ELM News | 106 MIN READ

[Free Webinar Replay] A Panel Of Marketing, Ad, & PR Pros Offer Advice On Navigating COVID-19

Watch This Free Webinar Replay With A Panel Of Agency Pros Offering Advice On Navigating The COVID-19 Crisis

Recently, Early Light Media hosted a special live event on Zoom moderated by ELM Co-founder and Creative director David Larson. Join us and top agency thinkers for a virtual panel on how businesses, marketers, and communication experts are planning the transition to reopen from COVID-19.

Our Panel Of Experts Include:  

  • Kara Redman – Owner | CEO at Backroom
  • Matt McDermott – AVP of Creative Strategy at idfive
  • Ashlene Larson – Director of Public Relations | Social Media at Planit Agency
  • Jess Brown – Creative Director at TBC
  • Darren Durlach – Creative Director | Co-Owner at Early Light Media

Here’s the transcript as well!


David Larson, Creative Director / Early Light Media – Thanks everyone for joining us. For this Webinar on COVID-19 and kind of preparing for the future. Hopefully, we all walk away learning something from this. I know it’s been crazy times for a lot of us. Things are moving fast and there’s a little bit of a feeling like we’re walking around in the dark a bit and we can activate today our collective brain and hopefully walk away learning something. I for one I’m just thankful that it was a reason to put on a colored shirts on my hair. I’ve been walking around looking like Nick Nolte’s mugshot recently, so this is kinda nice. Yeah, the world has been greatly impacted by the virus, we know it. The ad agency, marketing agency, other businesses, no exception. Our hope today is to spark some good conversation around the current situation as we look towards reopening. I’ve set my kids up with lunch in a movie, in another room and hopefully that’ll buy me at least an hour before they come or knock. And so we’re gonna try to keep this to a tight hour and roll out at 1:30 I’m your moderator today, Dave Larson. I’m the director, a director and co-founder at Early Light Media and we have a fantastic group of professionals on our panel today. Let me jump in and introduce to you a quick introduction. We’ve got Matt McDermott, associate VP of creative by IdFive. IdFive is an integrated marketing and social design agency for brands on a mission. They help clients in education, health, nonprofits, and government make a positive dent in the world. We’ve got Jess Brown, creative director at TBC. TBC is a full service agency that turns customer insights into effective media and creative solutions. We’ve got Kara Redmand, CEO of Backroom. Backroom is a brand and activation agency that creates brand identity systems, messaging frameworks, and websites for bold companies that inspire people. And Ashlene Larson, director of public relations and social media for Planit. Planit is a strategic digitally-minded agency that leads revolutions from national and global clients. Whether that’s through a variety of media channels, PR social. And the next big thing if it isn’t bold, creative, and smart, well they’re just not doing their job. And last but not least, we’ve got Darren Durlach, my brother from another mother, a director and co-founder of Early Light Media. Early Light Media is a production company that puts social responsibility first using video as a medium to capture the interconnectivity as humans in a way that is both beautiful and

Darren Durlach, Creative Director / Early Light Media – Which was written by Kara Redmond.

David Larson, Creative Director / Early Light Media – Yes, exactly. So welcome everyone, thanks for coming. Thanks for joining. A couple of ground rules before we get started real quick. This is meant to be a Q and A conversation style thing. No presentations were were created for this. We want, we encourage, we hope everyone asks questions. Please, we want you to leave here, finding something out and feeling informed. So if you have questions, the only thing we ask is open up that chat box at the bottom, type your question in. Just to kind of keep some order, I’ll ask the question. With that said though, if you have a particularly complicated question or something that requires a lot of context, we’re happy to open up the mic to you. Just let me know, give me a heads-up in the Q and A, I’ll get to everybody in order as they come in. Okay, so please ask questions, we wanna get to them and we wanna hopefully spark some good dialogue. Now, couple real quick updates just on what’s going on, just to kind of level the playing field. As of this morning, I think Maryland had about, I don’t know a little over 26,000. Actually I do know, I’ve got the numbers. A little over 26,000 confirmed cases. We’re at a stay at home order still and the governor is slowly beginning to roll out his roadmap to recovery, a plan to get things moving again. That lays out low medium, high risk initiatives. I think there’s still a ton more to come. This is obviously a fast changing situation and we’re all trying to figure things out. So with that said, let’s kick it off with our first question. This one is a group question, but we’ll go down and give everybody a chance to answer. The question is, how has this situation impacted your company and your ability to serve your clients? Matt, we’ll start off with you.

Matt McDermott, AVP of Creative Strategy / idFive – Sure, thanks for having me, everybody. It’s good to fake see your faces. I think outside looking in, it probably doesn’t look much different for our clients. They still have complete access to us. We’ve made the transition promoted about as seamlessly as anybody could because we do have a number of staff located around the country and even out of the country. We just had to make sure that the tech was there, that the maturity within the folks was there. But we are definitely seeing some uncertainty from clients. We see people talking about pulling budgets back and watching every dollar more closely. Because we focus very heavily on measurement with the, not only what we create, but also the way we flight it and the way we measure it. I think it’s still business as usual. I think they just appreciate it, so it’s cool a bit more now.

David Larson, Creative Director / Early Light Media – Sure, yeah. I think that all makes sense. Jess, what about you over TBC, what are you guys saying?

