How the coronavirus is calling our industry into action

In moments like this, it is often forgotten how uncomfortable it can be to adapt.

The coronavirus has, and will continue to restructure how we feel safe, how we connect with others, and how we do business. 

When we tally up the number of ads pulled, events canceled, and revenue lost, combined with personal and familial well-being, worrying about food shortages, and navigating how to be productive when working remotely, of course one might assume a bleak outlook. As a result, many brands and agencies are faced with the question, now what? 

In moments like this, it is often forgotten how uncomfortable it can be to adapt - especially because it is necessary. Fortunately, adaptation that happens now builds resilience for later and can produce positively impactful results, pushing you and others to tap into the potential that was inaccessible before. 

Brands face a new reality that is quite sobering given the extreme measures curtailing our everyday experiences from the way we work, socialize and engage in cultural and sporting events. Marketers should focus on their purpose and seize the opportunity to do good by maintaining a connection with consumers and striking the right tone.

According to a new study by Gartner addressing the impact of the coronavirus outbreak in China, "Brands should prioritize the platforms where consumers are spending the most time for activations and media investment." This includes strengthening the brand messaging by emphasizing cause marketing over traditional messages (e.g. Ford) and prioritizing digital growth platforms. 

As brands focus to identify the right tone, there’s an opportunity for agencies to leverage their greatest strength: creativity. We know that creativity tends to flourish amidst chaos as people are forced to address a new reality as well as find outlets to express their frustrations and emotions under certain constraints and restrictions. Now is the time to unleash the power of creativity – in all forms - in new and different ways to fuel and strengthen business. 

Ask yourself: as a member of an industry built on solving problems by shaping a reaction, what message do we want to get across right now?

Thankfully, there are many answers. First and foremost, showing you have your customer’s interests in mind and are putting their wellbeing before all else will go a long way. And projecting a message of hope, empathy and understanding does not mean you have to sacrifice your brand’s tone. 

Time Out, a publisher that wants readers to try out new restaurants, venues, and events has temporarily rebranded to Time In while quieting cities wait out the storm. A seemingly simple gesture like this speaks volumes by acknowledging the state of play and responding to it. And, by showing users that they are paying attention, it also shows this platform is the place to go for information they can rely on when it’s safe to move about again. 

In a time like this, it is critical to recognize the role your agency should play, as well as your role as a team member. The role of the 4A’s is to help support our community of advertising agencies through this unprecedented pandemic, and remind our partners that opportunity, though not easily visible, is here.

Here is what I am doing with my team as we address short-term needs and plan ahead for the next few months, and beyond:

  1. Identify How You Can Give BackLeverage what your brand does and use the power of your brand’s innovation and creativity to give back to the greater good.  First and foremost, everyone is concerned with the safety and health of others. How can your brand = give back? 

  1. Consistent, Clear Communications - The best, simplest way to assure consumers and coworkers alike is to communicate consistently and clearly. Updating notices, websites, and campaigns shows consumers that your brand is listening and reacting - just like they are. For coworkers, putting aside the newfound technical struggles of meeting as a team over the phone or video chat while working remotely, keeping in (virtual) contact, clarifying goals, and sending updates ensures a smoother and more cohesive way to work together while apart.

  1. Plan Ahead - Near and Far - Make predictions for how brand activity can normalize or evolve over the next few months. Is this a period for reinvention? For upping brand loyalty rewards for members? For reaching new ones? These strategies are not easily seen, but they are there. The day-to-day is in flux now, but the distant future is still plottable and can help pilot your new direction overall.

As history continues to remind us, when a crisis occurs, people naturally come together - a phenomenon known as "disaster collectivism." I am proud to be a part of an industry that has the opportunity to embrace creativity and visionary thinking during a critical and ambivalent time. What we do now, in solidarity and support of one another, will be remembered for months, and even years to come.

Marla is President & CEO at 4A's

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