Hanson Search talks to Effie Kanyua, PR & Communications Director, Hearst UK on the impact of Covid-19

Welcome to our ‘Getting Business Back’ series where we are talking to industry leaders from agency and inhouse backgrounds about the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses and the steps they are taking as we move out of the crisis.

Here, we sat down (virtually) with Effie Kanyua, Director of PR and Communications at Hearst UK. Read on for her thoughts about the impact of COVID-19 and the transformations that she’s seen take place as a result of the pandemic.

Effie Kanyua

What impact has COVID-19 had on your business and on your sector as a whole? 

We were really lucky at Hearst UK. We have 25 brands and as a business we had prepared ourselves for agile working. We had a rehearsal prior to lockdown and basically just stayed in lockdown from then. Most people might think it would be challenging to produce magazines in lockdown, but because we already had the technology in place, we were fine. From a business continuity point of view, that all worked fine.

We've actually done really well as a business. Our content has been booming. Interestingly, our web traffic has grown significantly. We've increased e-commerce by 330%, which is huge. Our subscriptions have also increased - in some brands by up to 200%.

If you think of the likes of Good Housekeeping and Women's Health, and many of our other brands, we've always positioned ourselves as a beacon of positivity. Basically it's being able to contribute something beneficial to people's lives. So we've been sharing content such as how to bake banana bread, beauty tips from home, or how to do a DIY haircut. During this time, people have actually really reached out to our brands because they want helpful content and helpful information now that they are at home more.

We've also used a lot of data and insights to inform the type of content our audiences want, which means we can produce the right positive and engaging content that's needed now.

Saying that, we were obviously impacted. A huge part of our business is travel retail and airplanes and trains were closed. Luckily we were still in supermarkets, but there has been a big impact and definitely in terms of advertising revenue. A huge part of what we do is in the luxury sector and with shops and retail closed, those revenue streams were pushed back. But then the positive side of course was on the digital end with the huge growth in our e-commerce and digital subscriptions and content -- and the positive impact we've been able to make through those channels during this time.

As a result of COVID-19, organisations have had to move faster than ever before to problem solve and navigate the crisis. How has this pushed your organisation and industry forward positively and which of those measures taken would you like to remain in place post pandemic? 

A huge part of our business is the photo shoots and creative branded content for our business partners and obviously you can't do that with all of the restrictions in place. As a consequence, we adapted and tapped into our network in order to create content for brands in lockdown. That meant we had influencers and people creating content from their homes. We had cover stars on our magazines where members of their families were being the photographer and they were getting makeup and styling tips delivered to them via a Zoom call.

A large part of our business strategy is digital acceleration and investing in digital and I think most businesses can probably say that this situation has sped that process up. We were always going to invest in digital areas to grow; we just had to do it a lot quicker than we expected. And the fact that our e-commerce is now growing significantly shows that that added investment has worked out well for us.

Which of your values/your company’s values have  truly come to life since the beginning of this crisis? 

For my communications team, our work increased significantly overnight as we headed into this situation. We had to be a centre point for the business; not only for our CEO but for all the senior leaders within the business and across our different titles, whilst also supporting our staff.

We found there was a huge shift and focus on internal comms and that's certainly what we decided to do as a team. We had previously sent out all-staff notes from our CEO to the business maybe twice a month; that turned into a note every day for about two months. We had everything from the latest business news, like tips on how to use your new kit or how to function while working at home. We also realised that there was so much news to digest so we collated all of the big global and UK news (all of Boris' and Trump's news conferences) and condensed it down into summaries for our staff. And because we have such amazing brands, we were able to include nice things like recipes from Good Housekeeping or beauty tips from Elle or 'The ten best things to watch on Netflix'.

We recognised that everyone was working a lot harder during lockdown and that has an impact on mental health, so we knew that we needed to provide something to help people through that. And for people who didn't have that social contact during lockdown, internal comms was a way for us to make sure people felt connected. We did that everyday for about two months. We're now down to about three times a week, so it's still a lot, and even though we are partially back in the office there are still a lot of people who aren't there so we need to continue to support and guide our people through this period.

What  challenges  have you faced leading people remotely and how have you had to adapt your style?

When you work in comms, by your nature you have to be a social and creative person and we're missing a lot of those elements by not being in the office. You know, being able to turn around to a colleague and chat about a plan or discuss a strategy - that's gone now and we have to schedule those into calls. I'm pretty much on back-to-back calls all day and it doesn't translate the same as those impromptu office chats.

The challenge for me as a leader is not having that sort of interaction with my team. We're a close knit team so not being next to each other has had an impact. Saying that, we now have two or three team meetings a week as well as tea breaks which are just a chance for us to talk to each other about what we're watching or what fitness regimes we're doing. I think that's really important. Especially for comms, I dare you to find anyone who's worked inhouse for a business who hasn't been absolutely hammered during this time. So it's really important for our team to have a bit of downtime and fun together.

The other thing, around the mental health aspect, is being able to have one-on-one time with the team, so those meetings have also been more frequent. Just being there to listen and support people is important.

Are there any businesses you feel have communicated particularly well during the crisis?

Not to be big-headed, I actually think we've done a great job. I've spoken to a lot of people in our industry and shared some of the techniques we've been doing, for instance, our daily internal notes, and some of our businesses in Europe and the US have now rolled those out. From what I understand, the way that we've structured our internal comms has been helpful to a lot of people. And the insights we've gathered around what audiences need and creating that positive content has been valuable during this period. 

I'm really proud of Hearst UK and what we've done. We could have done business as usual and muddled through, but instead we've really thought about how we can best support  our people, our clients, and our consumers. We delivered loads of free publications to hospitals; we had lounges where NHS frontline staff could come in and have our magazines. We delivered free magazines to postcodes around the country. We did some digital covers featuring the unsung heroes of the pandemic - the shop workers, delivery and bus drivers, all of those people doing the critical jobs to help our country function.

As companies move from reacting to mitigating the impact of the outbreak, what is your strategy to move forward over the coming months? 

I don't see us coming out of this too soon. We are seeing peaks right now in many countries around the world, so I would say what we're in, we're in for a while to come. I don't think we'll suddenly see a different picture in a month or two. The world is a very different place and as a result businesses have to adapt and navigate through it. I would say our strategy will be much of the same - people will be working remotely far more than they used to, even when this is all over.

I think we'll see businesses using offices as a base or place to have big group meetings, but not necessarily to work daily. We've all proven that we can work pretty well from home. People may go in a couple of days a week, but I think comms will still be an important focus to keep people connected and particularly internal comms.

I also think that with everything that's happened this year, it's been one thing after another, people are now looking more closely at how businesses treat their people and contribute to society. From a comms perspective, businesses need to be aware that they are more visible and people are more vocal about what they do and don't do well. So comms will be more important from a corporate perspective as well.


Posted on 29.09.2020

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