Jess Brown, Creative Director / TBC – So, I think to echo what Matt said, it is in some ways a lot of business as usual for our clients. They’re still seeing the same level of engagement with us. I do think they tend to be a bit more appreciative. I will say for us, the one thing we’ve had to do, even though we were fairly accustomed to having some folks remote on a regular basis, we’ve had to identify kind of day parts that became these like no-fly zones where people were allowed to sort of tend to their lives, work, children, whatever it is throughout the day as an organization. Just to let people kind of feel a little more natural in this kind of constant work from home situation. So that’s one thing we’ve seen. And then I think we’ve organically seen some teams outside of our traditional status meetings and teen group meetings, early morning check-ins, right? Before the day really starts going, I feel like we’ve gone from being an agency of night owls to early birds in some weird way. But all in all it is kind of business as usual.

David Larson, Creative Director / Early Light Media – Kara, what about you over Backroom with… You guys do a lot with websites, brand identity messaging, what are you guys finding?

Kara Redman, Backroom / CEO – We really, the first really week and a half of the shutdown found ourselves forced into this mobilized crisis communications mode, right? And there’s a lot of empathy on our team and our question and I think this is true for everybody on this panel. I know you guys too are almost like, how can we help? When you’re suddenly pushed into a position of like, hey, we’re not suffering. It is kind of business as usual. We haven’t taken too much of a hit in terms of ongoing revenue, so it becomes, what’s our little slice of the pie that we have that’s our guests that we can give to the people around us. So we were offering free social posts to the restaurants and community folks around us that needed help. Just promoting like we give card sales right now just to stay afloat. So, we just I think really had a neat opportunity to see what we’re able to create and do when we’re under that kind of pressure and able to help the people that we care about, which are people in our lives, but also our clients, the people that we work with. But I think it’s really made us take a step back with our clients in terms of the types of things that they’re doing, right? So it’s, hey, do we pause our paid media campaigns or don’t we? Is that sensitive, is that insensitive? We need to keep our lights on. We have services that still help people right now, but is it too soon? But there’s just so much uncertainty, so we really just seen that a lot of our clients and ourselves and just turn into a lot more human and there’s a lot more like raw authenticity, not just steal some language from your brand, but it’s more of a how can we be humans in this and show empathy and that we get each other and really be helpful versus continuing to promote, promote, promote.

David Larson, Creative Director / Early Light Media – Yeah, now that makes a lot of sense. Actually, you guys you’re doing a lot of PR and social over at Planit. What are you guys finding right now?

Ashlene Larson, Director of PR / Planit – So I don’t wanna repeat what a lot of people have said. We’ve been completely remote since March 16th. I think the client experience has largely been unchanged. Many of our clients aren’t even in Maryland, so that’s one thing that’s a positive. And I think the thing that we’ve been noticing is, so Planit is about 60 people. We’re very culture-driven environment and so a lot of people wanna see each other that’s why they work at Planit, is ’cause they like seeing the people they work with. And so our challenge has been, how do we keep that culture going with employee morale and how do we support parents who are like me and Dave working from home with our children, nipping at our heels and how do we support the younger people who maybe are living alone and feel really disconnected? So we’ve been doing obviously virtual happy hours is like become a big thing, but we have a culture committee that started this, like pay it forward thing where we’re sending little gifts to each other and just trying to keep a bit of that Planit culture going virtually, to remind people why they work for the company, which is a lot of it has to do with the people we work with. And that’s like a big part of what makes Planit what it is.

David Larson, Creative Director / Early Light Media – Yeah, and obviously Darren, we’ve seen some changes on our end. When we touch a little bit too, what are some of the big things that we’ve noticed during this time period for Early Light Media?

Darren Durlach, Creative Director / Early Light Media – Sure. Well let’s become, I think that all of us in these agencies we are relationship-driven. I think that all the agencies here probably don’t spend a ton of time traditionally marketing themselves. You just add value to the relationships and you try to communicate well and provide solutions to people that you work with. I think for us we found that the relationships that we’ve, that have really flourished over the years. Some of our clients have been working with us since we started seven years ago. And it’s those relationships that have helped us get through this. And trying to find ways to help them, right? And so, obviously out of any of the groups here, our work requires, at least half of our work requires physical presence, right? We have to film and we’ve shoot. And so we have really in a cool way, I think as a company just been brainstorming a lot about how do we help people right now, even though we’re a video marketing company and a lot of our work is video production, how do we help people? And I think so it’s come down to coming with solutions like going back to the tricks of the trade, like digging into our archives and repurposing content that we’ve filmed massive archives for some of our clients. Going to animation, graphics work. With digital, there’s so many ways to create content without being in person, especially now where Zoom video is becoming the bar for video quality. Fortunately and unfortunately. I think fortunately because it actually opens a door for a lot of people to use video and create educational series and things like that that don’t require high-end production. And unfortunately, just because we take pride in making pretty video.

David Larson – That’s great, and I think that’s a good jumping off point. I’m just sticking with you, Darren. We’ve got our first question in the chat box from Dana Discordia. I think I’m saying that right, Discordia over at Gin and Burger. What things will need to be in place before you and your clients will be comfortable allowing some live action shooting onstage or locations?

