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Mark Lund on Covid-19: “The Safety of our People is Paramount”


McCann Worldgroup’s newly appointed UK and Europe president reminds us that while coronavirus might be changing everything right now, we shouldn’t forget about the return to normality, writes Alex Reeves

Mark Lund on Covid-19: “The Safety of our People is Paramount”
As every email we receive reminds us, the times in which Mark Lund is starting his new job are “strange and uncertain”. 

It was only two weeks ago that McCann Worldgroup announced it had promoted him to the network’s president for the UK and Europe, on top of his role as UK CEO. At the time, British prime minister Boris Johnson had just made the first of his daily addresses to the country’s press and public about how his government is tackling the coronavirus pandemic. It was around the time that everything started to get real in the UK and we’ve since had a similar address almost every day.

It was also around that time that McCann Worldgroup switched to almost total remote working in the UK - a week ahead of the official lockdown. So Mark’s had other things on his mind than gearing up for his new job, which he starts in about two months’ time when Pablo Walker steps down. “Now it seems so far to the back of my mind that it feels irrelevant,” he says. “Like everybody else, my concern has been to try and keep people as safe as possible. We’re a business built on human capital. The safety of our people is paramount because it’s what we have.”

The practicalities of suddenly distributing a business like McCann Worldgroup across thousands of home ‘offices’ have been a major concern for Mark. “Both in the UK and Europe (and globally for McCann Worldgroup), the biggest part of our renaissance in the last six or seven years has been a sense of shared identity and purpose,” he says. “How do we retain the sense of common purpose and identity?” Naturally, that’s easier when people are in one physical space for most of the day. So Mark and all his colleagues are very grateful for one of their clients’ collaborative work products - Microsoft Teams - which has become the glue holding teams together across the network.

“A lot of our effort has been dedicated to how we make people feel connected and that they’re still part of this big, supportive, positive thing. Even when they’re locked down,” he says. 

Each day he has a daily call with the UK leadership where they take stock of what’s happened, run through plans and agree on priorities for the agency. But it’s not just practical - in these times everyone wants more than that from their work meetings. “We also share how we’re feeling,” says Mark. “[Coronavirus] has created an environment in which emotional vulnerability is slightly more easily tackled than it would be in an office environment.”

Then there’s the meat of the actual work McCann Worldgroup is doing as the pandemic develops - helping its clients manage their communications. 

Firstly, every brand needs to respond to the situation and consider how they need to alter their plans. For each client this is a vastly different conversation, Mark says. “Some, like ALDI, are working 24/7 to try and keep the nation fed. Some of our other retail clients have had to shut their shops, so for them it’s about getting onto an online platform to help sell remotely.”

While Covid-19 is reminding us how vital to society supermarkets are, ALDI is totally entitled to thanking its staff who are working tirelessly to keep our lockdown larders full. So ALDI in Germany wanted its McCann Worldgroup agencies to make an ad showing the community spirit the pandemic is bringing out in us. The problem is, practically all live-action production is on hold in Germany, as in much of the world. McCann Germany and The Back Room McCann’s solution was sourcing selfie videos of employees in ALDI stores and hundreds of people at home - an incredible feat of production.  “We’re having to be much more inventive about how we produce material and create evocative messages even when we can’t do the usual things,” says Mark.

Other brands don’t take such a central role in our lives under lockdown, so McCann Worldgroup’s conversations with these clients is more philosophical. McCann Spain’s recent film for IKEA is one such case. “It’s a great example of how creative thought can take something from being a problem to an opportunity,” he says. “Your home, which you might currently regard as a bit of a prison, let’s just remember how valuable and precious it is. The way that film works is to reframe the negative and turn it into a positive. I think it’s extraordinarily smart. We’re looking for examples like that with our clients the whole time.”

For many of us around the world lockdown is the new normal. But, as Italians are writing on Post-It notes around their towns and cities, ‘everything will be alright’. We will, in however many months, be back to some kind of normality. And Mark has been spending a lot of his time reminding his colleagues and clients of this, and thinking about what kind of world we will be living in post Covid-19.

“When you’re in this sort of situation there’s an incredibly immersive experience of shared trepidation,” he says. “You kind of think it’s going to change everything forever.” But the big question he’s fascinated by is which aspects of life will change and which things will go back to normal.

These months of lockdown will leave their mark on humanity, he reflects. “All of this will create new neural pathways in our brains about how we do things. This use of remote video technology is going to make a difference to some of the ways we do routine communications in the future in a really rich way.” He suggests that we might be more likely to replace face-to-face meetings with video calls moving forward, which could be great for the environment as well as general productivity.

The flipside is that people will miss human connection. “I’m longing for the days when we can get back together with people. I miss the people I work with,” says Mark. And he expects people will be eager to get back to physical reality, meeting people in public and shopping in physical spaces. “Those things will go back to being an important part of life. And they might be more treasured because we’ve been deprived of them, as opposed to taking them for granted. People are going to come out of this more hungry than ever to want to do things together.”

In fact, Mark thinks (and hopes) that more will go back to normal after “all this” than will change permanently, so he stresses the importance to clients for planning for the aftermath, not just responding right now. “A lot of it is going to go back to something very close to the way it’s been before,” he’s been reassuring people. His message to many of his clients is: “Don’t lose sight of the importance of your brand, of your relationship with your customers, because even if it’s been temporarily suspended it’s still valuable.”

As he looks to his new European role, he’s heartened that the fundamentals of brands and business that he’s always believed in will remain, even if the route there is slightly altered. Before the pandemic changed life for so many of us, his aims for leading the agency network across Europe centred on a vision of increased cohesion. “If I look at what’s been powerful in the UK in the last few years, it’s been about creating communities of people across the country in our businesses. Some are in Birmingham, some are in Manchester, some are in London, some are working for McCann, some are working for MRM. There’s a shared set of values, a shared purpose, which makes everything feel more possible.”

He wanted to create a community like that across Europe. “There’s some fantastic strength, some really good agencies. And what excites me is making the whole greater than the sum of the parts, bringing those good businesses and people together and making them feel a sense of collective strength. And making our clients feel that they have that as well.”

Then coronavirus came along and has somewhat changed the context of Mark’s new job.  But having thought about the changes that this pandemic might bring about, he’s not given up on his vision. “In some ways it might be strengthened. We’re missing that sense of collective, whether it’s playing football in a team or being part of a work group or volunteering group. Those experiences are currently denied to us. And I think they’re some of the most rewarding parts of our personal identities. So in some ways our hunger for that is going to be increased by what we’re going through now. The environment is going to be potentially even more fertile for that kind of message. That’s my hope anyway.”

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McCann EMEA, Mon, 30 Mar 2020 16:19:09 GMT