono into everything we think it means to be a successful modern business in an industry that is changing rapidly. We now realise it has been preparing us for C-19. At the crux of our training was the concept of dealing with uncertainty. More than that, it taught us about embracing uncertainty. You can read a fantastic piece on it here by Sarah Pettinger our brilliant COO.

Sarah references a very resonant quote by Brené Brown:

“The definition of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. But vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage.”

I think the more of us who say they feel very overwhelmed by what is happening, the better. In our company. In this industry. Let’s put it out there: it’s ok to feel like that.

Our team

Our main priority with C-19 has been our colleagues. For most C-19 will not be a physical battle, mostly likely it will be a wealth and mental health challenge. Since last week we have re-run our Business Continuity Plan and we have established comprehensive and regular communications with the whole company. Our main focus has been to get everyone set up and working remotely whilst retaining a sense of community. A huge highlight was a company-wide creative catch-up on Tuesday this week. Over 50 people joined and as work was presented, people were chatting away in the comments; praising, congratulating and celebrating all the fantastic work. If that’s what remote working can be like, then we’re going to be ok.

We’ve tested all our systems and we are good to go. We’re set up so we can connect with any of our clients’ Teams which makes working as one team seamless. So far, so good.

Our business

After people has come a focus on the commercials. At times of crisis cash is king. I’m a junkie of Japanese business. The Japanese Topix list of big businesses is stuffed with companies awash with cash. They cite successive shocks as a reason to withhold cash from shareholders. This time they might just have got it right. We too in our 20 years of being an independent business have been very careful with cash, so we go into this strong. We’ll model scenarios of the potential impact on revenue and tighten our belts as far as they can go.

Tomorrow things may change but as of now there is no government support for SMEs. In Sweden and Denmark the governments are reimbursing the wage bills of workers who would otherwise be laid off. All Rishi Sendak’s billions are going into providing liquidity for big companies. We’re trying not to watch too much news. Pick an industry source of information and balance the remorselessly depressing news cycle. We’re members of the CBI and they are a good source of information.

Longer term, all of us are going to have to think about external finance. We have already had precautionary discussions with our bank about if we need cash in say six months time. If you do have debt facilities then you should draw down all available cash now. As an example, ABInbev today called in $9bn of cash. They have no need for the money now but they clearly believe they might.

Our industry

We are in the very early days of this crisis. Take those saying be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful with a pinch of salt. C-19 is hugely complex and changing by the day. With our clients we are seeking to simply meet their needs. This is not a time to sell.

Our advice is:

  • Small moves
  • Test & learn
  • Focus on clients and customers as human before business

Here are a few thoughts:

  • Consider whether you can serve your customers in new ways. It feels like anything we ever said about Purpose feels lame. We’re seeing it already with supermarkets. What was your reaction when you heard Iceland say “elderly hour”? You thought, good for them. How can we apply that behavior to our work?
  • We’re thinking about the ecosystems in which our customers operate and where the points of need might be. Business today is a complex network of relationships and somewhere in that ecosystem is going to be a new need. Our village garden centre has taken the brave move of offering to deliver supplies, and hot meals, to anyone in the village. Sounds like a small move but it says a huge amount to us as a community. SAP Ariba has done it – they have made their procurement platform available, for free, to any business in the world, for 90 days. Awesome move. More at ariba.com/discovery. Microsoft is offering small businesses six months free use of Teams. Brilliant.
  • Can we help our customers tilt from online to offline. A number of businesses in China have shown they can recover faster if they make a short term pivot to offline.
  • Confronted with a deep cut in marketing budgets we feel the smart play is to focus more of it on the longer-term brand-building mission. That quote about being greedy is by Warren Buffet and when it comes to brand building, now is a good time to invest.
  • Our clients all still have ambitious growth targets for the year and we will be with them to reach those goals. The job of marketing is still to support sales – and as a business we are closer to that end of funnel than raw acquisition and we’ll be thinking hard about how we can sell to remote working decision makers.
  • We’re social beings so we will all soon be craving connectivity (and a Farringdon flat white). Point to point comms like email may wither. Online social events – hosting drop-ins on Zoom have been popular this week.
  • Think of the word touchpoint. Suddenly sounding ironic. How strange does it feel not hugging someone or kissing hello or simply shaking hands? This is the moment we might have to really consider, hard, what personal communication means online. All our Omobono 2.0 change work about being your wholehearted self is the foundation of this – and I think it’s where we’ll start with clients. And I think it will be fascinating to see the behaviour changes that emerge from this.
  • We will help our clients understand how decisions get made when you’re remote working. Sitting on your own, with a screen and a bored child at your feet and deciding where to point millions of dollars of investment is not so easy.

All of this is going to change our world profoundly and it’s only just beginning. Make small moves, communicate often, be humble and be helpful. Our family’s small move this week is once a day we are taking chairs to the gate and sitting on the opposite side of the lane to our elderly neighbour, who will do the same, and having a chat. Unimaginable.

A positive to end on. Working remotely will give us a huge amount of time to think. Those thoughts will take us in new directions, and that is hopeful.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🎞 on Unsplash

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