Darren Durlach – Well, that’s a good question. That’s something that we’ve wrestled with since the beginning when we first, when this first started and everything completely shut down The week before it completely shut down, we offered free leadership message videos for clients just to be a megaphone and say hey, the avalanches coming, get out of the way. And since then everything’s kind of been this sort of like, should we shoot, should we not shoot? Some of that comes down to legal advice from our lawyers. And some of that comes down to just being ethical and practical. So right now, it’s obviously a phased thing, so as we learn more from Governor Hogan and leadership, government leadership. You know, when it comes to loosening up to where 10 people are allowed to crowd again, and that’s acceptable. Most of video shoots, you have kind of these bigger commercial shoots that can require bigger crews, but the bulk of video trends is going towards digital. And with digital videos, when I say digital, I mean like explainer videos and testimonials, and social, and educational series, and web series. All that, can be shot with less than 10 people. So, I think once that starts to open up, it opens up a lot of doors. And I think you’re gonna see a lot more masks on set. You’re gonna see, there’s hand sanitizers is not going away anytime soon. And then, probably some audio techniques, whereas we might put a little mic on somebody before we might use a boom mic, stuff like that, practical things. But right now I think we’re trying to wait to see how the energy shifts.

David Larson – That’s perfect, and for those following along in the chat section, Paper Camera just posted an article that she found helpful on how to work on set. I haven’t seen that article yet, so I’ll check that out after this. But if you guys wanted to click on it, it’s in the chat section. We have another question from Justin Kownacki. How are you advising your clients in terms of longterm and short term planning strategy and budgeting? Matt, I’ll kick it over to you for this question.

Matt McDermott – Can you guys hear me? Sorry, okay Boomer. All right, that’s a rookie move right there. As far as how we approach it, there’s a couple of things and part of it is the way we set it up to begin with. Before we take on a client, we do a pre-mortem. A lot of times what you’ll see at people doing post-mortems, what went wrong? What we’re doing is we’re assuming stuff is going to go wrong and we try to spec out every single possibility. So things like budget changes, losing key contexts, clients ghosting you. All of those things are kind of built in ahead of time. So for those of you who haven’t already planned for that, that doesn’t help much. But moving forward, at least for budgets and creative, what we’re doing is we’re already starting to have conversations about how are we going to stretch those budgets that we already had funded. How are we gonna stretch those longer, what can we do, what can we adjust? Our accounting is really good at measuring that. Whether it is the media buy or the labor funds. We’re also just setting up more frequent calls. Depending on the type of engagement we have, some clients are really leaning heavily on us to help them figure it out and sometimes just keep them from touching the stove. But in other situations, they really kind of already have an operating procedure and it’s just, it’s up to us to work as smoothly with them as possible.

David Larson – I was saying that this is obviously a big question. Let’s get another perspective. Kara, I’m curious on your end of things, how are you advising your clients in terms of planning strategy and budgeting, things like that. Do you have anything to add to Matt’s answer?

Kara Redman – No, Matt has a great point of like preparation. I think just for most of us who’ve been in the industry of client services for a long time, we just know that prevention is the best medicine, right? So just setting up that foundation of success and doing the risk assessments for sure. But really it’s case by case basis. We’ve had clients come in and go like, okay, we have no idea what’s happening next and you don’t either. And we just said hey, let’s pull your PEA budget all the way down to like the bare minimum and just to like keep something going, see what happens. And we’ve really moved to a month sort of planning for some of our clients that are on that more legend brand awareness, like campaigning level. Because we have no idea normally what human behavior is gonna be through digital media. And now we have this additional wrench of like, we have no idea if people have an appetite for things, is some target audiences that we have for our clients are worried about if they can pay their rent or not versus buying products. So it’s really just a huge testing environment with a big risk of turning folks off. So the budget recommendations that we’re making are really like, what’s the impact that you want to have? What’s the risk associated with getting a certain message out? Are you being tone deaf to your audience’s specific needs? But making sure also we don’t just kind of go away, right? There’s this happy medium and how do we stay in touch with our customers throughout this, but at the same time not look like we’re self-promoting or capitalizing on really horrible situation on to get our name out there. So, it’s really case by case and it’s depending on what each client needs to kind of stay afloat and what their customers need from them right now.

David Larson – That’s perfect. And Jess Brown, how are you guys? Have you guys shifted your approach to creative when dealing with your clients? Are you advising them or do you have new ideas in terms of how they interact with audience? How are you guys, how does this change your approach to create ?

Jess Brown – Hi Joe. I would say first and foremost, we have those, that kind of crisis management right off the bat, right? Unfortunately for some of our clients, they were about to push go on major national campaigns that had creative in some cases, even involving Olympic athletes, that were about to go live and days before everything went completely. So, there was that immediate need to be nimble and triaged a lot of the creative work that was the market. I think what we saw in that first run was some creativity coming from unexpected places, right? And we’re able to kind of hand the camera over to learn maybe their cell phone over more appropriately said to athletes in that particular case. And we saw a lot of the talent and the folks that we had been working with, once upon a time on set, stepping up and layering in their own personality to send it back to us, so to edit new spots, and create new executions that are appropriate for right now and then we’ll get us over the hump. I think longterm, what we’re starting to think about from a creative strategy standpoint is not thinking about this situation going away. So everything that we’re doing now, we’re thinking about it in terms of scale. Is it appropriate, three months from now, six months from now, eight months from now? And that has a lot to do with staying authentic to whatever that brand stands for, the product and the services that are offered, what their relevance is at that time and trying to not create a situation in which we’re producing too much creative now? But in six months, nine months, a year, it will be outdated. So trying to think of the creative production budget as something that has to live a lot longer. And so we have to be very, very calculative in the type of messaging and really executional direction we go in.

David Larson – You know, it seems to me that as this goes on, I totally agree that I think this is not going away quickly. We certainly all probably have varying levels of optimism in terms of when maybe the train will get chugging forward again. And certainly, we’ve all gone through various stages. Ashlene, I’m wondering from a PR level in the beginning it was a lot about crisis, maybe communication, how companies are dealing with as quickly, but how has the messaging changed as we’ve kind of, we’re now in what week eight, I think week nine, something like that. I don’t know. Week eight, how has things progressed? How have things changed and how do you see them changing moving forward?

