R/GA London’s SVP managing director Rebecca Bezzina on how the agency and its clients are responding to the unprecedented disruption coronavirus is bringing.
If we thought our lives were digital before this pandemic hit, we’ve reached another level now that so many of us are living in Covid-19-induced isolation. Much of our screen time has become unavoidable. Brands have had to adjust their marketing accordingly and it seems obvious that digital advertising is more relevant than ever in this new epoch of isolation.
As a digital agency, R/GA seems like a company well placed to respond to this situation on behalf of its clients. LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with R/GA London SVP managing director Rebecca Bezzina to find out how her team is weathering this storm.
LBB> Generally speaking, how is R/GA weathering this storm?
Rebecca> R/GA’s greatest strength has always been how we’re able to bring such a diverse groups of thinkers together to collaborate on multidisciplinary work – and it’s this unique adaptability of our people that has always helped our business reinvent itself over the years. This ability to change and iterate has never been more important with the situation we find ourselves in today. The technology and tools we have available to us obviously plays a role, but what’s getting us through is being human, authentic and ensuring radical transparency. We are also learning every day, continuing to optimise and adapt as we need. It’s a constant balance of assessing business impacts and opportunity to innovate. And while there is nothing normal about this, at times it’s been an absolute joy to watch the teams collaborate locally and globally on client work. I believe we will come out of this even stronger as a team.
LBB> Would you say it's fair to say that the more digitally-focused parts of the ad industry have less re-adjusting to do than other parts? If so, why?
Rebecca> I would say all parts of the industry are having to adapt, as all the brands we work with are being affected in some way. Some of our clients are having the busiest Q1 they have had on record, while others are seeing their bottom line being impacted in a way like never before. There’s no hard and fast rule when the disruption is on this scale. But what’s never been more important is our clients’ brands. Being clear on what they stand for and then adapting to what’s in front them. From an industry point of view, I certainly believe some companies are set up better to serve clients in this climate. Those that have their technology and tools stack in order, approach and processes right and most important a culture that fosters empathetic collaboration. This enables them to be much better equipped to focus all their energy on their people and pushing their clients and business forward.
LBB> How have you found the switch to the new normal? What have been the key changes?
Rebecca> Well there’s definitely been nothing normal about it. The first week felt like business as usual on the work and delivery side of things but it was tough. Tough because it was new for everyone and working from home in fact demanded a lot more initially from everyone.
We have been working with an Italian luxury client on a large digital transformation project since last year and they are about to move into their seventh week in lockdown, and us our forth, so collectively our joint client/agency team have learnt a lot. While the project has continued, the context in which we are operating is forever changing. It has become common to be presenting with ambulance sounds constantly in the background and that naturally makes you more empathetic as a group. As a project, it’s having to pivot many more times than it would have normally, and what we would have previously solved by flying to Italy to be in the same room as the client, has all had to be worked through with patience and more focus.
Overall it has meant we’re being more flexible. It’s meant we’re putting more rigour in our planning, but with the knowledge it will all likely change (many times). But most importantly we’re acting with empathy as always.
LBB> How have your clients' needs changed since the coronavirus outbreak began?
Rebecca> Our clients have been impacted in many different ways but there are a few common themes. None of them are business as usual – even if projects and business are continuing as normal.
We are helping clients navigate through three core phases – the crisis phase, adjusting to the new reality and even starting to think about what they do when the sun comes back out. We believe things will be different, from the way people move, build, learn, connect and what they take from this experience. Overall we are seeing them become more focused around what projects they continue to invest in, and focus on and how their brands can play a meaningful role in the lives of people across those three phases.
LBB> In the name of keeping things helpful and positive - what can other parts of the industry learn from the way you've done things?
Rebecca> We are continuing to adapt and learn, but a few of the things that have been specifically helpful for us are:
- Our approach to our people is: “You do you”. Some have kids at home, some have elderly parents and some just need time out while others are business as usual. We are flexible with our people and their situations.
- Find ways to bring energy, positive vibes and celebrate the many unsung heroes in your organisation who literally can’t be seen as everyone is working from home.
- We turned our monthly all-staffs into UNPLUG time which gave people the hour back, which was welcomed.
- Find ways and support staff to be able to give back to their communities’. We have a number of creative innovation projects in the works as we want to try to contribute in a meaningful way.
- Daily focus around what’s important is required at a greater level than normal. Find a way to make it simple and communicate it clearly internally with teams and clients.
- Pick up the phone. Our relationships with our teams and clients has never been more important.
- Keep learning. We launched a survey last week to capture learnings so we continue to adapt.