How Covid-19 is changing the business and the industry at large, according to FP7 MENA’s Chief Executive Officer.
How is the Covid-19 crisis reshaping the marketing and advertising industry in MENA?
The coronavirus has and will continue to restructure our everyday: actions, habits, feelings, need for safety and security, how we connect with others personally and professionally, and how we do business. The challenge is to balance all of these factors with minimal damage to our business.
If we look at global data from the World Federation of Advertisers, around 90% of multinational businesses have paused their advertising campaigns as of the end of May. We feel that the MENA markets are closely following that trend. While the jury is still out on this, we feel that ad spend will probably fall between 15-20%. We’ve all been able to somehow do a bit better, because governments in this region were able to react quickly and avoid the devastating effects that Covid-19 has [had on markets] like the US, Europe and India. Now, with the economies opening up, we feel there will be a recovery – albeit slowly – in our industry.
We’re seeing a new awakening in innovations all round – in customer communications and also in products and services in relation to the outbreak. Communication platforms are doing their best to make staying in touch easier, provide new ways of communication and entertainment, and in many ways, trying to help make life easier for all of us. What we’re seeing is innovations in marketing messaging and branding that are reshaping our industry for now, and going forward into the future. We’re seeing new processes and new ways of working that will continue to be in use, post the outbreak.
How does this impact differ in the region’s different markets?
It’s been mostly very similar across our different markets: people working from home with varying degrees of government-enforced restrictions, challenges with clients who are in travel, hospitality, retail, real estate, etc. Automotive was [one of the] first [industries] to pull the reins on spending, but for other sectors like FMCG and telecoms, there was more of a reshuffle of priorities between strategy and communication. They had to shift gears from selling to solving, or at the very least empathizing with consumers.
The only exception would be Lebanon, that has been going through a political and financial crisis that Covid-19 further compounded.
What measures have you taken to mitigate this impact (restructuring, staff reductions, etc.)?
Like all businesses, we have had to look at some measures of restructuring, realigning teams, engaging talent from across the network, reducing salaries across the board at a common level, and at a very minimal level, we’ve had to let some people go. Again, we have taken very minimal measures across the board. We’ve kept our focus on keeping the briefs coming and keeping people busy, no matter where they sit.
What we’ve also learned is to improve on efficiencies, produce more effectively, and deliver more for less. To be honest, this is still a work in progress but it will be key to managing the business moving forward, if we are to remain competitive.
How could this crisis lead to deeper transformation and change the way you operate in the long-term?
We’re very quickly learning that speed and urgency are essential to our business, and that agility is the key. This will not change. This is here to stay long-term. Along with that, this crisis ensures that clients see almost-immediate results. Some of the developments that have transpired over the last couple of months are transformational – and you cannot, should not turn back on them once this crisis abates.
What we have experienced is a change in the way we’ve always done it – the entire process of getting a brief, sharing it with strategy, re-working the brief, briefing creative teams, reviewing the work, and so on. The entire workflow has been challenged.
This is evolution, or more accurately forced evolution, and it will not [revert.] There will be no vaccine for the way our industry has adapted and is due to adapt further.
How have clients reacted to the crisis and what do you advise them to do?
Most clients are [being] cautious. Discretionary spending has [been put] to a halt. Clients realize they cannot just fall off the radar completely, [so] they’re playing a wait-and-watch game [instead.] Yet, some clients are warming up to the fact that the economies across the world and here in our region are slowly opening up. There are a few brands that are seizing the opportunity to invest more in marketing – and these brands are responding quickly to what consumers are looking for during this crisis.
We are trying to avoid chaos and ambiguity, and relying on data and clarity so that we are better informed as we go into the game. We’re trying to always be early – to stay ahead of the curve, to plan ahead, and anticipate our clients’ needs and be proactive. Clients are open to this, they’re warming up to ideas that weren’t possible earlier. Together, we’re embracing experiments and innovating.
Finally, we have recently launched a new service called FP7McCann//NXT, which is a consulting service that has been specifically designed for CMOs and their teams, but open to other disciplines too, where we have constructed and defined five archetypes of marketing during a crisis. We follow that with an ideation and brainstorming framework, to come up with practical, executable solutions for their brands – during Covid-19, closer to recovery, and post Covid-19.
What lessons from previous crises have helped you face the current situation?
During the Gulf War, we were hurt and we learned from it. During the global financial meltdown in 2008, we had to dig deep to stay in the game, but we did it. During the Arab Spring, our top-performing markets were Egypt and Syria, yet we worked our way through.
Each time there is a crisis, it’s a lesson in resilience, in learning how to swim with the sharks without getting eaten alive. We learned that you will always find your way, so long as you have the right people to row the boat with you through the storm. You can always find ways and means to work differently.
Time and again, we come together – across geographies, disciplines, and agency brands. Egos, individual interests, agency interests are put aside for the benefit of the collective. In fact, we have institutionalized a proprietary process that we call ‘Open Architecture’ to deliver brand-focused, agency-agnostic solutions, using the power of technology and data, engaging the best talent from anywhere. And guess what? It’s worked! In fact, it’s pretty smooth when you are working with amazing, collaborative people across our group of companies.
What will you take away from this pandemic once we’ve passed it?
We’ve always had some things we believed at our group of agencies – MCN – which were the pillars of how we operate. These are qualities every client looks for: agility, efficiency, flexibility, integration, performance and ROI, and transparency.
Our key takeaway from this pandemic is that you simply have to walk the talk. We’ve always talked about these qualities, these fundamental principles, but these have become mission-critical for us since someone had a bit of warm bat soup in Wuhan.
We are learning that evolution is still very real – in science as well as in our business. Adapting is the key to survival, and that means learning new ways and being brave enough to shed the old. Another key takeaway is that the role of technology is indispensable – in connection to the way we operate, all the way through to the quality and effectiveness of our messaging.
You have to be quick, alert, ready, and responsive. Leave the rest to science. There will be a vaccine someday soon.