Ashlene Larson – Yeah, that’s a good question. So I think like many of all of you probably, initially we were all in crisis mode with our clients. So the messaging was very much reactive. Even though we had crisis plans for many of our clients in place this isn’t a situation we had anticipated. The word unprecedented has been used so many times. I don’t wanna say it again, but it really was like no one has ever seen anything like this. And we’re still working through some crisis situations with clients. Some of our clients have to announce every time, one of their staff members gets diagnosed. They’re still closing store locations. They’re having to make media statements about that. And so we are still working through that with some of our clients. Most of our clients I would say, have shifted into this kind of stabilization mode with their messaging where they are trying to figure out, like just said, how long is this gonna last and what is relevant now and what will be relevant for the foreseeable future in terms of what we’re saying. We have seen this backlash with people don’t wanna be sold to necessarily, but that doesn’t mean you stop marketing. So it’s this finding this balance between telling people, we have something to offer you and maybe shifting it to the way the company is supporting you in your new normal, whether that’s at home, whether that’s through social distancing. Obviously, certain products are not gonna be able to be really heavily advertised, right now travel. I don’t know how you advertise travel right now. Thank God I don’t have any travel clients, but I think just being sensitive to the messaging that’s appropriate for this new normal is super important. We’ve turned off all of our automatic like social media posts, just so that every day we look at it with fresh eyes, given the information today, does this post still make sense to go live? Because it’s when you start having these automatic things. And I think that’s where a lot of companies got caught early on, was they had campaigns that they press go on and it now the next day felt highly insensitive and was like a huge blunder for the company. So I think right now we’re just stabilizing, we’re figuring out what’s relevant for now with what we know and then the next phase that I’m anticipating is gonna be this kind of growth innovation phase where how has thing, how have things shifted and how are you still going to continue growing as a company or reaching your customers in new ways. And that’s obviously to be seen, but that’s what I look forward to next is kind of this innovation that’s gonna come out of all of this and hopefully, that’ll kind of pull us all out, eventually.

Darren Durlach – Actually, he mentioned something that I just thought was interesting. It’s like people don’t want the product advertising, right now or like the normal things, but I saw a LinkedIn post a couple of days ago in which someone said, I saw a Subaru commercial or something like that and it didn’t say anything about COVID-19 and it was just so nice. Where do you guys stand on the, is it okay to laugh now? Is it refreshing for people to see some normalcy?

Ashlene Larson – Yeah, I’m sure the creative folks will have their own viewpoint on this too. I’m looking at Jess right now. But I think people are a little tired of the, in this uncertain time, like that opening, but you still need to be sensitive. So it’s like, I think just looking at things from a, in the sense of what’s authentic to your brand is it’s so cliche to say that, but it’s true. If you’re just saying what would this brand say? We’re working on a home building product campaign right now and it’s just about how home is important. That’s all we’re trying to say. Just like home is important right now and it’s not gonna talk about COVID-19, it’s not gonna talk about how scary it is. It’s just like, hey, we’re all stuck at home and home is really important right now. So I think just figuring out where your brand coincides with what’s going on in like an authentic sensitive way is important.

David Larson – Yeah, and kind of sticking with that, you guys kind of touched upon it. Jess, I’ll kick it over to you since you were kinda mentioned, but you know, there obviously has been a lot of attention on a lot of ad agencies going to similar route. We’re all in this together, that type of thing. What are you guys finding? Are you guys starting leaning away from that messaging? What are you turning your attention towards now?

Jess Brown – Generally speaking, we have not encouraged many of our clients to go that route. But it doesn’t mean that we haven’t encouraged tremendous amounts of sensitivity and empathy in terms of how we’re messaging things. And we’ve had to make some very specific pivot. Like I said earlier in creative, it was about to go live or had just gone live. But we really haven’t gone so far as to lead with an unprecedented time message or they’re all here for each other sentiment because frankly it didn’t make sense for any of the clients that we were providing service to. We had some CPG brands that you know for them, they’re still, in some cases they’re providing food, it’s food. So there’s no real reason why we can’t be aware of what’s happening, the circumstances around us, and continue to market and advertise their products without getting caught in a strange place. I think for us, we have the benefit of that. I’m sure there are certain brands, particularly in travel and some of those blue chip brands where it was kind of a moment of what do we do now? We didn’t see this coming, but for us, we’ve really been able to steer clear some of those cliches and just focus on an authentic message that was right for that client, dialing back to media where it’s appropriate and really moving forward with that approach.

David Larson – And speaking with, talking about the approach. Matt, I’m taking it over to you now. Have you guys found with your clients and with, is there an audience? Or I’m sorry, is there a channel in which audience are responding best during this time? Are you finding a lot of ground in terms of email or social campaigns, paid ads, TV, like things like that. Obviously production has been halted, so I’m sure like getting new commercials is a little bit more challenging, but are you guys seeing any change in channels in which you’re getting more response from audiences than others?

