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Navigating Turbulent Times


Navigating Turbulent Times

Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, TBWA\RAAD has been actively sharing insights, data, and tips to better address today’s and tomorrow’s new normal. Remie Abdo, Head of Strategy (left), and Jennifer Fischer, Chief Innovation Officer (right), explain how this strategy was developed and what it means to achieve.

TBWA\RAAD is the Disruption agency. How important was it to position yourself as experts in dealing with the ultimate disruption were currently going through?

Jennifer Fischer: While they sound the same, there is an important distinction between “disruption” with a small “d” and Disruption with a big “D.” The one with a small “d” refers to a disturbance, break or interruption in the normal course [of events], more often than not with a negative consequence. This is what the whole world is facing now.

At TBWA\RAAD, we are experts at Disruption® with a big “D.” The difference comes from the intent. We look at ways to break conventions and accepted beliefs, not for the sake of it, but to achieve a higher purpose, to unlock a better future, to accelerate the desired business outcome.

In times of crisis, this way of thinking is more important than ever. It’s easy to let fear and uncertainty guide business decisions towards following the crowds, going with the flow, and sticking to what you know. Success comes from carving new ways and dictating your own paths; this is where the expertise around Disruption is essential.

What was the strategy behind the development of all this covid19-centric content?

J.F.: Everyone agrees that this is a time of great change. And many changes are obvious: a slowed economy, a growth in online commerce, changing media habits or the impact of social distancing. Others are much more ambiguous, more complex, and less easy to spot or predict. I’m talking about shifts in culture, behaviors, belief systems, values, leadership, or creativity. This is where the traps and opportunities lie for brands and businesses. It is where relevance and meaning become hits or misses.

Everything we have created during this period is meant to help brand owners navigate this sea of uncertainty with the right insights, data, tools, and expertise.

What are each of these initiatives meant to achieve and how do they work together?

J.F.: Each initiative plays a different and complementary role in helping businesses identify what they should do both now and next.

  • The Flash-Advisor was created at the start of the crisis when every brand under the sun was planning initiatives and content related to Covid-19. There was a lot of confusion about what brands should or shouldn’t do, and this interactive tool gave some simple no-nonsense guidance.
  • Backslash Reports help to keep the finger on the pulse, identify and decode emerging trends as they evolve with a focus on the MENA region.
  • Live Sessions – tackling topics as diverse as decision making, creativity and cultural trends – deliver inspiration and guidance on how we should act and react as both brand owners and business leaders.
  • The final piece of the puzzle is the Rebound Accelerator Workshops. We’ve essentially tailored our Disruption methodology to fit this period of accelerated change and to deliver effective growth-focused plans uniquely built for each brand.

All of these initiatives, along with some of the recent work created for our clients, are hosted on our insights microsite:

How were these various initiatives received?

J.F.: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The insights website has received several thousand organic visits with a pretty impressive session duration.

Live Sessions have been popular across the entire global TBWA network, with our clients and prospects of course. Most funnily though, we’ve had lots of people joining from other agencies!

The next Live Session is scheduled for Thursday, June 4th.

How do you create the content of the Backslash Reports?

Remie Abdo: Finding triggers has always been part of our everyday work, even pre Covid-19. Staying up to date with what’s happening, actively looking to be in sync with culture, reading everything that comes in front of our eyes, are part and parcel of being a planner. This wasn’t new. We usually use these triggers to make sure brands are part of the culture at all times.

But the triggers that we encountered at the start of the pandemic were revolutionary and transformative, and we naturally started asking ourselves “What if” and “Imagine if.” I remember the first question we discussed internally was, “What if this was the end of the outdated school system and the start of a new one that fits better our 21st-century modern lives?”

The “What Ifs” we highlight in the reports are the ones from which we believe marketeers and businessmen can benefit.

The Edges are our expression of a future trend or shift; they are the final piece of the cultural puzzle when we identify our “What Ifs.”

How do you manage the balance around providing content on Covid-19 and avoiding pandemic fatigue?

R.A.: This pandemic has brought something new every single day. We’d go to sleep with one piece of news and wake up to another. It is certainly tiring to have all the work revolve around Covid-19. However, there has been no mundane day during these past two months.

Creative people also thrive on challenges and crisis. Everyone rolled up their sleeves to collaborate, find solutions for our clients, and proactively come up with initiatives or content.

Ironically, and maybe it’s not appropriate to say this, but a part of me enjoyed the challenge. But can we please go back to normal life already?

In terms of perception, there’s a thin line between being proactive and useful, and the appearance of profiteering. How do you manage this delicate perception issue?

R.A.: While other agencies may keep their insights or tools for themselves to impress or charge their clients, we put all our knowledge, ideas and tools out there, on a free public platform for anyone to read, enjoy and use. We wanted not only to give back to marketeers and business people, but also to elevate the role our industry can play during times like these.

When it comes to the work we produced for our clients, we made a conscious effort to ensure that none of it was using the pandemic to our “advantage.” Every piece of work was created to either uplift the spirits with a positive message, promote a helpful service, or convey useful information vs. just communicating.

Our first concern when the pandemic started, was how to be useful. We applied this logic to everything we did for our clients, and for ourselves as an agency.

How long do you project to keep creating this content and why?

R.A.: As an agency, we always come up with initiatives and thought leadership content that contribute to our industry and is there for anyone to use. Our Covid-19 special content got more visibility and recognition because of the nature of the situation. The uncertainty and unpredictability of the situation made the content more valuable and appreciated by others. Also, everyone was in front of their screens consuming every single Covid-19 related content, and we were amongst the first to launch our different initiatives, so we got on people’s radar quickly.

As our initiatives have been received well, we will continue to produce this particular kind of content with a longer-term vision in mind. However, the context will evolve as the Covid-19 situation evolves, and the topics will transform as the culture transforms. I wouldn’t be able to put an exact time frame to it, or tell you how this content will transform, as these initiatives are living things that adapt to the lives we are living.


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