Hanson Search talks to Nazim Damardji, CEO & Founder, Fabriq 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 Nazim Damardji, CEO and Founder of Fabriq. 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 your sector as a whole?
COVID-19 has impacted a lot of the PR and communications sector in France, especially event-orientated agencies. In terms of PR, it’s had a huge impact on the competition, but Fabriq was lucky, for several reasons the stars were aligned. First, we are principally a B2B agency and the B2B sector has been less impacted than B2C. Second, we have had some excellent clients appear at the right place and time, one of which even agreed to pay us one year upfront, so that was very lucky. And third, we are an international agency with clients everywhere around the globe and therefore the overall impact of the sudden lockdown was less pronounced for us.
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 again was thankfully something that impacted the competition more than us. We digitally transformed our business back in 2017 thanks to one of our clients who specialises in digital transformation. They asked us to use their services and tools. The client was Google and working for them helped us transform our business. From that moment back in 2017, we really pushed for our collaborators and our partners to work from home or remotely where possible.
On top of that, back in December 2019, there was a huge public transport strike in Paris that forced our company to work from home. Let’s call it training and we learned a lot of lessons during that time, one of which was that some people can feel lonely at home, and others felt that they needed boundaries because it’s easy for the personal and professional spaces to become mixed when working remotely.
We had time to address both of these issues before the pandemic, helping to ensure our people would not feel lonely and give them a sense of a professional environment even remotely.
Which of your values/company values has truly come to life since the beginning of this crisis?
We’ve all tried to be there for each other since the very beginning of this crisis. I saw a lot of solidarity within the team, it’s a vital value for us. That is something I look for when I try to recruit someone. I'm always looking for people willing to help and be collaborative.
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?
During crises, the most important value you should put together is communication. For example, at the very beginning of the pandemic when we were about to lockdown, the first thing I did was email the team and reassure them about everybody’s health, the safety of their jobs, and that even if all our clients were to disappear we could financially survive another couple of months.
We also implemented a video conference call every morning at 10 am, with the whole company, so that people wouldn’t feel lonely. Having people talking on a regular basis is important, as is doing so with the right tools, like Slack, Hangouts, etc.
Making people feel safe in their job and not lonely are two of the main aspects.
What challenges have you faced leading people remotely and how have you had to adapt your style?
The main challenge when working from home for months at a time is that you will never work one hundred percent of your productivity. You often feel you’re not productive enough, and I’ve been feeling that myself. So one of the challenges was how to get the best from our team during this lockdown period. We would encourage them to take some days off, allowing them to rest and come back more productive and focussed.
Are there any businesses you feel have communicated particularly well during the crisis?
The first company that comes to my mind is LVMH who played a massive role in France. It is not much about communication, but they helped in producing the hydroalcoholic gel and face coverings which were much needed. Some people may say that they did it to avoid paying taxes, but it doesn’t really matter to me because a lot of other companies who could have done the same didn’t bother.
Another company is Uber. Their business was close to nothing in France, because no one was taking Ubers anymore. But they communicated every single initiative in terms of drivers wearing masks and Uber drivers helping healthcare professionals like doctors and nurses in such a critical moment. Uber communicated on a regular basis how they were engaged, with humility, in this pandemic.
On the other hand, there was not a lot of room for other companies to communicate in general. So unless you had a very good initiative with a clear and powerful impact on society, it was not really a good time to communicate.
As companies move from reacting to mitigating the impact of the outbreak, what is your strategy to move forward over the coming months?
I think it's the same strategy that we had at the beginning of the pandemic. First, we had to wait, observe and then act. It is a new era for us. At the beginning, we didn't know how it would impact us and our sector, and we didn’t know what communication angle to take. It was uncharted territory. Now we are getting back to normal but there is still a lot of uncertainty as all companies have stopped most of their communication for four months. They will now all want to communicate again so we are getting prepared. This is going to be a very busy moment for the next six months. Everyone will try to communicate at the same time. We expect it to be a beautiful journey.
What do you feel are the major communications challenges once the recovery begins?
Similar to my previous answer, the main challenge is how busy journalists are going to be, and what is the best approach for our clients. It will be a race to get the best story and we need to find important announcements. Big stories will have their place, but for the less important ones, they will have difficulties getting coverage.