How brands benefit from adopting a challenger mindset

In a week where it was announced that the world’s wealthiest people have added $5tr to their bank balances during the pandemic, it would be reasonable to assume that COVID is a rich man’s game. After all, even our own prime minister has exalted the virtues of capitalism as our main route back to normality. Amazon and our friend Bezos are at the front of this list, followed by other traditional Silicon Valley players in Google, Apple, Facebook and Tesla. Of course, there have been other winners too over the last 12 months. Zoom is now a household name, Teamviewer (the remote desktop software) has gone from the last refuge of stressed out employees to sponsor of one of the world’s biggest football clubs (Man United, if you’re interested) and online retailers like Boohoo and ASOS have reported record sales figures to name just a few.  But these names are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to brands that have been able to pivot throughout this pandemic. An iceberg that is largely made up of smaller brands, leagues below these household names in terms of size and stature, but not in their ability to thrive in a time of crisis. For evidence of this, look no further than the fact that 2020 was a record year for British tech start-up investment. Indeed, it is scaleup companies that have demonstrated the best of the attributes that this pandemic has brought to the fore; resiliency, flexibility, adaptability, bravery, skill and no shortage of effort and hard work. It’s something we’ve seen (and are proud of) in our own tech scaleup portfolio who have also understood the essential rules of successful PR during such critical times:   1/ Read the room. The impact of the pandemic has reinforced the notion that the best news is not navel gazing but something that falls into line with the organic agenda. It’s less ‘me, me, me’ and more ‘we, we, we’ and if COVID has sounded the death knell for boring corporate announcements then it has left a positive legacy. This has benefited our smallest clients most, being able to respond to customer challenges and adapt faster to the market demands. Messaging too, has had to move fast to adapt to the fluctuating impact of the virus covering everything from lockdowns, promised return to offices and vaccination programmes. Clients like Actus, which focuses on performance management (now remote) has been a great example. As has Navenio, which focuses on medical technology and getting hospitals back to capacity safely. 2/ Address the issues. This is where technology has come to the fore because, by its very nature, it exists to solve problems and issues, of which COVID has created many. And this is what focus in the media has turned to - how can local businesses connect to customers? How can families still see each other? How can we track and trace the spread of the virus? Ok, some of these have been more successful than others but it underlines the point that the media write about you when you have something to say about the issues troubling the market. COVID has taught us that opinions and actions matter more than ever so it’s worthwhile taking a stance. Arctic Shores has been a totem of insight around the diversity issue, which has seen it feature in The Guardian, while E-days, a client that manages absence and leave, has focused on wellbeing and mental health and secured 120 articles in 12 months. 3/ Small is not a hindrance. Big now seems to be. Because the media agenda is changing rapidly (and with journalists operating remotely and often on reduced hours) rapid response has been a critical weapon in the comms arsenal. As a result, it has shown that small and nimble is often better than big and established. Media need quick comment and that is much more likely if there’s a direct line from agency to spokesperson (as is the case with scaleups) rather than a long and convoluted corporate sign-off process. A short, sharp and snappy comment that is in the journalists inbox before they can Google the latest R-rate has been the order of the day. The best example of this is our delivery experience management client, Sorted, where this process has taken it into some of the UK’s top tier media. 4/ Be brave. As an agency, we’ve had to make some hard choices. Nowhere is this more acute than in revenues and new business. With client budgets being squeezed and projects being put on hold, the temptation is to take what’s on offer and worry about the consequences later. But pandemic or no pandemic, the wrong brief or business for you is still wrong. Conversely, the right client, message, model or team can see spectacular results as agency and client combine and make great work happen. Hence we’ve kept the team motivated, together - and even grown over lockdown. Another example of successfully focusing is Talent Works, which is hiring roles specifically for the scaleup market (over enterprise) and which is resulting in great business traction (and another strong media story). 5/ More than anything, be human. The pandemic has emphasised the virtues of simply being human and we’re about to see mental health as the challenge, after the challenge. Into 2021, and as the pandemic has rolled into year two, we’ve seen many businesses offer employees, customers and suppliers incentives to help - everything from days off and holidays, screen-free time, discounts for goods and simply just cutting people a bit of slack, many of whom have had the hardest and most arduous year of their lives. We’ve all been taught a lesson in humility and are collectively in this when it comes to building back better. As businesses, we’ve been lucky enough to work with many clients in addition to those that have been name dropped here, but no matter where you sit on the size spectrum of a company, the message is the same, ‘prioritise people’, and make sure you work with businesses that feel the same.