Matt McDermott – I don’t know that I’m necessarily seeing a change in channels. I think the channels that have continued to deliver results from a direct response standpoint and particularly from a measureability standpoint continue to be search social email. If anything, those are going to be some of the channels. People are gonna double down on brands of all sizes because they are going to be looking to scrutinize their media buys a lot more. They’re going to need to be able to, even if it’s a brand campaign, be able to measure that that dollar that was so hard earned is going to perform and that they have something to point back to because you figure they’re laying off hundreds of people, some of these larger brands and they owe it to not only their workforce, but I guess, to a lesser extent to their stockholders to be able to show that they’re able to move the needle still. I think everyone is going to be pulling back to some extent. There’s the old adage that in times of crisis or recession, that’s when you should be adding to your marketing dollars to get a leg up and I very rarely see that happen. And I think in this case we’re gonna find that that’s going to be a real challenge.

David Larson – Yeah, I mean budget shrinking certainly, we’ve seen the impact there. Darren, maybe you can touch a little bit upon that. How’s video marketing changing with all of the budgets being adjusted? As this unfolds, there’s a lot of unknowns. What are you finding? And I think your mute, bro.

Darren Durlach – Thanks bro. I think Matt made a great point that people should be increasing their marketing dollars. I think from a video marketing standpoint, prior to COVID-19, everything was going digital anyways. So that was already on a sharp incline. So one of the tools that we happen to do that is only all that… When things go digital all that does is make video more important. And the reason is because so like there’s I was just reading a quote from Salesforce that was saying that most customers go through half of the buying process independently without reaching out to the company they’re interested in. And so, what that tells me is that people wanna learn on their own. They’re a little bit less likely to call a sales team. And so, if anything has been changed by COVID-19, from a marketing standpoint, from my standpoint is, that digital is only becoming more accelerated and that videos a big part of that. And so, whether that’s… It used to be that in a these sales funnel, the video would just be part of the awareness portion. You’d make a commercial and you’d send it out to the masses and that would send them to your company and you talk to a sales person. But these days, video plays a part in the entire sales funnel process, which I’d like to call a story funnel, if I can. So I think from a video stand standpoint if you think of it like a story funnel, you have act one which is awareness. Just like in a film or a play, that’s the kickoff event. Then in act two, you have consideration that sort of the journey. And then act three is conversion, which is the resolution in a three act play. And so, from a video standpoint, a storyteller’s, really this just gives us the ability to tell a more interactive story from beginning to end with video, whether it’s… Videos that you can do yourself, right? So, you can do an educational series using your webcam. And as we talked about earlier, it’s even become more acceptable with Zoom and the way things are going. And then we’re usually, you wanna pay more for video would be when you identify those tried and true messages along your story funnel, like for testimonials or explainers or things like that that are very brand heavy and don’t change over the period of 18 months, 24 months. So I think from a video’s marketing standpoint, it’s only gonna go up. It’s just a matter of budgets going down and what can you spend your money on? And I think it’s a time when if you can, you don’t wanna cut those ad dollars or those marketing dollars because it is the time to get ahead. And like Google search like Matt was talking about is actually cheaper now, right? So, it’s an auction system, so it’s cheaper because less people are advertising and so now’s the time to do it.

David Larson – Get that money where it matters, it’s all right. Kara, I’m wondering from you, have you, through your journeys, through all this, have you seen a brand out there that’s doing it particularly well? Someone that stands out as someone who’s really been nailing it through this entire thing?

Kara Redman – I do, and if you don’t mind, I wanna expand on some points that Darren has just made too because I love, they can be hearing words like Matt talking about doubling down on social and email and I’m doing more interactive things and that’s something that’s really cool that we’ve seen. And I think this is a theme sort of across COVID is like the rules don’t really apply. There’s a lot more flexibility, everyone’s kind of easier on each other. And we’re seeing things like if we have to double down on social, right, what does that mean? Look at all the texts you’re seeing and Instagram social posts all of a sudden, right? This whole rule of like it has to be very visual and then the caption has all the information and here are the hashtags is all gone because we’re working with limited resources and so we’re having to get really creative with, here are the channels that we really have our audience’s attention with. Here are the messages that we have and so we’re able to do things that we weren’t able to do before. The amount of animation that my team has done in the past month is probably more than we did last year because we’re having to get more creative with the types of content that we’re putting out versus, hey you, the whole world is our oyster and which channel do we choose? We don’t have that option anymore. So, I think the same things that Darren kind of saying with like doing more interactive stuff on your own and when do you choose premium versus doing more things with the tools that you already have. It’s content has become everybody’s playground and it’s a really cool thing to see, so I wanted to touch on that. And I think just in terms of brands who are doing things well or not, I think that any time of crisis, which is what we’re in right now. Crisis makes people, and brands are people more of what they already are, right? It’s not like, oh, this thing has changed me. The people who already are in business or show up to work every day because they feel themselves of service to other people, find themselves called to be of more service. People who are constantly looking at their bottom line and how can I cut this, cut that, fire that person, get this person out on maternity leave, so I don’t have to pay them. That mindset becomes more of that and protecting your little squirrely acorns. So I think what’s neat is the brands that we’ve already trusted are doing things that make us trust them more. And I’ll just throw a couple out just from both personal experience and just cool things that we see our clients doing. Like we’re all playing games more, I think on our phones right now, at least those of us who are not locked in with children. Sorry, the rest of you, it’s great over here. There’s a game that I play called Two Dots and it’s just a real stupid connect the dots game. I don’t know if anybody else likes it. They’ve just been giving away three free hours of game time because you know, once you run out of lives, you’re done. Just as a nice little hey, we know you’re stuck at home and we want you to feel good. And this will just those little tiny moments that make you feel more connected. And I know we all suffer from different things during this and for mine it’s been isolation and be separated from my family for 40 days. And I’m used to having my kids and my partner and it’s usually mayhem. So, I struggled with that and it’s those little tiny of micro moments where it’s like you have something, right? You have somebody there, you have a thing. We have a couple of clients that are in like biodefense, and biosecurity, and food sanitation. The one that’s biodefense, they have a tool that detects various pathogens that come in through the mail system. And they’re fast tracking a product to potentially detect COVID and on those surfaces and eventually get into some clinical trials with humans. We have a company that does sterilization for agriculture and food safety that just happened to have the ability to create mass amounts of hand sanitizer. They don’t sell it, right? They’re a massive B2B distribution partner channel company and they immobilized to do that. So I think that it goes back to what I said earlier about like, what’s that thing that you have and what can you do more of and are you protecting your knots or not? And just to name drop a little, but I think the Foreman Wolf has done an incredible job of scaling everything back and they’re selling gift cards, so that they can buy food for their staff. And those ways of like, yes, the business is obviously suffering. This is a very incredibly busy time for restaurants, like February and March is when everyone kind of goes out to eat ’cause the holidays are over. And when you can stop and say, okay wait, how do we take care of our people first? I think it’s heartwarming there’s so much humanity in that. I wanna go to the Foreman and Wolf restaurants as soon as this is over to help, support and give that back. Because it’s a set time where you see brands taking care of each other more than they’re taking care of themselves.

