If you didn’t attend Silversoft’s webinar this month, you missed out! A candid chat about the impact that the “COVID-era” has had, and will continue to have on consumers, clients and advertising industries for the foreseeable future. Moderated by Mike Stopforth, with a panel of industry heavy-hitters; Andrew Brand (CEO, 99Cents), Pepe Marais (CEO, Job Public), Monalisa Zwambila (CEO, The Riverbed) and Lynn Madeley (CEO, Havas South Africa), we wanted to highlight some key thoughts and insights from some of the best minds in the industry.

Watch on-demand webinar.

Stopforth rightly points out that “COVID” has become a catch-all phrase that encompasses a few things; Lock-down, behavioural change and overall business challenges, and something that has affected all South Africans in different ways. The “new normal” has also become a popular phrase for many businesses during this era, but as Monalisa Zwambila rightly points out, it is difficult to define a “new normal”. This is still being established for many which will take time, and, will vary from business to business.

What is the new normal?

Agencies, now more than ever, need to ensure that their clients remain relevant. Briefs need to be interrogated and agencies need to ensure that client laggards are being challenged to market to a consumer with a new mindset. Brands need to show up in a way that is meaningful and agencies need to ensure that they are aligning more strategically with their clients to ensure that these new consumer needs are met through executing on effective campaigns that still benefit the client’s bottom line.

Shift in consumer mindset

It is undeniable that there has been a rise of a much more discerning consumer, one that demands of a brand to be more purpose-lead. South African consumers are very dynamic, and have been affected in many different ways. This is something that advertisers must keep in mind during the COVID era.

Andrew Brand, CEO of 99Cents, started his business during a global financial crisis and believes that agencies and brands need to now – more than ever – demonstrate their value to consumers. No “fluff” with a greater drive to be as lean and transparent as possible. This has been the secret behind 99Cent’s success.

Branding is purpose. A sentiment that Pepe Marais strongly believes. The only way to move forward is for brands to not only ensure that they have a purpose, but also that they take true action to build all campaigns and messaging around this purpose. Lip-service is not going “cut” it anymore. “Perhaps COVID has come to raise the consciousness of business – to move into a higher order of doing business. Consumers buy into what they believe in, not what you are selling”, says Marais.

Technology and automation

One aspect of “new normal” that is undeniable, is the increased use of technology for many. Informal meetings around the water cooler have been replaced with online meetings. WhatsApp has become the follow ups on emails and new tools for remote collaboration have been implemented.

Technology has the ability to transform a lot of what we do. Andrew Brand points out that a lot of what we do is not a science, it is an art. Technological advances in agencies is not about replacing humans, but rather ensuring that they can perform their tasks efficiently. Reducing mundane tasks is key, not replacing the creative thinker or the creative process.

Working from home as a new normal

A poll conducted during the webinar revealed that 60% of the audience felt that working from home had not been a deterrent to their day-to-day jobs. Employees are being more efficient, are responding to client needs effectively and most are adapting to this way of working. But, humans need interaction. Madeley and Marais both believe that moving forward, the “work-from-home” vs “office based” models will be blended. Office space will not be as necessary as before and could be the perfect way to balance productivity with interaction.

Another COVID-era trend that has been accelerated, is the availability of talented freelance workers due to many retrenchments and agency downsizing. South Africa has been behind the curb until now when it comes to the willingness to utilize a freelance/contract workforce – which is likely to change. With a shift in focus, agencies are slowing starting to realise that if you have the right people working for you, it doesn’t matter if they are permanent or freelance staff. A lot of agencies have had to downsize, therefore increasing the talent pool of skilled people on the job market. Freelancing provides huge value to a client. There will always be a need for full time staff – a way to ensure quality work is produced as well as continuity and culture. The gig economy has been around for a while, perhaps now it is being fast-tracked.

How have agency processes changed?

Lynn Madeley doesn’t believe that agency processes have changed per se. What has changed are the roles that certain people play within the agency. “The COO has become the most important person in our business” Lynn adds. Zwambila adds that instead of retrenching staff in her business within portfolios like eventing, she has utilized these employees in different roles such as client service. Of course the way in which agencies are working has changed; having to quickly adapt to an online world, but core business processes have remained largely the same.

Is now the time to advertise more or less?

Pepe Marais believes that now is the time to advertise better! We are in the business of advertising, not process. We have become admin people rather than Ad-men or Ad-women. Whether budgets are shrinking or not, agencies need to do better work. In this digital world that we live in, we need to be cognisant of the fact that advertising is not about impressions, but rather engagement. Marais hopes that COVID will bring us back to creativity. “Maybe now is the time to bring art back to advertising?” Marais says.

Final remarks and advice for surviving COVID

Andrew Brand:
“A lot of change is still to come, but more will stay the same. People are slow to change, but there are a number of valuable lessons coming out from the COVID and BLM movements. It’s the ultimate reset button, and many agencies and employees will survive this storm.”
Pepe Marais:
“The more you go into service, the more naturally you make money. Human beings and agencies need to go back to adding value and authentic purpose to their lives, and the brands that they work with.”
Lynn Madeley:
“Exercise, eat well, talk to people and find structure in your day. I am a huge believer in health and wellness during stressful times.”
Monalisa Zwambila:
“Humans are resilient. We will probably see that we are all stronger than we thought we were and use this strength as a pivot to do the things that we thought we were incapable of.”