What a week.
It wasn’t too long ago that I was looking at sunnier climes, a forecast that confidently predicted our eighth year of meteoric growth, and a portfolio of engaging work for an array of enviable clients.
Well, I’ve certainly misplaced my optimism before, just as much as I’ve looked at the world through rose-tinted spectacles, just as much as I’ve gazed at the horizon and seen blue skies where others forecasted rain.
But who can forecast a pandemic? Where's that line item on the balance sheet? What harbour can shield a business from this kind of buffeting?
Last Monday, many looked ahead with dread, but few anticipated the speed and sheer scale of the business bloodbath we'd see by Friday. I have friends, valued collaborators, fellow practitioners in the world of experiential, events, sponsorship and hospitality in deep trouble – all in a few short days. Good people travelling through bad times.
As for us, we have substantial contracts linked to the Euros 2020, the Europa League, and the Premier League. Glastonbury going down has put all our festival work under 'review' – a word, along with cancelled, postponed and deferred that I’ll be happy to never hear again. My responsibilities to the people around me have been paramount in my concerns.
If, in the best traditions of Darwinism, you have to adapt your business to survive, then just how do we, as a sector, do that? Especially when everyone is working remotely.
Here’s two ways straight off the bat…
Remoteness is not an option: Be more human.
I was inspired by my colleague Balpreet Mangat, an MKTG managing partner, who suggested on our fifth day of stir-crazy remote working that we have an all-agency virtual lunch, desktop cameras on, using Microsoft Teams.
We chatted over our home-made non-Pret sandwiches about non-work, non-crisis related stuff. What followed was heart-warming.
Colleagues held their toddlers up to the cameras. I waved my Shih Tzu at everyone (my kids are too big to wave at a webcam) and we compared what was on our plates – a lunch off so to speak. The session reminded everyone of our connectedness, our common humanity, and that we all like each other – that we were more than colleagues. It was morale boosting. More of which will help any business sail through this storm – and the moral of the story…
Working remotely doesn’t mean acting remote.
Keep in touch, keep it regular, set goals to achieve as a collective, brush up your skills in using sharing tools such as Teams (it’s amazing how many people don’t appreciate or know their full functionality) schedule more one on ones, more team chats, but most of all;
Do it with the webcam on.
It’s not the same as being there in person, but it’s the next best thing.
Maintaining team morale helps ensure everyone is in the optimal frame of mind to get behind the next essential task…
Reinvention is the only option: Be more Darwin.
We are now seeing the extension of ‘remote working’ into ‘remote leisure’.
Look around, there’s a steady stream of self-isolating pioneers breaking new ground. Defected Records hosted the first ever virtual rave today (March 20th) an all-night music marathon streamed on social, with a stellar line up of DJs working in quarantine from the Ministry of Sound.
In the wake of film festival shut-downs, Little Black Book has created an online club of indie and short films featuring the work of those same filmmakers only recently disappointed by the closure of the festivals showing their works.
Increasingly house bound teens are downloading the multi-user video chat app Houseparty in buckets, and The Guardian only this week described Netflix Parties as a lifesaver – a restoration of the long-lost communal approach to watching Telly.
Meanwhile, both John Legend and Coldplay's Chris Martin, in recognition that they won’t have much to do in summer, have been streaming acoustic sessions on their social channels to reach those imprisoned at home.
All these things considered; it might be that Remote Leisure is the buzz phrase waiting to happen. Which makes it urgent for us folks working in the world of real-world experience to redeploy our skills to make the virtual experience as visceral and as engaging as the physical.
Well, at MKTG we are collaborating with our stablemates at the world’s premier digital talent agency Gleam Futures.
As we find ourselves locked up at home in spring, why not create a fully remote festival for spring cleaning with Instafmous Mrs Hinch? How about doing a remote, mass participation wellness, mindfulness and health retreat while you self-isolate? We are looking at organising the world’s first virtual Pride parade just in case the worst happens and that cancels too.
We are only limited by our creativity, the technology already exists to make it happen, as does the public thirst to participate. Coronavirus has changed the way the world works in so many ways – for good and bad. Conversely, it has brought us together while keeping us apart. It may even make us kinder. It will certainly change the way we do business and for us people in the experience sector, at least for the foreseeable, we must adapt to survive – experiential Darwinism.
Now, got to rush, I’m dropping into a remote after works drinks do with my colleagues. Pass the bottle opener.
By Michael Brown, Managing Director