Matt McDermott – I think that authenticity is such an important part of it too because you are seeing so many of these ads, these random together ads. And yet I think the public is getting wise to some of those bigger brands who they may talk a good game, but they have some of the worst records when it comes to employee safety or paid healthcare or paid time off. So when someone like McDonald’s or Walmart says, hey guys, we’re in this together, I think you’re seeing a lot more people call bullshit on that and that’s where that fake authenticity can really fight you.

Kara Redman – Yeah, that’s a good point Matt and I think that there’s, there are people who get it and there are people who don’t, right? And it’s this idea of we’re in it together, but not really ever having any hardships there and not knowing what that actually means. And I think it’s been interesting and I’m sure everyone on this call can relate to this as we’ve seen that crisis happens and people get divided into the ones that jump in and just start doing stuff, right to help and to fix and putting on great conferences like this. And those that are sitting back and looking for pity or saying that we’re in it together and talking the talk, but not really doing anything. And the unfortunate part of that is the ones that are talking about, they get the most visibility, but there’s not really any substance behind it. But if you really look, and it’s not hard to do in Baltimore specifically because this community is so strong. The ones that are jumping in like near Kitchen Collective who’s a group immigrant women who are refugees and they’re cooking for the community that’s accepted them in. It’s like there’s little underdog pockets of brands that are doing such great work, that are really saving the day. Meanwhile, McDonald’s is going, we got this, right? So, it’s not hard to find. I mean we all consent authenticity and you’re right Matt, calling that bullshit. It’s real easy when you see that there’s no power behind the words.

David Larson – I think one of the things that throughout this entire thing that has been resonating with me and you guys are touching upon it is leadership. It really shows on a number of scales, whether it’s political, business-related, whatever, how are leaders showing up? How is leadership coming through? And I think it’s shining a big light on those who do it really well and those who are falling a little short. With that, we have a really great question from Aaron coming in. Ashlene, maybe I’ll direct it to you at first, but I employ everybody if you wanna jump in. What are you guys seeing, suggesting when it comes to how leaders communicate during this time, both internally and externally?

Ashlene Larson – And that is a really good question. So, this has been a challenge because every client, brand, company, person has their own leadership style and communication style. And so, I think we just go back to our basics in terms of what we advise our clients to do. And even what we’ve been advising, for Planit to be doing is to be open and honest, to share as much factual information as we can. Even when we don’t have all the details yet, just we don’t want our employees or clients or anyone to ever feel like we’re holding back information that could have been good for their health to know or like kept them safe or kept their family safe. We wanna share as much information as possible in a clear and concise way. The other thing that we always go back to is just show care, show empathy, show feelings, and emotions in your message. If you’re communicating that an employee is sick, it’s not just about, oh, we’re closing the store, we’re cleaning and we’re contacting people who’ve been in. our employee is sick. We’re making sure that they’re in good care. We’re making sure that they’re still getting paid. You know, like getting those messages out and showing how you’re caring for the people. Whether that’s your customers or your employees, showing care and empathy goes a really long way and can really help keep your reputation intact when you don’t… When nothing else is going for you, if you act in a responsible way and you show that you actually care, and that can make all the difference.

David Larson – Yeah, I think caring is a huge part. Especially during these times, we all feel like we are both looking for caring from other people, empathy, whatever that is, but then also looking to extend that to people when needed. Is everybody else feeling the same way? Does anybody else have anything that they wanna jump in on that? ‘Cause it’s kind of a big question, I think like in terms of how leaders are showing up during these times.

Jess Brown – I think one of the things, even looking within the industry at large and seeing some of the, I mean there are some creative leaders, some prominent agencies who are in a much different place than they were a few months ago and are now on their own job searches. And it’s been interesting to watch those folks, showcase a level of vulnerability that makes them, I think, feel human all of a sudden for those of us who have been kind of idolizing and watching them from afar. I think seeing some of that vulnerability has been tremendous and it’s a little bit of a sense of relief, for our day-to-day to see that come through and that sense of humanity, I think that you see in some of these leaders has been really fantastic.

