Hanson Search talks to Anne Le Brouster, Managing Director, Golin Paris 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 Anne Le Brouster, Managing Director at Golin Paris. 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.

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

It was a shock at the beginning, but we understood very quickly that some industries, like tourism, hotels and restaurants, would be more affected than others and that the situation would be complicated for some of our clients. However, we also saw a lot of opportunities. Some industries were more mobilised than others, like food, retail and e-commerce. We actually won a new client in the food industry during lockdown.

I must say we are lucky to work in PR communication, unlike our colleagues working in media, advertising or events who will suffer more than us. PR communication has always been evolving and adapting to new situations quickly throughout the years, so again we had to find innovative ways to communicate and find new strategies for our clients. Digital and social media was key; it was a real asset for all companies during the crisis. It was an opportunity that we seized from the beginning.

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 what measures taken would you like to remain in place post-pandemic?

This crisis has revealed the agility and adaptability of our industry. PR communication has seen a lot of changes over time and we are used to adapting. When lockdown started, we had to organise everything in one weekend to ensure that our team could work from home. We had events due to take place in April that we had to digitise quickly. We had to redistribute budgets. It forced us to think fast, be innovative, and try new things that we had never dared try before. Some clients were very worried about the whole situation, so we had to find simple , quick but impactful solutions for them. Really rethink and reshape our strategies with agile and flexible solutions.

That was exciting. Many of the new things we tried were successful. This period has been full of innovation and it was possible because there was a mutual trust between us and our clients. That’s helped us make the best choices and we felt confident trying new approaches. I think it created some positive for the communication industry and I hope these changes will last.

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

Trust was the main one - both with our team and with our clients.

We realised quickly that working from home was working well, and the team was very productive. We already had a sense of trust before the pandemic and that was accelerated during lockdown. It was the same with our clients. We really have a partnership with them; we are not just a service provider. As the trust was already there, we could react quickly. This trust relationship was essential and it’s our core value at Golin. It’s the promise we make to our clients.

Agility was another one. We have proven that we can quickly adapt a strategy overnight or dare to try new strategies when required. It was a new situation for everyone. Nothing that we had done before could work in the same way. That agility helped us to thrive during the lockdown.

Creativity was obviously very important too, as it is the heart of communication. We invented new things and proposed things that were a bit out of traditional PR agency scope. For example, for one of our clients we were only doing their PR, but during the lockdown we also organised campaign influencers. The crisis has allowed us to be more creative overall.

Internal communication has never been more business critical, how has your business engaged with its employees and what changes in culture has it resulted in?

Our strategy was to have a twice weekly team meeting all together. We would discuss the agency and clients of course, but in the beginning, we mainly discussed health. Some of the team got sick or their family members got sick, so we had to be very sensitive. We wanted to have an open discussion with the team about their feelings as well. This situation was scary for everyone and the fear of getting sick was omnipresent. Some of the team were isolated and far from their family which was not easy.

This situation has been difficult emotionally for everyone and it’s important to recognise it and create a dialogue so our team can feel comfortable opening up to us. We also tried to recreate the type of lunches or coffee chats we would have had in the office about lighter subjects, for instance, what movies we are watching or the latest influence trends we’ve spotted. This helped recreate a semblance of normal life in the office. It was important for us to keep that bond.

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

We are a small team of 15 people in Golin Paris so we have a strong team spirit. There’s a lot of collaboration within the team and a real sense of solidarity. We are always helping and supporting each other and I’m very proud of the team for that.

I always say that a day without a laugh is a wasted day. I think the work environment is essential. You go to work to be with people and enjoy what you’re doing, so having a good atmosphere is important.

The challenge was how to keep that bond with the team when we cannot physically be together. But thanks to the regular catch ups, I realised quickly that the strength of the team spirit was still there and actually it only strengthened during lockdown.

Also, being physically away for my team allowed me to let go more and trust them in a different way. As a manager, you always keep an eye on your team. Here you had to give them more autonomy and I believe this was as beneficial for them as it was for me. We worked with a system of to do lists and they seemed to really appreciate this. They had guidance and autonomy at the same time.

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

Firstly, we were flooded with communication about COVID-19 and health information. Then we saw some opportunists, like banks, whose communication was not relevant given the situation. They did it the wrong way or at the wrong time when the situation was still very sensitive.

Now we are seeing smarter communication and brands are coming back to their roots. For example, McDonalds, who used to communicate “Come as you are” is now saying “Come back as you are”. This is simple but very good.

From a communication point of view, digital was a real springboard. We saw brands that had never been digital before going online because they had no choice. Influencers campaigns, tutorials, and videos exploded during this period and I think most were done effectively. There were a lot of initiatives done around sharing tips, like mummies explaining how to organise yourself when juggling work and homeschooling children, or chefs demonstrating healthy recipes. Influencers really showed their power of influence and brand representation. They are a powerful leverage and I think more brands now realise it.

I don’t have a specific brand in mind that communicated particularly well but the forced, rapid move to more digital activities has shown its value and success. I think it will change things forever, at least I hope so. Events might be reconsidered in the future. Many things can be done online now. It will never replace the impact of an actual event, but digital will have a bigger place now and it’s a good thing.

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

Agility is our strategy. We need to serve our clients differently. The way of communicating is changing and our customers have different needs than before, so the strategies won’t be the same. We will need to learn to work with reduced budgets most likely as the crisis financially impacts our clients. Until the end of the year, everyone will be careful with their budgets, so we need to capitalise on what we’ve produced during the lockdown. We can help our clients to grow by continuing to be innovative and use our strategies during lockdown to write a new story for our brands.

Our second focus will be to win new clients. We are seeing new pitches coming through which is great news. But our priority will be to strengthen our relationship with our current client and help them through this crisis.

What do you feel are the major communications challenges once the recovery begins?

The main challenge is the timing of communications. We are mainly working on instant comms plans. We will do more short-term plans than 3-years plans, because our brands need to communicate more urgently now and be creative and daring. Another opportunity is that now our clients are taking decisions quicker than before, so we can activate campaigns faster.

I’m a positive person and I like to focus on the opportunities. The pandemic has brought a lot of solidarity, trust, creativity, agility to the industry. That’s very exciting! There’s an interesting momentum now which I hope will remain.

Posted on 24.08.2020

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