The best that new starters can do right now is to learn as much as they can from their leaders and brands in order to be better marketers in the future. Learning never stops even if it feels like the world may have.
It was only a few short months into my career that the world very suddenly plunged into a full blown coronavirus crisis. Almost overnight we were told to adjust to a new reality with reports of the economy heading into the worst recession since the 1920s and hearing the depressing truth that many loved ones will die. As a result, adland is now expected to take a 20% hit in income due to cuts in marketing budgets and changes in advertising. Terms like salary cuts, furloughs, hiring freezes and redundancies are now commonplace in our lexicon. It all looks a bit bleak and feels a bit blue, and particularly if you’re a newbie, it’s most likely impossible to see any light at the end of this tunnel. But alas, every cloud has a silver lining.
I am a strong believer in making good of a bad situation and in learning fiercely in the face of adversity. Otherwise, it is surely nothing more than wasted time and opportunity. The lockdown is a double-edged sword; whilst we newbies are physically separated from our managers and colleagues, unable to ask as the questions we’d like to ask or listen to the many intelligent conversations being had, this is perhaps the best time to observe the place of brands in society, and particularly, so early on in our careers.
Something that has become apparent during this crisis is that as a society, we don’t solely look to public institutions for a helping hand during difficult times. We also look to private ones. In fact, brands have occupied a large part of this space and have stepped up where governments have shown shortcomings. Dyson, for example, switched from producing hairdryers to life-saving ventilators when it became apparent there was a major shortage of the machines across UK hospitals. Likewise, retailers like Crocs donated thousands of shoes to healthcare workers whilst brands like Mango, H&M and Zara announced they were producing and distributing face masks and medical gowns. Several FMCG companies have also addressed shortages. L’Oréal has temporarily ceased the production of Garnier’s bestselling Micellar Water in order to manufacture 300,000 bottles of hand gel which will be distributed to frontline retail staff. In fact, look closely and almost every brand you know will have reacted to this crisis in some way or another to show solidarity and to support people, be they healthcare workers or everyday consumers.
There is a huge lesson to be learned in this: the place of brands in society runs much deeper than we perhaps previously thought. Brands have shown they can work alongside governments and public institutions and offer assistance during times of international crisis. The holistic and efficient merging of the public and the private, where they were once seen as separate entities, has placed brands in a new unprecedented position in society. As consumers, we are holding companies to a higher standard and expect them to step up, loosen the purse strings and give back when we are most in need. We vote with our money and only place it in the hands of those companies we feel represent our values and uphold our ethics. The democratic selection of brands is real, and we will certainly hold them to account.
Brands now have a bigger responsibility than ever before, and it is imperative as newbies that we observe how they are behaving and track how they emerge at the other end. How are their actions being received? Which brands are stepping up and which ones maybe not so much? What exactly are they doing differently and how does their marketing reflect that? Which ads are catching people’s attention and what are they telling us? What has the role of advertising been in this pandemic? What lessons can we draw from this and apply to a post COVID-19 world? There has been a significant reaction from our industry, and as we witness it unfold, this is arguably one of the best times to learn about marketing and its place in the world.
At the same time, as well as looking out we must also look in. It is one thing to learn from the behaviour of brands, it is another to learn from the actions of our seniors. The ways executive teams manage this difficulty will reflect not only in the wellbeing of their people, but also in the quality of work that is produced for their clients. As marketers, we can only produce our finest work when we are supported by strong leaders who adjust the sails when the wind direction changes. How managers lead their teams and operate agencies will speak volumes about their abilities, and the strongest ones will prevail. We can learn about the intricacies of good management by observing how our leaders manage this crisis, how they inspire others, how they make good decisions and, ultimately, how they show altruism in trying times.
We must seize the wheel of opportunity and spend the extra time we have today to closely inspect our surroundings and study the changes that have emerged as a result of these extraordinary events. This is the hour to absorb as much as we can and prepare for the future. Learning is an equal sport, but we newbies, now more than ever, must persist with our quest for further knowledge and to better ourselves as colleagues, marketers and people. After all, we are the leaders of tomorrow.