Darren Durlach – One of the things that I’ve noticed is there’s been a lot of transparency tests with companies. Like transparency with your employees, transparency with the public. One of our clients is a senior living facility, 65 locations across the country and they’re noticing that a lot of their competitors… So they get a lot of their business from move-ins, like a senior goes to the hospital, they break their hip and then somebody there facilitates them being moved into one of their homes. But there’s a choice of which home you get moved into, so a lot of their businesses comes from there. And one of the questions that they get is how many cases of COVID-19 do you have at your facility? And so their competitors have taken the approach of not… You have to dig for the answer whereas we’ve never been big into the creating animated gift world, but we made like 54 animated gifts that they can text out with the number. It said COVID transparency, how many cases they have at each facility, and whether they’re accepting move-ins for each one. And talking with the CEO, I had both admiration for him because he just hit it head on. And also there was a little fear in me for him because that can impact his business, but it’s also clearly a great leadership move. I mean, is there other transparency tests that other people are seeing where like, especially from a PR front, Ashlene?

Ashlene Larson – Yeah, I was gonna add, so one of our clients made the decision really early on that. We were just looking at media coverage as emails were getting leaked that there was like an employee who had COVID at Planit or something like that. And we were trying to follow the media coverage. Like are people putting it out there? What are they doing, how are they doing it? And we noticed early on this trend of the companies that we respected were being very forthright and now, we made the decision early on that any company that has the public coming to it, that we would advise our clients that we proactively send a statement out to the media saying, we had an employee diagnosed, this is what we’re doing, go through. Obviously we show our care and concern in our messaging, but that was a show of the leadership that they are saying, you know what? We don’t care if it hurts our business in the short term. I think for the longterm, if we are transparent and honest, we think our customers will respect that and they’ll trust us. And building trust and keeping that trust is the result of great leadership. And I think we’ve seen examples of eroding trust from poor leadership and I won’t get into that rabbit hole, but I think that really good companies are the ones that are continuing to build and maintain trust with the public and their customers and their employees.

David Larson – I think that’s a great point and that I’d love to touch more upon as well too. Josh asked the question, how has this changed how we run our companies? How we care for our own team. So building upon that idea, which is kind of what you’re talking about Ashlene, do you think that this is shining a light on in terms of just how we conduct our day-to-day business internally, how we treat our employees and maybe the safety nets that build up, that we have… Sorry, the safety nets that we have constructed. What are your thoughts there?

Ashlene Larson – Yeah, and I think much to Kara’s point earlier, I think it was Kara who said that people are becoming even more so who they already are. I think we’re seeing the companies who are, who do well by their employees and who do well by their customers are just doing even more so. We’ve seen some of our clients stepping up and increasing employee wages during this time and providing free meals. And it’s not because we’re telling them to do that because it’ll get them great PR. It’s because that’s who they are and it’s baked into their DNA. I think from a company standpoint, when I look at internally at Planit, I think it exposes how all of our individual needs are so important and unique. Everyone has their own situation right now that we need to be cognizant of. Some people are home with children, some people have high-risk health conditions. And I think when we don’t have, either flexible policies, or we don’t have work from home, we don’t have paid sick leave, things like that in place to protect people. That’s when you see people falling through the cracks. When we’re not taking care of the most high-risk people in the population. You’re gonna feel that throughout the greater population is just a sense of unease and distrust in the greater leadership.

David Larson – Alright, well we’ve got about seven minutes left and I wanna get to some takeaways and final thoughts from all of our panel. So Matt, maybe you can kick us off. What’s something that you would want people to learn walking away from this?

Matt McDermott – Wow! I guess there’s a couple things. Just how fragile an economy can be. It’s terrifying that even in some of the times of greatest strength, how quickly it is to kick the legs out from under us. I think more than anything now I’ve got an appreciation of my team. They’ve helped to remind me that we can be creative and adaptable on the fly. And then, if you’ve got good people, they’ll always find a way to do their jobs well. And also I’m learning how much my family hates me even call.

David Larson – Jess Brown, I thought you over at TBC. What would you like to impart as people leave?

Jess Brown – I guess the one thing from a creative standpoint is just that I think I’ve seen, I don’t want to call it the silver lining, I won’t go that far. But some really bright spots and the type of thinking that my colleagues have brought forward because there is this new focus on humanity. And not that there isn’t always still going to be that tug of war between data and insights, and create an insight intuition. I think what I’m starting to see from a creative perspective and I love it, is that there is an opportunity for us to talk more openly in larger groups beyond the creative department, about our consumers and our target audiences where it feels less like they are data points, and track records, and performance metrics, and there are more individuals, there are people. They have a lot of things driving their decision and we can’t always be in tune with that. So I think for me it’s a big takeaway, but there’s an interesting creative opportunity that I hope goes beyond just what we’re seeing right now. And I think the only other thing, because I feel like I love it when everybody else acknowledges. It’s okay to not be good at being a teacher, and a creative director, and a mom, and a colleague, and like partner, all in one day. It’s okay, I think to just maybe be a little bit okay if those things at different points throughout the day, but we don’t have to be killing it from nine to five and then from five to nine.

David Larson – Yeah, I love the fact that the curtain has been pulled back a bit between the separation of work and home. It’s chaotic, but it’s also refreshing to see people with kids on their lap in meetings and we all have other lives and so that’s such a refreshing silver lining I think in all of this. Kara, what about you? What do you think is a great takeaway from this?

