Hanson Search talks to Mathieu Collet, CEO & Founder, Euros/Agency Group on the impact of COVID-19
For our Getting Business Back series, we are speaking with leaders in marketing and communications about the effects of COVID-19 on their businesses and the wider industry. We have seen tremendous innovations take place during this time of uncertainty and we want to know what leaders think have been the most consequential, pushing organisations forward, what values have come to life, and the biggest challenges they’ve faced throughout it all.
Here, we sat down (virtually) with Mathieu Collet, CEO and Founder of the Euros / Agency Group. Read on for his thoughts about the impact of COVID-19 and the transformations that he’s seen take place as a result of the pandemic.
What impact has COVID-19 had on your business and sector as a whole?
The main impact on our business has been the downturn in the economy and uncertainty about the future. Our sector, as a whole, has been quite badly affected by the pandemic, but the impact on individual agencies has been dependent on their business models and structures. Organisations specialising in events obviously took a significant hit and agencies specialising in marketing and consumer PR also felt the blow. However, due to the fact that we mainly consult and we’re at the forefront of crisis management, our clients generally regard us as a strategic resource and we have been far less affected than other agencies as a result.
Like many companies, our staff have been working from home which has been a challenge for some businesses who were not yet set up for remote working. However, we were already very accustomed to remote working, so it has had no effect on the quality of service to our customers.
Our work for the Euros/Agency Group did not slow down during the lockdown period; we even signed quite a few new contracts. However, we are concerned about the forecasted reduction in the economy over the coming months. We will continue to grow in 2020, but perhaps less than we previously predicted.
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?
The crisis has had several positive effects. For one, it pushed all employees to go above and beyond their brief, which really strengthened company communication.
We also wanted to be transparent with our teams so that they would understand the managerial challenges we faced. Internal communication has been a key area that we’ve focussed on. We have met our finance and HR teams more often than before in order to involve them in the decision-making process. As a result, the relationship between management and employees is now stronger than ever.
We have also found that the pandemic has opened more minds to remote working. We all had preconceived ideas about working from home, but we have quickly adapted. We have a flexible working-from-home policy that suits everyone.
Which of your values/company’s values has strengthened since the beginning of this crisis?
We have always maintained an integrated team approach. Our clients appreciate this and it has always been one of the company’s main values. It brings friendliness, a variety of expertise, a technical approach combined with high-level strategy, know-how and a corporate culture based on a collective dynamic.
I think we have improved on this throughout the pandemic and it is something that we will continue to strengthen.
Internal communication has never been more critical in business. How has your business engaged with its employees and what changes in culture has it resulted in?
As I mentioned before, internal communication has been key to our business growth and productivity. We are working more closely with our employees than ever before and communicating with more transparency which has definitely created a feeling of solidarity.
I also think that our employees have been attuned to what’s happening at other agencies during the crisis. Our relaxed atmosphere and ability to withstand the pandemic, compared to other agencies, has improved employee confidence.
What challenges have you faced leading people remotely and how have you had to adapt your style?
As a business we didn’t have to adapt much to working from home because we were already doing it. Our main concern has been making sure that our staff prioritised their mental health. Working from home is not easy for everyone, especially when we suddenly had to work from home exclusively for almost three months. Some have managed it well, whereas others have struggled with the lack of face-to-face relationships with colleagues. Some of our employees live in small homes and don’t have the luxury of large open spaces.
We communicated daily with our employees to check on them and their mental health, and adapted their workloads accordingly.
Are there any businesses you feel have communicated particularly well during the crisis?
Yes, and I think the ones who communicated the best were also the most cautious. Take Accor and its CEO, Sébastien Bazin, for example. His group is in the travel sector, a sector severely affected by the pandemic, but he has never come across as overly emotional or distressed. He was extremely measured, took the lead with his shareholders by asking them to give up their dividends and set up a fund for his employees. He also made his hotels available for carers, without shouting it from the rooftops, and admitted that he did not have answers to everything at a very uncertain time.
Another leader whose response stood out to me was Thierry Mallet, the president of Transdev. He set up a European initiative to support the public transport sector.
As companies move from reacting to mitigating the impact of the outbreak, what is your strategy for the coming months?
Our strategy is simple: continue to stand out in the strategic communications and public affairs sector because we have the most integrated approach in the market.
The priorities of companies and their managers will change after the crisis. We need to understand and anticipate these profound and structural changes that will happen across our business.
Post-crisis budgets will look very different and are overall a lot smaller now. We offer services that will continue to be in demand. People will start to prioritise the link between public affairs and communication, which is our main business.
When society changes in such a dramatic way there is an increased need for communication between the public authorities and economic sectors. Between them and their stakeholders, employees, consumers, colleagues, media and NGOs. This is our day-to-day work.
What do you feel are the major communications challenges once the recovery begins?
The restructuring of companies according to how valuable their services are is the main challenge that we are facing, but thankfully our communication skills are highly valued, so we should still have many opportunities. Other companies, such as advertising and marketing agencies, are facing a lot of changes and challenges.
Communications budgets, in the broad sense, are tightening and now focus more on consultancy. Communication is not just about the product, it’s about the whole process behind it – the companies, their beliefs, their vision and the people who design it.
Structured communication is being replaced by organic communication. We can’t sell a car today just by advertising the product or its comfort; we focus on functionality more than ownership. We can’t dissociate the product from the company’s values.
The brand is also not just about its products; it’s about the whole organisation behind it. This is how we’ve always viewed communication. It seems that we are heading in the right direction!