Real Talk Webinar Recap: Glimpsing the Future through Global Perspectives

As the world is adjusting to the impact of the initial novel coronavirus outbreak – which has taken its toll on healthcare systems, economies, communities and life as we know it, the United States is also grappling with racial inequality and civil and social unrest.

Jackson Spalding held this webinar prior to the killing of George Floyd. Our goal was to assemble a group of professionals with a range of expertise and a common thread of being located or operating in Asia and Europe to glean insights on how to continue to adapt communications. While the lens of this conversation is specifically COVID-19, we believe the information they shared is relevant for professional communicators as we face this inflection point in our country.

Moderated by JS media relations lead John Tucker, our third installment of the Real Talk Webinar series, “Glimpsing the Future through Global Perspectives” featured panelists:

  • Allyson Park: Global Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Mars Wrigley – the world’s biggest candy company 
  • Scott Reichelt: Regional Managing Director, Asia, Crawford & Company – the largest global independent insurance claims management company 
  • Lena Soh-Ng: CEO, Huntington Communications – a Singapore-based integrated branding and communications agency with clients ranging from Tourism Tasmania to AkzoNobel, a Dutch multinational company.

Moderated by JS media relations lead John Tucker, the conversation focused on how these professionals navigated their businesses and brands through the beginning stages of reemergence. Below is the video of the discussion, along with some key takeaways.

Adaptability is the Name of the Game

Prior to the outbreak, Soh-Ng and her team at Huntington Communications were working to launch this year’s Singapore International Festival of Arts. The event shifted to a digital format and the virtual audience attendance of the festival increased. Soh-Ng predicts incorporating digital experiences for live events will continue to be a more integral part of marketing strategies going forward post-pandemic.

For Recheilt’s team at Crawford & Company, the inability to travel has required innovation and resourcefulness to best address their clients’ needs. Typically, adjusters are on the ground as soon as possible to collect evidence, and the current conditions necessitated advancing technologies already in the pipeline, like 3D imaging tools. By equipping clients with the tools and instruction they need to conduct assessments, Crawford can avoid delays in processing claims.

“That, for us, will completely change the way we do business going forward,” Recheilt predicted.

Amid all the uncertainty, Park advised leaders to think about how to harness the silver linings of the pandemic –  like increased flexibility and the creation of new processes. She said, “This is a time of reinvention. Don’t waste it.”

This perspective can, and perhaps should, be applied to the way organizations evolve to address issues of racial disparity that have been top-of-mind for many in the United States and across the world.  

Be Human

Right now, consumers are taking stock of how brands are responding to this global crisis and the way they are contributing to creating a more just society. Businesses can help alleviate some of the struggles individuals and communities are facing, and those who practice giving back are sure to be remembered favorably.

“This was a good time to create trust,” Soh-Ng pointed out. In the global landscape, she cited UK-based Dyson as a prime example of a company that took initiative to contribute to the fight against COVID-19. “Quite early on, the Dyson CEO announced that they would start manufacturing ventilators.”

When it comes to clients, Reichelt believes the increased intimacy of video calls provides a snapshot of a person’s daily life and has strengthened relationships in ways that otherwise would have been impossible to facilitate.

What’s Best for Your Employees is Best for Your Brand

In the Netherlands, where Mars Wrigley operates the largest chocolate factory in the world – producing 1 million chocolate bars per hour – and serves as one of the biggest employers in the region, the company decided to close its facility on March 25, without being mandated by government restrictions. This was done so the factory could be reconfigured to ensure employee safety.

Park remarked that it was a way to demonstrate the company’s priority is the wellbeing of its people. “When you enable that, you enable consumer safety and their confidence and trust in your brand,” she concluded.

For companies where the majority of employees have shifted to working from home, it’s best to embrace a mindset of flexibility. As Soh-Ng put it, “Don’t worry about the staff. They actually work harder from home. Trust is a big thing.”

Rise Above the Noise

In lieu of consensus on guidelines from national, state and local governments, and the overwhelming, sometimes conflicting information available, companies must stay nimble and focus on clear communication.

Singapore, where both Soh-Ng and Reichelt are based, was initially praised for its ability to contain the spread –  but then its “circuit breaker” lockdown was extended by four weeks as cases began to rise. Amid the shifting expectations and misinformation available, Reichelt explained that Crawford aimed to create a single version of the truth for its staff by creating a resource center to explain the effects of the pandemic on their business.

Reichelt added, “What’s also been critical is the continual personal touch on communications.” To make up for the lack of in-person interaction, he said it’s imperative to maintain one-on-one connections between leadership and employees.

Cultural Nuances Will Affect Global Pandemic Reemergence

We can take chapters out of this group of experts’ books for operations and communications, however there are some uncertainties based on geography and culture. Simply put, every country is handling their response differently. And while the world waits for a vaccine, it’s difficult to foreshadow how the United States will continue to adapt to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Differences in government, technology and privacy concerns set America apart from Asian counterparts, where temperature screenings and tracking technologies have already been commonly accepted.

One thing is universal: As communicators strategize how to reintroduce their brand’s marketing initiatives, it’s best to focus on providing clear, authentic messaging that speaks to your audience.

To help businesses evaluate when and how to put themselves back in the marketing spotlight, we’ve developed a set of thought-starters to identify the right moment for your brand to make a comeback.

You can find the checklist of questions and learn more about our Brandswell process here.