Kara Larson – And does he, based on what you just said to you, this idea that I’m Type-A perfectionist, like my life’s routines and then a spreadsheet and I’m guided perfect in everything. I’m the perfect mom, I’m the perfect, this is like all these the micro pressures that I just put on myself personally to hit, just to feel okay with myself, right? And that we are in this forced vulnerability that in a strange way I think has felt, even though we’re physically separated, it felt less lonely in a lot of ways because all of our flaws have been revealed. And I’m like, oh, you too, that’s cool, so we have a lot of that. And I think to echo Jess’ point that I think we hear this cliche all the time that people in love are the most important things, but I think we’ve been forced to experience that firsthand and nothing is more important than people and nothing is more important than taking care of each other. And no matter what industry you’re in, if it’s an agency or hospital or if you’re in construction, that’s your channeling your medium to serve other people and that really is the meaning of life, right? And so, the more we can start to remove these layers of fear and have that vulnerability, like you said, Durlach and it’s growth of mindset and like, hey, I really missed the mark on that one. Let’s talk it out and figure it out as two humans. So much stress and anxiety and need to be perfect goes away. When you strip away the rules and you have to deal with what’s left, there’s something beautiful that happens just in terms of how we start communicating and working together and collaborating. And so that’s something that I’ve been really honing in personally, on how do I keep that in my heart and in my work and how I interact with other people when this is over. When the rules are back on and I know there’s gonna be a new norm. How can I always keep in the center that I love the person that I’m interacting with in that moment? I wanna help them, I want them to feel good and I don’t wanna have my own senses of not being good enough. The fear of that to trump that experience. And so that’s been the takeaway I’ve been really sitting with and I hope that people get that too. Whether it’s a brand or an interaction with a client that is, at the end of the day, it’s human-to-human interaction and that’s what’s feeling really, really good right now.

David Larson – Yeah, I agree with that 100%. And I’m with the person that I’m getting the most human-to-human interaction. Ashlene, any takeaways on your end?

Ashlene Larson – Oh, you guys said it all. No, I’m just kidding. But just it’s tough to follow all the great things from all the experts on this panel. I agree with all of them. Kara, especially about letting go of that fear. I think it’s really to remember that I’d read this meme. It was like, you’re not working from home, you are under state home orders trying to work from home during a global pandemic. Give yourself some grace, give everyone some grace, give your clients a little bit of that grace too. I think everyone is open and willing to communicate more, be more understanding right now. Like you said, I’ve had kids interrupt every single call I’ve been on, even this one, despite our best efforts. So, I just hope when we go back to normal, we look at what we’re adding back in with a new eye, What do we really miss and then what can we… What maybe we don’t need. And that we can have a new normal, but not that we’re rushing to get back to what it was before. ‘Cause I think if we don’t learn anything from this, then what the hell was it all for, you know? So, I just hope we all come out of it better and stronger, and more empathetic.

David Larson – I agree and Darren, what about you?

Darren Durlach – I agree with everything everybody said. Especially the human stuff I know that I’ve done a lot of self-reflection in this time. We’ve all had emotional moments and just moments of kids interrupting and I have kids as well, and it’s tough. I think from a business standpoint, I think that there’s a lot of language, especially at the beginning of weathering the storm. And I think that that’s almost not the right way to think of it because the storm is gonna be here for, however long it takes to get a vaccine. So, I think that it’s a matter of the brands that are out in the storm treating it as the new reality, directing traffic with a poncho on are probably gonna come out of this a lot stronger than the ones who are operating at fear, cutting budgets, laying off before having all the data and who are acting out of fear. And I think that one of the CEO’s that is a good client of ours used to play in the NFL and he’s got this whole philosophy called hashtag or offense. And when you’re down by two touchdowns, you need to be making passes and trying things and run in different plays and that just really resonated with me. And I feel like as a company, we’ve every day just been working on, I don’t think we’ve ever talked about let’s just kind of hunker down and wait through this. It’s always been like, what can we be doing right now to help people and to help our clients? How can we be helpful? And I don’t think that if any brands that are authentically giving, it never hurts your bottom line. And I just wanna dispel that myth that if you’re generous, it somehow takes away from your resources or whatever. I think being generous every time helps your bottom line, whether it’s with your employees or with your clients or anybody at this time. And I think everybody just appreciates the people in the poncho outside in the storm directing traffic. Especially, the first responders and all of our essential workers. But for those of us who have to keep our lights on, it’s just about not operating out of fear. And I think that’s been a huge lesson for us as a company is every day we’ve just been kinda like rolling up our sleeves and trying to figure out, and we’ve never put on a Webinar before, all right. And it’s been a learning experience, but it’s been exciting, it’s been fun. Minus all the terrifying this and the personal turmoil we’re going through. It’s brought us alive. So I hope that you guys get something out of this and you can pass it along.

David Larson – Yeah. Well, I know I learned a lot. I hope everybody else is walking away with a little nugget. I cannot thank our panelists enough. Ashlene, Matt, Kara, Jess, Darren, this has been fantastic. If anybody has additional questions, we don’t wanna leave you in the wings. Please, please, please, you’re welcome to send us your questions. We’ll make sure they get directed to the right people or you can find… Everyone’s on LinkedIn, I imagine. You can find them there or you’re welcome to contact us and we’re happy to connect you directly with whoever you’re looking for. So guys, thank you everyone, thanks for taking the time. And I hope with the bottom of my heart that I get to see all of your beautiful faces in person soon. Hugs around if we’re allowed to, I don’t know. So, thanks again everyone and that’s it from here. Thank you guys.

– Thank you.

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2 Comments

  • John says:

    This was absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing.

    These are strange times indeed…I hope you and yours are safe.

    Cheers,

    John B.

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